Women work­ing in com­mu­nal or­gan­i­sa­tions re­count their ex­pe­ri­ences of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour from male col­leagues

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROSA DO­HERTY

JEWISH WOMEN spoke out this week about their per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences of sex­ual ha­rass­ment while work­ing for com­mu­nal or­gan­i­sa­tions.

In the wake of al­le­ga­tions that have rocked Hol­ly­wood and West­min­ster, the six women de­scribed how they had been the vic­tims of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour from male col­leagues, and re­called how their com­plaints were ig­nored.

All but one of the women, Ella Rose, asked to re­main anony­mous, and we have given them pseu­do­nyms. We have not named the or­gan­i­sa­tions they worked for in or­der to pro­tect their iden­ti­ties.

“Beth” held a se­nior po­si­tion in one of the com­mu­nity’s lead­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions for more than 20 years.

Dur­ing her ca­reer in the com­mu­nity she reg­u­larly wit­nessed and ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual ha­rass­ment and was dis­cour­aged from re­port­ing a se­ri­ous in­ci­dent by a se­nior fig­ure. The worst in­ci­dent came early on in her ca­reer, she said.

“We were based in a cen­tral Lon­don of­fice and had just been as­signed our own se­cu­rity guard.

“I walked past him ev­ery day on the way into work. He was very friendly and I’d say good morn­ing. There was an air lock which we had to go through to get into the build­ing, which is com­mon in most com­mu­nal build­ings.

“One day he fol­lowed me in and tried to kiss me. It came out of nowhere I was re­ally shocked and pushed him off.

“It was com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate. He was sup­posed to be there to pro­tect us.”

Beth im­me­di­ate- ly in­formed her line man­ager about what had hap­pened.

“I was en­cour­aged to just for­get about it and told that, if I made an of­fi­cial com­plaint we ‘might lose the guard and it would be my fault.’

“I was very up­set, and felt un­com­fort­able to have to walk past this guard ev­ery morn­ing.

“The worst thing for me was that I was not sup­ported.”

The line man­ager now holds a se­nior po­si­tion in the com­mu­nity.

Beth in­sisted that she had man­aged to put the in­ci­dent be­hind her, yet ac­knowl­edged that, years later, she still feared speak­ing out about it. “I wouldn’t want to be iden­ti­fied to­day be­cause I don’t want the back­lash,” she said. The com­mu­nity needed an “in­de­pen­dent body” women could re­port ha­rass­ment to,” she felt.

“The cul­ture of the com­mu­nity is very tribal. It is im­pos­si­ble for peo­ple to feel com­fort­able about re­port­ing any sort of prob­lem at work.”

“Re­becca” works in a se­nior role in a com­mu­nal or­gan­i­sa­tion and has ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual ha­rass­ment which ranges from lewd com­ments to grop­ing.

She said: “I’ve had ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate touch­ing. It’s been so bad that I’ve had non-Jewish mem­bers of staff com­ment on what I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced.

“I’ll be in a meet­ing where I’ve sug­gested a woman for some as­sign­ment and my male col­leagues have com­mented ‘oh yeah, she has great tits’.”

“I’ve had in­ap­pro­pri­ate phys­i­cal touch­ing from se­nior col­leagues used as a way of in­tim­i­da­tion.”

She said the be­hav­iour was done to “hu­mil­i­ate me and un­der­mine my author­ity.

“Even at this stage in my ca­reer, there is a fear of speak­ing out about th­ese things.”

Other ex­am­ples of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour she ex­pe­ri­enced in­cluded be­ing told to by col­leagues to “dress sexy” when go­ing to meet donors.

“I think it is done to re­mind me of my place,” she said. “When meet­ing fun­ders I’ve ex­pe­ri­ence a lot of ‘handsy’ be­hav­iour. I’ve learnt to shimmy out of the way.”

“Chloe”, who is the only fe­male em­ployee at her com­mu­nal or­gan­i­sa­tion, said she felt it would be im­pos­si­ble to re­port sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

“I wouldn’t feel com­fort­able. I work for a small or­gan­i­sa­tion with three to four staff mem­bers.

