(Header Image: Image by John Hain from Pixabay)

Kayt Hawkins & Cat Rees, December 2020

In many ways, as a profession, archaeology is no more or less prone to instances of sexual harassment and bullying than any other. In 2019 the BAJR Respect campaign ran a short survey to explore attitudes towards the reporting of sexual harassment and bullying; the emphasis on sexual rather than other forms of harassment deriving from the campaign’s origins in the publication of BAJR Guide 44 [External LINK] and on bullying as it lacks the legal clarification that harassment (under the 9 protected characteristics) is afforded by the Equalities Act 2010 [External LINK]. Often harassment and bullying as terms are discussed together yet they are quite distinct forms of behaviour and dealt with differently under employment law. All too often bullying is dismissed as a personality clash by employers and the situation with whistleblowing is also unclear, (Although a good case study for archaeologists by Protect can be found here [External LINK ].

The BAJR Respect guide was published in 2017, fortuitously around the same time as the global #MeToo phenomenon. As in most industries #MeToo appeared to have an impact on the archaeological sector and certainly opened up conversations relating to sexual harassment as can be seen by a search on this topic via the archaeological ethics database [http://archaeologicalethics.org/topic/metoo/]. Yet with the lack of any baseline data for comparison, we were interested in establishing how, if at all, this may have affected individual archaeologists confidence in reporting witnessed or experienced sexual harassment or bullying in the workplace.

A short survey of 10 questions was devised and circulated via social media over the space of two weeks during February 2020. In total 281 responses were received, a similar number to that reported by the archaeology branch of a recent Prospect trade union survey (Andrew, Bryan & Watson 2019). In terms of demographics 63% of respondents to the BAJR Respect survey identified as female, 32% as male (5% responded either as another gender or preferred not to respond).  The majority of responses were from those in the 25-34 years bracket, followed by 35-44 years of age at 36% and 29% respectively.  

The survey

Rates of occurrence and types of sexual harassment that archaeologists experience have previously been documented, most recently by Andrew et al 2019) which, to summarise showed:

 30% of women reported suggestive ‘jokes’ and 27% unwanted comments on appearance.

Anecdotally we know that 3rd party sector harassment is a particular concern for archaeologists and the Andrew et al survey provided the long needed figures that confirm this  with a reported rate of 19%  as opposed to the national figure of 7% as reported by a TUC survey (TUC 2016).

With this in mind we asked:

  •  ‘If you were to experience bullying would you report it?’
  • ‘If you were to experience sexual harassment would you report it?’

Although 60% of respondents said they would report bullying if they experienced it, 75% responded that they would report experiences of sexual harassment (Figure 1).  This difference may in part be due to the different legal situation regarding harassment and bullying, although it may also reflect a general increase in awareness and unacceptance of sexual harassment in the workplace following #MeToo, particularly within in the younger workforce members, and young men in particular [External LINK]

Figure 1: If you experienced bullying or sexual harassment in the workplace would you report it, by number of responses received (total 281)
Figure 1: If you experienced bullying or sexual harassment in the workplace would you report it, by number of responses received (total 281)

Many employees, not just within our own sector, fear the risk of reprisal if they report bullying or harassment (of any type) to their employer. In a  relatively small profession such as archaeology where there are high levels of job insecurity there is a very real fear of being ‘marked’ as a trouble maker and of long lasting consequences such as being frozen out of future employment. Combined with the reported gender imbalances across organisations (Cobb & Croucher 2020) and personal grievances not being covered by UK whistleblowing law (unless in the public interest) it is particularly daunting for early career professionals to risk reporting. As a profession we have yet to adequately address these fears, as shown by the response to the next two questions which asked:

  • ‘If you reported bullying in a work environment are you confident action would be taken?’
  • ‘If you reported sexual harassment in a work environment are you confident action would be taken?’

Bullying showed a higher rate of dissatisfaction with just 24% of respondents confident that their employer would take action if they made a complaint of bullying (Figure 2). Confidence levels for those reporting sexual harassment were higher with 44% of respondents confident that action would be taken but again this is perhaps surprising given the desire to report recorded in the earlier question.

Figure 2: If you reported bullying or sexual harassment are you coifdent action would be taken, by number of responses received (total 281)
Figure 2: If you reported bullying or sexual harassment are you coifdent action would be taken, by number of responses received (total 281)

These results should alert employers to the number of implications, not least the immediate safety of their employees, yet also the wider reaching consequences on staff morale and workplace cultures.  There are many steps employers can take to protect staff and engender a positive, inclusive workplace environment – which has time and again been shown to have not just financial benefits for an organisation but also aligns with the professional ethics to which we should surely all be adhering, both at an organisation and individual level [External LINK].

As anecdotally and through conversations in private support groups, we were hearing that time and again individuals were wanting to address incidents of sexual harassment and bullying we asked:

‘if you witnessed bullying or sexual harassment occurring would you intervene in any of the following ways’

  • Intervene on the spot: 59.4%
  • Tell the harasser that their behaviour is/was inappropriate: 55.5%
  • Offer the harassed or bullied person your support in private: 70%
  • Report it within your organisation: 59.7%
  • Report it to a trade union representative: 19.9%
  • Signpost the bullied or harassed person to support organisations: 33.5%
  • All of the above: 18.5%
  • None of the above: 1%

Bystander intervention [External LINK] can play a fundamental part in eradicating workplace harassment so it is hugely reassuring that 99% of respondents would have acted in at least one of the ways listed, with just 2 respondents ticking ‘none of the above’ (Figure 3). This is a clear message to employers; empower your workforce to have the confidence, the awareness and the appropriate skills to support their colleagues when incidents occur, whether between work colleagues or with third parties. If individuals are to intervene it is vitally important that they are able to do so safely and with the knowledge that they have their employers support.

