Are you finding that sexual harassment and gender discrimination are becoming increasingly muddled and confused?

Both harassment and discrimination are unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 and both are rooted in an abuse of power of one person over another; but they are not one and the same.

Defining gender discrimination

Discrimination is defined as unfair treatment.

It involves treating another less favourably than others because of who they are – that is, in this blog’s case, because of their gender, but also relating to any protected characteristic defined by the Equality Act.

Discrimination purposely puts a person at a disadvantage. It is a form of “othering” deep-rooted in prejudice, coupled with an assertion of power.

Paying a female colleague less than her male counterpart, for example, is a form of gender discrimination.

The reason of the employer behind the discrepancy in pay may not be so blatant as “because she is a woman”. However, it is the undervaluing of her worth and contribution to the organisation – and the comparative elevated value attributed to the performance of her male colleague – that underpins the gender discrimination.

The female employee’s worth is deemed less than her male colleague; a belief based on gender bias, rather than capability, talent, experience or performance.

Defining sexual harassment

Harassment is defined as unwanted physical or verbal behaviour that is offensive, threatening, humiliating or distressing.

Here’s where the blurring of terms comes in: harassment is deemed discriminatory when it is related to a protected characteristic – that is, a person is being harassed because of who they are. But the main distinction between harassment and discrimination is the unfair treatment and unwanted behaviour.

In the case of sexual harassment, the unwanted conduct is of a sexual nature and can range from overtly sexual jokes, inappropriate comments or “bants” to text messages, emails and social media activity, and physical contact such as touching or kissing – all of which can occur inside and outside the office.

Indeed, high-profile cases of sexual misconduct continue to appear in the news and to provide key insights into what constitutes harassment. From Ted Baker boss Ray Kelvin’s enforced “hugging” culture to Legal Aid for Business Diversity founder Nathalie Abildgaard’s claim against IFM executive director Frederic Michel-Verdier for expressing “if I was 20 years younger, I would have been all over you”, amid invitations to his hotel room.

Sexual harassment is an abuse of power. It aims to violate an employee’s dignity through creating an intimidating, hostile or humiliating environment, while perpetrators have a heightened sense of entitlement in behaving in such a way and a distinct lack of respect for others.

What is your responsibility as an employer?

Employers have a duty to prevent harassment and discrimination; not limited to between colleagues within the workplace, but also by clients or suppliers.

Fundamentally, employees and managers need an awareness of harassment and discrimination. They need to be able to distinguish between the two and to identify incidences when they occur. Training is key here.

At Tell Jane, we offer training workshops, webinars and breakfast seminars to bring your people up to speed, and offer advice and guidance for tackling workplace harassment. If you’re interested in finding out more, email


If you want to learn more why not sign up to one of our breakfast seminars, they are FREE to attend to sign up click here…



Back to basics: A sexual harassment crib sheet


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