“If I had a com­plaint, the peo­ple I would be re­port­ing it to are their friends, they are on the board with them. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual ha­rass­ment like many women, but it would be very dif­fi­cult to re­port an abuse of power.”

“Cathy” has worked in the com­mu­nity for more than 40 years — meet­ing se­nior fig­ures is a reg­u­lar part of her job.

She said: “You ei­ther toughed it out or you crum­bled. I had some de­plorable in­ci­dents early on in my ca­reer but it was all par for the course. There was no one to com­plain to and there still isn’t. As I got bet­ter in my job, I was more con­fi­dent in nav­i­gat­ing sit­u­a­tions where I was in dan­ger of be­ing sex­u­ally as­saulted and now I’m older it doesn’t hap­pen.

“I went to meet an of­fi­cial in a ho­tel room, which was of­ten the norm, and was chased around the room by him.

“I said ‘stop it and sit down, what is wrong with you,’ but it was hard to con­trol him.

“I think a lot of men op­er­ate on the ba­sis of what they can get away with and I think that is true right across the com­mu­nity.

“Ninety-eight per cent of the com­mu­nal lead­er­ship were rich and pow­er­ful men and we women were easy prey.”

She de­scribed male col­leagues in­ap­pro­pri­ately stroking her neck dur­ing meet­ings and one pin­ning her against a wall.

“Am I wounded? Not re­ally, but would I be if I were some­one else? Sure”.

“Claire”, who works for a lead­ing com­mu­nal or­gan­i­sa­tion, said the is­sue of sex­ual ha­rass­ment was not be­ing ad­dressed by the com­mu­nal lead­er­ship.

“The re­cent al­le­ga­tions in wider so­ci­ety have been a missed op­por­tu­nity to re­as­sure Jewish women,” she said.

“I have ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual ha­rass­ment at work but I don’t feel safe in say­ing so. The Jewish com­mu­nity doesn’t move on, and se­nior peo­ple like to re­mind you: ‘you don’t want to be­come known as the per­son who said that thing’.

“Peo­ple re­mind you of that con­stantly. There should be no stigma at­tached to say­ing you’ve been sex­u­ally ha­rassed, but there is.”

The lack of for­mal hu­man re­sources de­part­ments at com­mu­nal or­gan­i­sa­tions made the sit­u­a­tion worse, she said.

“A lot of the time if you are young, it is not clear who you can go to. If your boss is friends with his boss, but is in­ap­pro­pri­ate with you, then where do you turn?”

Ella Rose, the di­rec­tor of the Jewish Labour Move­ment, was the only women out of more than 30, pre­pared to be named as some­one who had ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual ha­rass­ment. The 23-year-

I was en­cour­aged to just for­get about it’

old is one of com­mu­nity’s youngest lead­ers.

She told the JC: “I have ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual ha­rass­ment within the Jewish com­mu­nity, and have no doubt I am not alone.

“Sex­ual ha­rass­ment is a preva­lent is­sue in so­ci­ety, and the Jewish com­mu­nity is not im­mune from this. It can be found at ev­ery level; it’s a se­ri­ous is­sue that isn’t spo­ken about, and needs ur­gent at­ten­tion.”

ICALL IT the Scheherazade Ef­fect: my ex­pres­sion for the way girls had to ma­nip­u­late, charm and edge their way out of sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the JC. Yes, the JC! When I started here in my 20s, back in the 1970s, I was the only woman re­porter and I could not imag­ine last­ing out the week, so many se­nior ed­i­tors were lung­ing, touch­ing and smooching. If you were not ag­ile enough to man­age a pre-emp­tive es­cape, life would be a true bat­tle­field.

Why Scheherazade ? For those who don’t know One Thou­sand and One Nights, Scheherazade was the last bride in a string of vic­tims of a ra­pa­cious and blood­thirsty sul­tan who had each one mur­dered after the first night of hon­ey­moon. She saved her­self by telling a nightly se­ries of bril­liant cliff-hang­ers, which led to him fall­ing in love with her and spar­ing her life.

