The Scottish Parliament has published the results of a confidential survey which assessed the extent to which sexual harassment and sexist behaviour is present in Holyrood and in MSPs’ local offices. The Parliament commissioned the survey in late 2017 following media reports of sexual harassment at Holyrood which the Presiding Officer described at the time as “disturbing and deeply concerning”.
The survey, which was conducted by the independent market research company Progressive, was completed by over 1000 people including MSPs, their staff and Scottish Parliament staff. Its key findings indicate that:
• While the majority of respondents (78%) have never experienced sexual harassment or sexist behaviour, a fifth overall (20%) have experienced such behaviour while working at the Parliament (2% didn’t know).
• When that figure is broken down by gender, 30% of women and 6% of men reported experiencing this behaviour in some form.
• Knowledge of reporting procedures is high however the percentage of those actually reporting incidents is low which may suggest a lack of confidence in the processes. A lack of confidence in the reporting systems came through more strongly in the responses of those who had experienced this behaviour.
• There is no significant reported difference in experience across MSPs, their staff and Parliament staff.
• Perpetrators of inappropriate behaviour are predominantly male and tend to be in a position of authority over those experiencing it.
Kezia Dugdale MSP, a member of the Parliament’s Corporate Body, said:
“While these results are concerning, they are by no means surprising. We have known for many years that sexual harassment and sexist behaviour is present throughout our society. This survey confirms that Holyrood is not immune to the problem.
“I welcome the leadership shown by the Parliament in commissioning an independent survey and publishing the results in full. The key question now is how we tackle the issues it has uncovered. The Joint Working Group has already begun this task and, as a member of the Parliament’s Corporate Body, I’m committed to supporting their work and ensuring that the necessary steps are taken.
“While it’s incredibly important we support those who have experienced this behaviour and ensure perpetrators are held accountable, our overarching aim must be to create a culture which prevents sexual harassment and sexist behaviour from happening in the first place. That is our challenge and it will require the combined efforts of the Parliament, the political parties and all those who work here to achieve it.”
The Parliament’s Presiding Officer, the Rt Hon Ken Macintosh MSP, said:
“For an institution which prides itself on openness, inclusivity and on having progressive working practices, a number of the findings make for difficult reading. I am sorry that people have experienced this type of behaviour while working here. I am determined to address this.
“The Party Leaders and SPCB members have seen the results and all accept the report findings in full. All have reiterated their strong commitment to tackling these issues and to ensuring a zero tolerance approach is not simply a policy statement but is a daily reality for those who work here.
“With that in mind, the Joint Working Group which was set up earlier this year has been considering the findings and has already started to identity the key strands of work it will take forward to address the issues raised by the report.
“Sadly, these issues are not unique to the Scottish Parliament. As an institution that reflects Scotland, Holyrood will inevitably reflect the inequality that exists in Scottish society. However, as the nation’s legislature, it is our duty to take a moral and political lead in tackling sexist behaviour and harassment.”
The Joint Working Group has highlighted the following key stands of work it plans to take forward:
• A comprehensive programme of education and development for those working within the Parliament and within Regional and Constituency offices. Prevention of the behaviours highlighted in the survey is paramount and we will ensure that the education and development programme gives everyone an understanding of our zero tolerance approach and will seek to address both unacceptable behaviour and lack of confidence in reporting.
• Specific training for those who manage people. This will include early intervention and prevention techniques and ensure managers are equipped to respond appropriately to those who experience sexual harassment.
• Improved reporting procedures and policies that are accessible, transparent, fair and confidential and take into account the ongoing Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee review of the Code of Conduct for MSPs.
• A review of the additional measures required to support those who have experienced these behaviours.
• New mechanisms which enable us to monitor and review our progress and to ensure that a change in culture is happening as a result of the work we are doing.