Published on Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Spotlight on sexual harassment in the travel industry

Philip Price, founder of, on why the industry needs to do more to stop sexual harassment, intimidation and unfair treatment in the workplace.

"In a week when the equality watchdog said it found truly shocking examples of harassment in British workplaces and claimed that corrosive cultures have silenced individuals, it's time for the travel industry to take a long, hard look at itself. Those of us who work in this industry like to think of it as being a fair and equitable sector to ply our living. We see high profile cases of abuses, under the spotlight following the notorious allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, as a problem for other industries. But the reality is that the travel industry is not above criticism.

We've spoken anonymously to a wide range of people in travel and also conducted a poll - again anonymously - to gauge views. The responses are anecdotal rather than scientific and it is not possible to draw a definitive conclusion about how widespread the problem is in the industry from our findings. In addition to the many conversations we've had with individuals in the travel industry, around 40 people responded to our poll - which I know is statistically small. However, it does highlight problems in the industry.

Several women we spoke to told us they had been the victims of sexual harassment at work, while 30% of our poll respondents - which could have been men and women - agreed. Sexual harassment can be unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which violates your dignity, makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated, or creates a hostile or offensive environment. In the travel industry, overseas conferences, champagne receptions and alcohol-fuelled parties are commonplace, so it's possible that sexual harassment can take place outside the confines of the office. I'm sure I'm not alone in having been at overseas events where individuals, free from the responsibilities of home, have been chatting to members of the opposite sex until the early hours. Sometimes the discussions will have been nothing more than friendly chat...but how many times have those women (or men) felt uncomfortable or harassed, especially if put upon by their manager?

Many people we spoke to said they had felt intimated, while 36% of respondents to the poll said they felt intimated at work. Examples of this could be bullying, abuse of power or being intimidated in meetings. Some 43% of respondents said they were currently not treated fairly at work. This could mean many things, from not being given responsibility to believing you should get paid more, but it shows that there are people who feel that for whatever reason they are not treated properly.

If you are a victim of any of these situations, there is plenty of advice available, such as talking to your manager, HR team and trade union, collecting evidence and even telling the police. However, although that sounds straightforward, people don't always find it easy to act. Claire Steiner, who provides HR services to a range of clients in the travel industry, said people are often scared of reporting senior people who are mistreating them at work. "Staff must feel safe and able to report any form of discrimination, harassment or bullying without fear of demand," she said. "However, unfortunately, far too often the perpetrator is someone more senior and this can be intimidating to staff for fear of further consequences should they decide to report it."

Steiner also called on the travel industry to do more. "There is no place or excuse for any form of harassment or bullying in the workplace and, as a sector, we have to do more," she said. I certainly agree that it's time for the travel industry to do more; for every company to look at its culture and come down hard on any sexual harassment, intimidation or unfair treatment. People should also be free to speak out without any repercussions.

As a caveat, we do need balance and for companies to examine the evidence before taking any action. In some circumstances, it may be that managers just need to be educated on how to manage people better. I'm in favour of fairness, but I'm not in favour of going to the other extreme and suspending or axing managers on a whim after any complaint, without proper consideration of the facts."

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