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The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-16231, in the name of Rhoda Grant, on condemnation of misogyny, racism, harassment and sexism. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament condemns misogyny, racism, harassment and sexism against women, especially in the working environment; considers that decades of policies to eradicate this have failed in some quarters, and notes calls for more to be done in public agencies to tackle the problem and to eradicate such damaging mistreatment once and for all across Scotland, in the Highlands and Islands, and beyond.
I thank everyone who signed the motion for the debate. This is probably the most difficult speech that I have made to Parliament, and it is not suitable for children to hear.
Imagine that you have returned to work after a relationship break-up with a person who is a work colleague. That relationship has been short but devastating. You have to take out a non-harassment order against your former partner, and you suffer a miscarriage. On your return to work, you ask your line manager for time off to attend counselling and he tells you to go in your lunch breaks. He knows that you have taken out a non-harassment order, but threatens to send you to work in another office, beside your ex-partner. Your line manager tells you:
“I think I will go off with stress. If it works for some in here, well, it should work for me.”
He also says:
“F***ing foreigners—shoot each and every B******. Coming into our country, taking our money and expecting everything handed to them.”
That manager also refers to women in extremely derogatory terms. I cannot repeat the language here in the chamber, but it was racist, sexist, vicious and degrading.
This is what happened to DeeAnn Fitzpatrick, who is originally from Canada, and is a fishery officer in Caithness. I have been representing DeeAnn for a decade. The language that her line manager used was commonplace in the office, and was often used in front of stakeholders. DeeAnn has been subjected to institutional racism, sexism, harassment and abuse at the hands of Marine Scotland, which is a Scottish Government directorate.
Despite my having raised the matter at senior levels of Government—with the previous permanent secretary, and with John Swinney, Richard Lochhead, Paul Wheelhouse and the First Minister—the abuse continues. I am now taking my lead from DeeAnn, who is a brave and courageous woman: I am going to blow the whistle, too.
DeeAnn contacted me because she was concerned about another member of staff who was being bullied. I was aware of bullying at Marine Scotland in Scrabster, but had nothing that I could follow up. DeeAnn had enough of it and became a whistleblower. As a result, two male fishery officers were suspended—one for pretending to punch a female member of staff in the back of her head. He was the woman’s line manager. He was encouraged by the senior fishery officer—DeeAnn’s boss—who told him to make sure it was a good one. DeeAnn reported the incident. Both officers were disciplined. The senior fishery officer was demoted and proposed for a move to another office. The fishery officer who acted out the assault was dismissed. However, both successfully appealed.
The Scottish Government knows that the senior fishery officer secretly recorded the disciplinary panel’s deliberations and learned details that led to the successful appeals. When the senior fishery officer returned to the Scrabster office, he chose a desk close to DeeAnn’s. She is often forced to work alone with him. He knows that she reported him. Work colleagues were also told that DeeAnn had reported the incident.
Over the years, the oppressive behaviour has been constant and undermining. For example, when a fishery officer was off with the flu, the senior fishery officer said:
“Well, you could be like certain other people, have a miscarriage and take six months off work.”
Initially, colleagues stuck up for DeeAnn and said, “That was nasty.” The senior fishery officer then leaned over his desk and said to DeeAnn:
“No, that was not nasty, my dear, but I can be nasty.”
After DeeAnn became a whistleblower, support from colleagues largely disappeared. She was continually being pulled up for little things for which her male colleagues were not pulled up. Her overtime was cut. She told senior management and human resources about it, but nothing changed—in fact, the situation got worse, because DeeAnn is referred to by HR as a serial complainer.
DeeAnn asked for time off when her mother was critically ill. The senior fishery officer said that she was not entitled to it, although other officers were given compassionate leave without quibble. She checked that with a more senior officer, who said that she was entitled to time off. The senior fishery officer was angry that she had gone over his head.
DeeAnn and another officer hurt themselves when lifting fish boxes. The other officer was told to record his injury on the computer system, but DeeAnn was asked to provide a doctor’s letter. She was constantly held to a different standard from that to which others were held—on time off in lieu, holidays and time off for compassionate leave or medical reasons. On every occasion, she was questioned, while others were not. A colleague of hers has told me that that was deliberate and systematic conduct by people in the office and in the line of command in Marine Scotland—conduct that was designed to wear her down and force her out.
