UK’s first faith-based scheme launches to combat sexual harassment in the workplace

The UK’s first faith-based scheme to combat sexual harassment in the workplace has been announced today.

The launch follows heightened awareness around unacceptable behaviour in society in general, including the #MeToo movement and a recent government report on a zero tolerance approach towards sexual harassment.

The three-year project, specifically for Jewish charities and community organisations, launches with a 12-month pilot project. Jewish Women’s Aid (JWA) has developed the programme, supported by the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council to design and deliver the campaign, which if successful is expected to be rolled out across all UK-based Jewish organisations.

An initial five organisations – JW3, UJIA, World Jewish Relief, Resource and Reform Judaism – have signed up for the pilot. The initiative involves undertaking an initial anonymous online survey about workplace culture and sexual harassment as well as attending three workshops.

The organisations will be supported to develop policy and procedures to ensure any reported incidents are dealt with appropriately. And there will be ongoing support from a JWA representative to ensure organisations continue to embed the programme. Face-to-face training and support will also be provided to employees, volunteers and lay leaders.

JWA spent a year developing a programme to ensure that staff, trustees, donors, contractors and volunteers are protected from harassment. The specialist charity undertook a Rapid Evidence Assessment and contacted a cross-section of large, medium and small Jewish communal organisations as well as looking at best practice models around the world. Only one charity surveyed had a robust policy that addressed sexual harassment.

The scheme has been funded by RoSA, an independent charity offering free confidential support for anyone who has experienced the trauma of rape, sexual abuse or sexual violence. Expert HR Advisors from Human Resources practice DOHR have been instrumental consultants in supporting the delivery of the programme.  The overwhelming majority of those who suffer workplace sexual harassment are women (40%), according to a BBC survey, and therefore this project is well-placed as part of JWA’s services supporting women affected by violence and abuse.

The issue of sexual harassment in Jewish community organisations was first brought to light by the JC in an article by Rosa Doherty .  The JLC and BoD jointly asked JWA to develop a programme to address this, and in March 2019 the JLC organised a panel discussion on the topic to mark International Women’s Day .

Naomi Dickson, CEO of Jewish Women’s Aid, said: “We are pleased to have had the opportunity to work on this hugely important and unique project because JWA has specialist knowledge of violence against women and girls in the Jewish community.  Sadly, sexual harassment is a problem faced in all workplaces. It can cause stress and lead to physical and emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance and loss of self-confidence. Many victims leave their job rather than carry on suffering. It is essential that we have a cross-communal approach to combatting sexual harassment. It is unacceptable behaviour and should not be tolerated.”

Gillian Merron, Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies, added: “It is absolutely crucial that everyone working for a Jewish community organisation feels safe from any kind of sexual harassment. To ensure this happens we need to have the correct procedures in place which will not only protect all those involved in communal organisations but also give them the confidence that harassers will be identified and dealt with. By taking this proactive step, we are setting an example which we hope others will follow.”

Simon Johnson, Chief Executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: ““We are incredibly grateful to JWA for this project and the work they are doing to ensure that the Jewish community is confident that their organisations take sexual harassment seriously. It is vitally important that we all work in an environment where we feel safe in every regard. We hope that this programme will encourage more organisations to look and review their policies and practices around sexual harassment in the workplace.”

Raymond Simonson, CEO of JW3 – the Jewish Community Centre London, said: “I have worked for over 25 years in the Jewish communal sectorand I’ve rarely been as ashamed as when I read the report in 2017 highlighting the level of sexual harassment endured by women working within Jewish organisations. When JWA asked if I would consider JW3 participating in this vital pilot programme, I felt a responsibility – especially as a male CEO in a position of power in an organisation with over 70% female staff – to agree. It is absolutely right that we hold communal institutions to the highest possible standards, and we need all senior leaders across the community to be part of this important conversation.”

“The rise of the #MeToo campaign has shone a light on the issues of harassment, but has not provided the practical business focussed responses which organisations need,” said Donna Obstfeld, Managing Director of DOHR. “We are excited to be a part of this trailblazing project”.

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