I’m not talk­ing mur­der at the JC, of course, but the way to stave off th­ese men’s un­wel­come ad­vances was to keep talk­ing about other things, re­mind­ing them of their wives and chil­dren, prais­ing their bril­liant ar­ti­cles, charm­ing them, un­til they slowly — very slowly, if ever — be­gan to see you as a hu­man be­ing and not a sex­ual play­thing.

So en­demic was the prob­lem that the vic­tim be­gan to col­lude with her at­tacker, be­liev­ing in some Freudian way, that he was un­well and had to be un­der­stood, not con­fronted. One man would get nasty if con­fronted. So I tried po­lit­i­cal anal­y­sis, of which I knew noth­ing at all, which launched him onto the safer ter­ri­tory of fu­ri­ous in­tel­lec­tual re­but­tal. But that only re­in­forced how di­min­ished I felt.

There were lewd re­marks, that you some­how de­flected and the touchy-feely types you tried to avoid be­ing alone with. One man man­aged a quick grab while I was in his of­fice. I was dream­ing of the hot story I was about to break, rather than wor­ry­ing about my phys­i­cal prox­im­ity to his wan­der­ing hands.

But worst of all, was the day when I walked into one se­nior ex­ec­u­tive’s of­fice. His door bore a red light, so I po­litely knocked. Once in­side, I turned to face him — to find he had ex­posed him­self. Shocked and dis­be­liev­ing, I of­fered some gib­ber­ing ex­cuse about the ed­i­tor need­ing to see me, and made a quick get­away. This was some­thing you read about in the pa­pers; half-dressed blokes leap­ing out of bushes in the park, not some­thing you ex­pect in a news­pa­per of­fice.

After my first baby was born I ten­ta­tively ven­tured back to that red light dis­trict, in­tent on sell­ing a story idea. Things would be bet­ter this time. I was a mother now. I was also heav­ily into read­ing Hin­duism and Bud­dhism and the kind of tran­scen­den­tal stuff I thought I could of­fer those poor mis­guided souls who saw only the body and not the spirit.

I walked in hold­ing the baby. I might as well have brought the cat. Un­de­terred, this same man ven­tured furtively to­wards me, his wa­tery eyes fixed, ex­tend­ing his grop­ing paws and ig­nor­ing my diminu­tive pro­tec­tor (will she ever for­give me?).

“If you gaze deeply into my eyes,” I said as hyp­not­i­cally as I could, “you won’t fancy me at all be­cause you will see your mother.” Need­less to say, that didn’t work. He pleaded with me to stay. I have to ad­mit I was torn be­tween dis­gust and sym­pa­thy for what I con­sid­ered — and still be­lieve to be — an un­treated psy­cho-sex­ual con­di­tion on his part. Clutch­ing my baby daugh­ter, once again I beat a hasty re­treat. I was an­gry but also deeply sad.

Work­ing free­lance in Fleet Street proved eas­ier, apart from a pub­li­ca­tion where I tried of­fer­ing sto­ries to a scar­ily las­civ­i­ous, CzechJewish ed­i­tor with a mor­dant wit. He sug­gested lunch and the ha­rass­ment be­gan in the taxi and ended in a restau­rant where he had booked a pri­vate room. With his hands grop­ing ev­ery­where ex­cept the salmon en croute, I man­aged to free my­self and flee in time, la­ment­ing later that I hadn’t sold a sin­gle story .

Girls like me at the time, would joke about sex­ual ha­rass­ment, with a kind of gal­lows hu­mour. We lived by our wits. Had I spo­ken to the JC’s ed­i­tor — him­self eter­nally aloof, gen­tle­manly and cour­te­ous — he would have been hor­ri­fied, em­bar­rassed and might have won­dered if it was re­ally worth­while em­ploy­ing a woman re­porter. So I said noth­ing. I am only pre­pared to speak now, as the cul­prits are all dead. As I say, Scheherazade was our role model.


“Sex­ual ha­rass­ment is preva­lent through­out so­ci­ety and the Jewish com­mu­nity is not im­mune”

Ella Rose

Glo­ria in her twen­ties

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