DeeAnn was the only female fishery officer in the Scrabster office. She faced continuous sexist conversation and sexual innuendo. She heard an officer making a racist remark and told him that it was offensive. Her cousin is married to a black woman, and DeeAnn is very fond of her. The response from the colleague was shocking, derogatory and racist—so much so that I cannot repeat it. The senior fishery officer then said:
“That is just f***ing up the population by them having children.”
Presiding Officer, the phrase that he and others in that office have used to refer to DeeAnn is so offensive that you have asked me not to say it in the chamber. I cannot even allude to it without causing offence.
We all saw the pictures in the media of DeeAnn being physically restrained—gagged and taped to a chair. Officers photographed her to humiliate and degrade her because she spoke out about inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. The pictures will now take on a new meaning. The abuse changed from physical and verbal abuse to trying to get rid of DeeAnn.
DeeAnn has on a number of occasions faced disciplinary charges, all of which have been spurious. Her trade union representative attended a meeting with DeeAnn, her manager and another officer who was four levels higher. The rep said that it was the worst meeting that he had ever attended in 33 years as a trade union rep. The more senior manager rose from his seat, pointed in DeeAnn’s face and screamed at her that she was a liar.
It also transpires that the Scottish Government intercepted DeeAnn’s emails, including sensitive exchanges with her trade union representative. A fully hatched plan between Scottish Government HR and DeeAnn’s line manager was uncovered, which showed that they intended to move her to the Outer Hebrides or, failing that, to find grounds against her—any grounds—in order to dismiss her.
When DeeAnn declared that she could not move because she is caring for her ailing mother, the people involved moved to the dismissal plan and disciplined her for trumped-up charges, which collapsed when they failed to provide the necessary evidence. DeeAnn was then threatened with disciplinary action for going to her father’s deathbed.
In October 2017, DeeAnn was told that she had to remain at home on full pay. She was not suspended and was given no reason why she was not allowed to return to work. She is now being pursued by Marine Scotland with further disciplinary action.
The First Minister’s investigation looked only at the incident with the photograph and was not independent. My evidence to that inquiry was fed back directly to Marine Scotland and twisted to be used against DeeAnn. She has not been informed of that investigation’s findings.
We need a truly independent inquiry into DeeAnn’s treatment at the hands of the Government and Marine Scotland. It cannot be put off any longer.
I thank Rhoda Grant for bringing this important debate to the chamber, which gives us the chance to debate a subject that should engage and concern everyone in Parliament and beyond, as should the shocking case of DeeAnn Fitzpatrick. It was not easy for Rhoda Grant to outline all the details of that case, but it is important to air them.
Misogyny, racism, harassment and sexism have been highlighted very publicly recently, starting with the #MeToo movement, which involved Hollywood celebrities. However, as we know, such behaviour affects more than Hollywood celebrities: we know that it is prevalent in almost every workplace in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
As many as 52 per cent of women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace, and this Parliament is not exempt from that. I am, as is Rhoda Grant, a member of the Parliament's joint working group on sexual harassment. We reported that one fifth of respondents had experienced harassing behaviour—30 per cent of women and 6 per cent of men—and that 42 per cent of respondents indicated that they had experienced bullying, harassment or victimisation in the workplace because of their being a black or minority ethnic woman. That is absolutely shocking. Thankfully, we now have an all-encompassing zero tolerance policy to help and support victims, which consists of a confidential helpline and clear lines of reporting.
A few weeks ago, I attended an event at the Aye Write! book festival, at which Helena Kennedy QC was speaking about her latest book, “Eve Was Shamed”, which is about women’s journey through the justice system and discrimination against women generally. As co-convener of the cross-party groups on women’s justice and on men’s violence against women and children, the event was of great interest to me. Helena Kennedy spoke eloquently about the challenges that are faced by women.
However, one thing that Helena Kennedy emphasised really struck a chord with me. It was that in order to combat that type of behaviour, we need men to play their part. It should not be left to women—as it has been for decades—to fight against misogyny and discrimination. Men must call out men who display such behaviour. They must stand up and tell those men that disrespecting women—even if they think that it is banter—is simply not acceptable. In fact, it also demeans the majority of men, who do not behave in that way. Just as racism displays the absolute worst of human nature, so misogyny must never be tolerated, so it is incumbent on all of us to stand against it.