Figure 3: Responses (as a percentage) of actions respondents would be prepared to take if witnessed bullying or sexual harassment in the workplace
Figure 3: Responses (as a percentage) of actions respondents would be prepared to take if witnessed bullying or sexual harassment in the workplace

Lastly we wanted to know, in addition to #MeToo conversations, have initiatives within our sector also played a part in altering approaches to confronting sexual harassment and bullying. The survey asked:

 ‘Have recent initiatives by BAJR Respect and other organisations increased awareness of bullying and sexual harassment issues within the sector’ to which 50% of respondents replied ‘yes’,  12% ‘no’ and the remainder ‘I don’t know. This was followed up by the question

If awareness has increased, has this led to more positive action by employers? To which just 15% replied that it had led to more positive action. Overall there was a strong sense from respondents that it is all too easy for employers to be seen to be taking measures but not actually then backing this up with committed actions. The situation is even difficult for freelance archaeologists.

‘There is some commitment to change, but little action has been taken’

‘Many units pay lip service but core attitudes don’t change’

‘The positive action is coming from colleagues’

‘It depends on the organisation and doesn’t necessarily encompass freelance archaeologists’

Reporting Bullying and Sexual Harassment: a workplace survey

If employers are making steps to reduce their staff experiencing sexual harassment then it may be that these messages are not being adequately communicated to staff, particularly in light of the answers received to the following multiple choice question:

‘If you are employed, do you know if your employer has any of the following in place:’

  • A policy on sexual harassment: 58%
  • A clear process for reporting sexual harassment: 21%
  • Training for those in HR roles to handle reports of sexual harassment: 15%
  • Tool box talks that cover sexual harassment: 11%
  • Training for all employees on sexual harassment: 9%
  • A no retaliation policy: 4%
  • None of the above: 22%

Sexual harassment is covered under the definition of harassment within the Equalities Act 2010 [External LINK], It is therefore worrying that only 58% of respondents were aware of their employer having a workplace policy regarding sexual harassment (Figure 4).  If an employer is committed to tackling these unwanted workplace behaviours then they need to do more than just refer to their organisations anti-harassment policy as in doing so they do indeed run the risk of merely ‘ticking boxes’ or actively participating in an archaeological form of ‘green-washing’ (disinformation designed to present a particular public image).

Figure 4: Responses (as a percentage) of employer actions (multiple choice question)
Figure 4: Responses (as a percentage) of employer actions (multiple choice question)

There needs to be more consistent, positive action so that all across the sector…know the appropriate processes to report

There is a need for accessible, clear polices relating to harassment and bullying which include examples of inappropriate behaviours, in conjunction with a robust, confidential reporting system. Many UK commercial archaeology organisations are small-scale and may not have a dedicated, suitably trained person in post to deal with complaints of this nature. There may be ethical dilemmas to consider here in terms of interpersonal relationships within an organisation and any conflict of interest should be declared if an investigation is to be unbiased. Specific training aimed at preventing sexual harassment can run the risk of re-enforcing gender stereotypes (Tinkler 2013; Kearney et al 2004) and if an employer is going to invest in such training then it should be compulsory for all staff within an organisation. Unconscious bias training and bystander training are also now available for organisations either as ‘off the peg’ or bespoke and there are many resources available online for employers to share with staff.

The creation of a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of harassment and bullying within the organisation is essential, not just because of the legal implications of an harassment case being brought and the financial benefits of a positive, welcoming and inclusive work environment but because it is the morally and ethically right thing to do.  As the Andrew et al survey showed, bullying and sexual harassment is particularly prevalent within the archaeological sector so there is a need to ensure third parties are clear that such behaviour is not acceptable.

In conclusion

One of the key elements to effecting change is the need to diversify our workforce and by doing so remove existing power imbalances. The lack of diversity within the archaeological sector is well known and the recent publication by Cobb & Croucher presents the existing data for this in detail (Cobb & Croucher 2020; 94-116); sexual harassment has been shown to be less prevalent where you have a more balanced gender representation within the workforce (Dobin & Kalev 2019). In terms of gender diversity our professional demographic, as in many other sectors,  is heavily skewed with a significantly higher proportion of young women employed in early career roles compared to male dominated senior management roles (it is worth noting here that until recently only the binary option of male/female has been given in such surveys).  More widespread surveys, such as the latest profiling the profession survey(aimed for the first time at both organisations and individuals) [External LINK] should provide more detail on these workplace demographics within the UK. Individuals and organisations, such as British Women Archaeologists (BWA) have been campaigning for decades to raise awareness of these issues and the tide does finally seem to be turning; to paraphrase one respondent:

  it is not awareness that has changed, but a change from acceptance to non-acceptance.

Sector wide statements on bullying and harassment published April 2019 have been made by the Industry Working Group -comprising the Charted Institute for Archaeologists, Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers and The Archaeology Branch of the Prospect Trade Union [External LINK]

However what we need to see now are published programmes of work in line with these commitments, designed to improve the working environment for all archaeologists. We need to see organisations with accessible, appropriate policies, effective reporting systems, a commitment to staff training and open conversations about industry demographics. If these can be co-ordinated through relevant structures, such as the existing Industry Working Party then perhaps we may stand a chance of achieving sector wide approaches that will actually make steps to achieving the zero acceptance of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace that we all deserve.