A helpful briefing from Engender reports that there have been dramatic rises in misogynist harassment online, with survey data from Amnesty International finding that 21 per cent of women reported having experienced online abuse or harassment at least once. The latest figures from the Scottish crime and justice survey report that nearly 27 per cent of women aged 16 to 24 have experienced stalking and harassment over the past year. Stalking figures have more than doubled over the past five years, so I hope that my proposed members’ bill to introduce stalking protection measures would—if passed—give comfort to victims.
Sexism, racism and misogyny feed inequality and demean us all. We all have parts to play in creating an inclusive and equal society for our children and grandchildren to grow up in. I finish by saying, again, that the case that Rhoda Grant outlined is extremely shocking, and that nobody should ever have to go through such experiences.
I, too, thank Rhoda Grant for bringing the subject before Parliament for debate, and for her very powerful contribution. I hope that the debate goes some way towards ensuring that DeeAnn Fitzpatrick gets the independent inquiry that she absolutely and desperately deserves.
In recent months, I have spoken in a few debates that have focused on violence, harassment and sexism against women. I am pleased to see an increased focus on those issues, which we also see in the popularity of the #timesup and #MeToo campaigns. Momentum is building and it must continue to build. At the same time, we must bring a renewed focus to addressing the additional barriers that BME women face in the workplace. This debate is a perfect opportunity to do so.
It remains the case that too many women in this country are subjected to sexual harassment and assault in their everyday employment. Never have we been more aware of that, following the Harvey Weinstein scandal in 2017 and the events that have unfolded since. Shockingly, a poll showed that half of British women and one fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work or in a place of study, and that 63 per cent and 79 per cent respectively of those victims kept it to themselves.
We have seen steps being taken to address that. For instance, workshops on creating a culture of respect have been run in the Scottish Parliament and, earlier this year, I welcomed the start of the pilot of a new employer accreditation programme in councils across Scotland, which was developed by Close the Gap and will take place over the course of 2019. The programme requires councils to take the necessary steps to address the causes of their gender pay gaps, and to better support employees who have experienced gender-based violence.
However, more needs to be done. Data is always key, and I note the call that was made by Engender and Close the Gap for public sector employers to improve compliance with the gender and employment aspects of the public sector equality duty.
More broadly, as I have stated before, if we are to understand and change women’s experience of the workplace, we have to see the whole picture. Women are still underrepresented in senior management positions and remain blighted by the gender pay gap. Only by implementing bold childcare measures, improving flexible working and inspiring young women through education reform will we start to have societal change.
I want there to be a renewed focus on tackling the additional barriers that BME women face in the workplace. A survey by Close the Gap on the experiences of BME women reveals some startling figures. For example, 72 per cent of respondents said that they had experienced racism, discrimination, racial prejudice or bias in the workplace, and 52 per cent of them did not feel comfortable or confident enough to report it. Of those who did so, only 23 per cent were satisfied with how their complaint was handled.
Prior to the debate, I contacted the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights to ask what it understands to be the main issues. CRER noted the distinct lack of data about BME women’s experiences in the workplace, which is due in part to the severe lack of BME women in Scotland’s workplaces, including in the public sector.
Very rarely, if at all, has a public body published intersectional data on gender and race in its public sector equality duty reports. It is not clear what steps are being taken to address key gaps in the data in the Scottish Government’s equality evidence finder, particularly in relation to prejudice-based bullying, hate crime and harassment, especially in the workplace. That would be a fundamental first step towards truly understanding the experiences of BME women in the labour market. Only with that understanding can we make real strides in improving on some of the shocking statistics that we have heard.
I thank the organisations that I have met in recent weeks and those which sent briefings prior to the debate. I have really noticed in the past 18 months that we are talking more and more about the experiences of women inside and outside the workplace. Those discussions must continue, if we are to press ahead for change.
I commend my colleague Rhoda Grant for securing the debate and I thank her for believing in DeeAnn Fitzpatrick.
Listening to Rhoda, I found my heart racing, because I was so angry to hear about DeeAnn’s experience. Her experience is not isolated or unusual, so I hope that we all feel angry. Society does not like or reward angry women, but we have to stand up to this. I look to the young people in the public gallery, whom we depend on to say, “This can’t continue.” We need change to prevent the next generation from going through the same kind of rubbish. We need to say, “Not in our name.” I am glad that, because of Rhoda’s debate, members of all parties can stand in the chamber today and unite in condemnation of misogyny, racism, harassment and sexism against women.
According to Close the Gap, in the UK each year, 3 million women experience violence against them. The workplace is no different. Imagine going to work knowing that you will be subjected to sexism, harassment, bullying, ridicule or degradation—all because you are a woman. That is not unusual—70 per cent of women in Scotland have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment, which means that there are a lot of bystanders. I agree with Rhoda Grant that it is beyond time to blow the whistle on such oppressive—and, often, criminal—behaviour.
DeeAnn Fitzpatrick showed courage and bravery in stepping forward and speaking about her experience, and Rhoda told us about a decade of abuse.
My own brave constituent, lawyer Ceri Evans, has spoken publicly about her experience of bullying in the workplace. She was a public defence solicitor, but she had to resign from her job. I have raised Ceri’s story with the First Minister and in the chamber, and it has been aired in the
. Ceri was one of three women working in a branch of the Public Defence Solicitors Office who brought a complaint about the same individual, a male manager. Ceri kept a diary of her experiences and did what ministers have advised me people should do—report things—but the Information Commissioner’s Office has since warned the PDSO for breaching Ceri’s data protection rights because that diary was handed over to the alleged perpetrator. That further example is a reminder that, as MSPs, we are seeing these cases far too often.
Her fight is not over, but Ceri Evans has resigned from her job because she could not take it any longer. She is bright, intelligent and passionate and she cares deeply. She is the kind of person who oozes emotional intelligence. However, the fact is that she is no longer in her public service post, and Scotland is worse off for that.
We need culture change. Women remain underrepresented in many sectors of the economy, and let us consider also women’s representation in politics. Only 35 per cent of members of the Scottish Parliament are women. In local government, the figure drops to 29 per cent, and there are variations between local authorities. Even in political parties, we are not valuing diversity and respecting women. We are still arguing about the use of all-women shortlists and other tools that we can use to increase diversity.
“True power is present not when you grasp it and hold on to it, but when you give it to someone else.”
We need to respect everyone. Of course we have to respect men and women, but we have to recognise that there is a power imbalance and that, when that is abused, the behaviour that we are discussing in this debate can be perpetuated.
I again thank Rhoda Grant. There is a desperate need for employers, public agencies and other bodies, social media platforms, all of us in political parties and those who are in Government to do something. We cannot keep talking about this; we have to act, and we have to act now.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate and I thank Rhoda Grant for lodging her motion and bringing the matter to the chamber for discussion. I also thank her for her extraordinarily powerful opening speech, in which she set out the experience of DeeAnn Fitzpatrick—an experience that I hope all of us in the chamber find utterly intolerable. It is intolerable not only that she was subjected to those experiences but that she found herself in a position of having to seek out the support of an MSP to have those issues taken seriously and addressed in the first place. A person should not need to have that level of support and intervention in their lives. All organisations, whether they are public or private sector employers, should be taking responsibility to ensure that such experiences are not tolerated or accepted and that they do not continue.
I would want to see that, and I hope that we would all want to see that. Rhoda Grant, having done that work, will know far better than I do how that justice can be delivered and how that can be achieved.
Over recent years, our society has become more willing to acknowledge the courage and bravery that it takes to report gender-based domestic violence and the feelings of self-blame that can prevent some victims from taking action, reporting and getting out as soon as they might. Those things are part of the experience, part of the effect and sometimes part of the purpose of gender-based violence. Violence is inflicted in order to control and to limit people’s ability to escape and to assert themselves. That is something that plays out in the workplace as well.
We have begun to acknowledge that violence and harassment are a form of controlling behaviour, and that the difficulty of raising a challenge in the first place, and persisting with it when that challenge is ignored, requires bravery and courage. That is a factor in domestic violence, but it exists in the workplace, too.
There is a spectrum from the most appalling violent and abusive behaviour, through victim blaming and stigma against those who have raised a challenge, to the kind of language that some people would dismiss as banter or freedom of speech. The behaviour that some people would dismiss as banter is part of the same spectrum of controlling behaviour that creates a culture, in the home or the workplace, where people do not feel safe or able to speak out.
I thank Engender for its briefing, which says:
“Sexual harassment recreates women’s subordination through verbal and physical acts which assert that women and girls do not have equal access and rights to safety, public space and physical autonomy.”
That captures why the spectrum of behaviour so important. We must not think that the most abusive and violent acts are the only problem; the whole spectrum of behaviour is the problem. It relates to every other form of inequality and prejudice and, as the Engender briefing makes clear, it relates to issues of racism, Islamophobia and so on in our society.
I am still open to the argument that a misogynistic hate crime needs to be created as a stand-alone offence. However, when Parliament consulted on hate crime the first two or three times, that was not the view of the women’s and feminist organisations. If the balance of arguments around the criminal law has changed, we need to debate and scrutinise why that has happened.
Finally, we should all welcome the fact that this Parliament, as a public sector employer, has been making progress. However, we have also seen real challenges in the way in which harassment and discrimination are reported in the press, which will affect how easy people feel it is to report such incidents. We need to take on-going responsibility for that and not simply think that because we have adopted a new policy, that is job done. We must continue to face that challenge, if we want people to feel confident about reporting issues and that those issues will be addressed in the way that we would all want them to be.
I thank Rhoda Grant, not only for giving us the opportunity to have this debate but, more important, for her powerful contribution. We all stand in solidarity with DeeAnn Fitzpatrick, and I hope that all members across the chamber will stand shoulder to shoulder with Rhoda Grant in representing her constituent.
This is an important opportunity for us to recognise the intersectionality of prejudice and hate, and how there is a gendered bias in all forms of prejudice and hate. The sad reality is that, more often than not, the victim is a woman and, almost always, the perpetrator is a man; 89 per cent of recorded hate crime in Scotland is perpetrated by a male.
Last week, the cross-party group on tackling Islamophobia, in partnership with the Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre, published the results of a survey of Muslim women in Scotland. Sixty-four per cent of respondents said that they had either witnessed or experienced a hate incident or crime; 74 per cent of that group said that it had happened to them. Asked where the incident took place, 57 per cent said that it had taken place in the street or in their neighbourhood; for 23 per cent, it was in the workplace; and for 21 per cent, it was on public transport. If I have time, I will come back to the issue of public transport. Ninety-one per cent—a startling statistic—said that there was no bystander intervention or support following the incident, and 65 per cent did not report the incident, either to their workplace seniors or to the police. There is a clear bias here.
Then there were the stories that went along with the survey, about people who had been born and raised in Scotland, and whose families were here, being told to go home—to eff off back to where they came from. Women had had their headscarves pulled from their heads in underground or railway stations. In 78 per cent of cases, people said that they were shouted or sworn at. People had been spat at in their own street, when they were coming out of their front door, or when they were entering a train station. People talked about being scared to go to work the next morning. Most startlingly of all, a clear majority of people said that they had thought twice about using the public transport system in Scotland.
Does Anas Sarwar agree that the way in which politicians use language in relation to matters such as this is one of the factors that make some people think that that kind of violence is acceptable? What does it say about our situation that the language that Boris Johnson, for example, used when he described the appearance of Muslim women attracted no censure or discipline from within his party, and that he is still being touted as a potential leadership candidate?
However, the important point is that when we ask people if they believe that prejudice and hate are on the rise, the answer is most often “Yes”. If we ask them to what they attribute that rise, their answer is “Politicians and the media”. We must reflect on the language that politicians use, the creation of us versus them, the othering of our citizens and the attempts to fuel and sow the seeds of hate for the purpose of political gain. Alongside that, we must reflect on how that is reported and amplified, either through mainstream broadcast media or through social media platforms.
Many people say that they think twice about travelling on our public transport system, and that is simply not acceptable. I know a woman in my constituency who refuses to use public transport because of the risk of abuse, threats or violence. Something must be done specifically around our public transport infrastructure, and I am keen to engage with the minister on that in more detail.
Silence is no longer an option. We can no longer afford to pick and choose what forms of prejudice and hate we will stand up against. Most crucially of all, we must find allies. We must not think that the solution is talking only to people with whom we identify. We must build alliances with people who are subject to all forms of prejudice and hate. We must come together to root it out of our society, politics, public discourse and communities around the country.
The Presiding Officer:
I am conscious that, as well as the minister, three more members wish to speak. Therefore, I am minded to accept a motion without notice to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes to accommodate them.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by 30 minutes.—[
Motion agreed to.
None of the behaviours that Rhoda Grant has described will ever, in any context, place or time, in public or private domains, be acceptable. In signing Rhoda Grant’s motion, I found myself agreeing with every single word of it. However, I do not think that it is a matter only for public agencies; there are a great deal of issues in the private sector as well, and I will make some reference to that.
I am not as well prepared as I would like to be with regard to the specifics of Rhoda Grant’s contribution, because I was not aware that that was to be her focus. It might have been helpful to have let me know that she was going to focus on that case, because I would have wished to respond in that regard. There is no discourtesy in my failing to engage directly with the detail. I am not wholly familiar with the case, and my shorthand did not enable me to take enough of it down. Do forgive me.
More than 30 years ago, a simple little thing illustrated to me attitudes in other people that I had not quite twigged. I recruited a systems analyst—a lady—who had been out of the job market for some time while she raised her family. I recruited her as a part-time member of staff. I assessed her as being highly competent, with good previous experience. In the computer industry, things move fast, so I agreed with her that I would pay for her to go on a full-time course for her first week, and I sent her on that course. My boss discovered that I had done that and I got quite severely criticised for spending money on a course for a part-time woman employee. I was absolutely shocked. It had never occurred to me to think in those terms and it was shocking to me that my boss did.
Let me take that example further. That person continued in her employment for several decades and then retired. On the day that she retired, she would not leave the office until 8 o’clock at night, because she wanted to complete the work that was in her in-tray. She was a dedicated, committed person, who, in her part-time employment, delivered much more than many male colleagues did in their full-time employment.
That is the sort of situation that we have had historically. It is a great shame that, to this day, we are in a position where the natural behaviour of too many of my gender in particular—Anas Sarwar is absolutely correct on that point—has not moved. That is a huge gender issue.
Until 1975, my wife, a highly paid professional lady, was not allowed to join her company’s pension scheme—something for which she continues to suffer today as she is in receipt of pension. This is a long-running issue.
On race and ethnicity, in my constituency we have a very diverse population. In Peterhead academy, 24 languages are spoken. When many of the people in the area initially came there from elsewhere, that created genuine difficulties—there was resistance and abuse of people. I commend Aberdeenshire Council—my party is not in the administration there, so I do so entirely honestly—which organised ways of getting the community to realise the value of that diversity and what people were contributing economically, socially and in every possible way. Today, I see the benefit of that.
Have we eradicated misogyny, racism, harassment and sexism? No—alas, no. However, the situation is dramatically different from where we were.
I will. The word “eradicate” is used twice in the motion. I think that we must all work to eradicate these things. I have to say that I am a wee bit pessimistic that we will ever succeed, but we must never stop trying.
My goodness—what a powerful speech that was from our fellow member telling us about DeeAnn’s shocking experience. I thank Rhoda Grant for bringing forward this members’ business debate.
Misogyny, harassment, sexism and racism are big on-going issues that are wholly unwelcome in our workplaces and wider communities.
Racism alone deserves its own focused discussion to find nuanced solutions, and tailored ones at that. Across our society and sectors there is still deep-seated and completely unfounded prejudice. Surely none of us can deny that. Women in particularly strive to counter prejudiced stereotypes every day.
That problem seeps into everyday life, especially into our workplaces. It manifests itself in the gender pay gap, a distinct lack of promotions for women, lower expectations of women and presumptions about women. I am sure that those examples merely scratch the surface of how women experience sexism. It is unfortunate that it has taken this long to realise the scale and magnitude of sexual harassment, especially in the work environment. The me too movement has shed an important light on the injustices that women can face in their employment. The Scottish Parliament, like every other workplace, is not immune to the issues surrounding gender bias and we, as Scotland’s policy makers, need to set an example, which we are trying to do now.
As I see it, at the heart of the problem is an underlying culture and attitude that limits opportunities and presents barriers. Although we need to whole-heartedly support more effective policies and practices that open the way for greater respect and fairness, that cannot be achieved without recognising the need for a major societal shift at its root. If that underlying culture remains, laws and policies will struggle to cause lasting change that promotes gender equality. If men turn a blind eye and ignore instances of sexism, it harms the prospect of change. No one is immune from doing their part to tackle the issues that we speak of today.
Harassment has far-reaching consequences: being targeted, particularly through sexist, misogynistic comments, can knock a person’s confidence. In some instances, those women can feel too unsafe to socialise with colleagues, or even to progress in their career and put themselves forward for promotions. Indeed, in many cases, their advancement is limited precisely because of the impact on their self-confidence. It is completely unacceptable that women who are subject to casual or overt sexism can lose out on opportunities to advance and perform well at work.
As I have said in the chamber before, the opportunities for and the contribution of women in the workplace strengthen our economy. A more diverse and insightful workforce makes for better results. Surely, part of the answer is to encourage employers to set out clear guidelines and policies to tackle those problems. One of the main challenges can be a lack of confidence in reporting the issue in the first place, which should never be the case. Workplaces need to have established practices that properly consider the feelings of the complainant, in an environment that is free from intimidation, apathy and ignorance.
Moreover, a modern working environment—one that breaks away from a male-orientated traditional culture—can also create welcome changes. For example, ensuring the availability of childcare provision and more part-time posts encourages a greater inclusion and awareness of women in the workplace. A responsive place of work can make all the difference.
I welcome the discussion, and the Scottish Government’s consultation on its review of hate crime offences in Scotland. We have to recognise that we cannot have a one-size-fits-all answer for targeting harassment and misogyny. Surely, the differing contexts, needs and complex issues that are faced by women, wherever they are, deserve a tailored approach. That rings especially true when we consider women of colour, who wrongly face their own particular barriers at work and, as we have heard from Anas Sarwar, on public transport. The presumptions that are made about them, which are based upon an inherent prejudice, mean that even applying for jobs can present challenges for them. Therefore, I hope that the Scottish Government will encourage the involvement of charities and organisations that can really shape the solution for those women.
I join colleagues in saying that there is absolutely no place for harassment, sexism, misogyny or racism in Scotland, or indeed anywhere. Although I have focused on problems that are centred in the work environment, I recognise that they can be seen in everyday life. I hope to see more entrenched policies that encourage greater awareness and equality for women and target the discriminatory practices that they come up against.
I congratulate my colleague Rhoda Grant on securing this important debate and on her first-class campaigning and advocacy on behalf of her constituent for more than a decade. I have watched intently from the sidelines, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute today.
Having been involved with staff in the on-going review of the NHS Highland bullying and harassment investigation, I am in no doubt that every employee deserves be treated with dignity and respect at work. There is no excuse for bullying in the workforce—no excuses, not ever.
Bullying and harassment are totally unacceptable and, of course, constitute a violation of international human and legal rights. Bullying and harassment undermine physical and mental health, as we have heard from many speakers. Today, we have heard from Rhoda Grant that DeeAnn was subjected to institutional racism, sexism
, harassment and abuse at the hands of Marine Scotland, which, for 10 years this week, has been a part of the core Scottish Government. After becoming a whistleblower, DeeAnn was excluded and cut out by many of her work colleagues.
Over the years, the oppressive behaviour was constant and undermining. She was constantly being held to a different standard than others with regard to time off in lieu, holidays and time off for compassionate leave or for medical reasons. On every occasion she was questioned, while others were not.
We have heard about the language that was used. Who would believe that we are talking about a Scottish Government office?
On 28 May 2014, DeeAnn received a letter from Paul Johnston, who is now the director general at the Scottish Government in charge of education, communities and justice, following her fairness at work appeal hearing.
I quote from the letter:
“It was clear to the Panel, on reviewing the findings of the Deciding Officer, alongside the report from the Investigating Officer, and the extensive material that you have submitted to support your case, that there have been significant historical shortcomings in the way in which you have been treated as a member of Scottish Government staff based in the Scrabster office.”
The letter goes on to say:
“there seems to be substantial agreement among all parties that the culture that prevailed historically in the Scrabster office was not acceptable”.
Moreover, Mr Johnston says that the panel concluded that DeeAnn should receive a “very specific apology” because personal information about her was placed on a public calendar. He continues:
“I wish to apologise on behalf of the Scottish Government for the fact that personal information about you was made available in this way”.
As a result of the hearing, disciplinary proceedings taken against DeeAnn were found to be flawed and were removed from her record. After the apology, things were looking up for DeeAnn, as she was promoted to senior fishery officer in the Scrabster office. However, that progress was short-lived and it appears that, as soon as her line managers thought that the focus had shifted, they again pursued her and sought to punish her for speaking out on behalf of colleagues.
Here we are today, with DeeAnn refused the right to return to work and Marine Scotland and the Scottish Government turning a deaf ear to her case for justice. What we have heard today is the tip of the iceberg of what DeeAnn has endured over the past decade.
Rhoda Grant’s plea for an independent inquiry into DeeAnn’s treatment by the Scottish Government is well founded, and the time has come to heed that call.
I join members in commending Rhoda Grant for lodging the motion. Misogyny, racism, harassment and sexism have no place in today’s society or in our working environment.
I am very pleased to see the revised sexual harassment policy that has been sent to all Scottish Parliament staff and to MSPs and their researchers. I know that Rhoda Grant and Rona Mackay have taken great care with that piece of work. The policy is necessary and I am very glad that it is being implemented. In addition to reporting sexual harassment it records sexist behaviour. Let me be clear: sexist behaviour creates a culture in which harassers continue to harass without consequence. That will no longer be the case.
That means that we need to broaden some men’s understanding of what constitutes abuse. As Rona Mackay and Patrick Harvie said, behaviour that might seem harmless to such men—so-called office banter—is felt differently by the person who is the subject of it. Those men are probably not thinking about the levels of sexual violence in society or the dozens of women killed by men in the United Kingdom every year, but their victims are.
Everyone has the right to a safe and respectful working environment and it is the responsibility of everyone who works in an organisation to ensure that that is so. Leaders, such as ourselves, need to encourage mutual respect, set an example, challenge attitudes and hold staff accountable for their actions. We want to do more to help to make that type of positive culture in the workplace the norm, rather than the negative culture that many of us have experienced.
It is imperative that the Scottish Government continues to make it clear that sexual harassment is unacceptable and that we all have a part to play in making it a thing of the past. That is why as part of the work of our equally safe strategy we are in the process of developing a public campaign to raise awareness and ensure that such behaviour is called out wherever it takes place. That will complement our wider work around prevention and challenging the underlying attitudes that allow violence against women and girls to flourish.
Annie Wells, Patrick Harvie, Maurice Corry, Stewart Stevenson and other speakers have clearly linked misogyny, discrimination and harassment to women’s inequality and the power imbalance across our society. That point has been eloquently expressed over the years by Engender, Close the Gap and other organisations. That is why we are funding the equally safe at work pilot, to provide a set of standards for employers to use, to make sure that they do not condone harassment and that their working environments encourage mutual respect and clearly deal with harassment and the attitudes that foster it.
I have not written to the minister in the past on behalf of DeeAnn
, so I understand that some of the information that she has heard today will have come as a shock and she will not have been prepared to hear it. I know that she is not in charge of the directorate in question, but will she give a commitment that she will speak to her colleagues about putting in place a totally independent inquiry? Until that is sorted, people will think that they can get off with that behaviour—the case stands out as a beacon and empowers people who would treat women and other colleagues in that way.
I appreciate and know how strongly Rhoda Grant and many others feel about the issue that
DeeAnn has faced. It is still subject to an on-going process, which means that there is an internal process that I should not get involved in. It would be completely inappropriate for me to comment on it at this time. I know that Rhoda Grant has been offered a meeting with Scottish Government officials to discuss the matter and I urge her to take up that offer if she can.
We are taking a number of steps, through our equally safe strategy, to help to create a society in which violence against women and girls is a thing of the past. That includes investing in prevention work in schools, public awareness raising and funding initiatives such as the white ribbon campaign, which encourages men to see themselves as part of the solution and to stand up for progress. Our work on equally safe sits alongside a number of other strategies and action plans that work together to make Scotland a fairer and more equal place to live for everybody here.
It was my pleasure to address the race equality employment conference last week with regard to the issues that Annie Wells and Anas Sarwar raised in their speeches. The conference was a joint effort between different policy areas of human rights, race equality, fair work and economic development, to address the systemic barriers that minority ethnic people face in the workplace—intersectionality in relation to women in the workplace was a key theme. I look forward to seeing similar work that brings people from different sectors to pool their skills and address those pervasive problems. I would be happy to discuss with Anas Sarwar the issues that he raised today.
We spend about a third of our waking lives at work. The importance of setting an example for a safe and respectful working environment cannot be overestimated. As leaders, we must remember that what we say, what we do and what we allow to pass without comment has a wider impact. What we do not condemn, we condone—I want to make that absolutely clear here today. The thought of Boris Johnson being our Prime Minister should chill us all—that issue was raised earlier.
It is up to us to be clearer and more fearless in openly saying what we stand for and what we will not condone on any level, and to set that example every day in our work environment and our personal lives. The message from Anas Sarwar in this place is that we must not be bystanders. Silence is not an option. By showing that misogyny, racism, harassment and sexism have no place in the political governance of Scotland, we will reinforce our efforts to tackle them across the country and give the people of Scotland the opportunity to see that we mean exactly what we say.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I wish to clarify that the procedure that was referred to with regard to Rhoda Grant’s constituent DeeAnn Fitzpatrick is not a legal procedure; it is a disciplinary procedure and as such should not have precluded the minister from indicating that she would be willing at least to look into an independent inquiry into the issue with her colleagues who knew about the case previously.