The motor industry and sexual harassment

How very depressing all this sleaze is but please don’t think I’m surprised.

Not just about dreadful sexual behaviour at the BBC and Hollywood – now we’re reading about serious bullying and rapists at Westminster, in schools and in sport.

Take the time to talk to females in other business areas and you’ll find that female harassment and worse comes in all shapes and sizes. In short it is alive and well in places near us all. Just scratch the surface and, given time, you’ll find a lack of gender respect and worse.

It’s all very worrying.

Will we find sexual misconduct specifically within the motor industry I wonder? As a male dominated industry that is a long way short of being squeaky clean in other areas, I’d be very surprised if this wasn’t the case here but where would we go to check and see? For example, where would motor industry ‘victims’ go (other than to the Police or media) and what are the lessons we could learn here?

Inappropriate sexual harassment, bullying and assault

Nobody will have sympathy for men like Dustin Hoffman, Michael Fallon, Kevin Spacey or Harvey Weinstein. Not the only offenders by a long chalk we know, but let them be the celebrity fall guys, ahead of many more I feel sure – reminding the rest of us how to behave. And let any legal force pursue them and take its full course.

But I do feel sorry for the good guys who know this sort of predatory sexual behaviour goes on around them. Disgusted sons, husbands and dads that despair of unacceptable peer behaviour, knowing the devastating effects this can have on vulnerable women.

So where are the problems likely to be found in the UK motor industry and what’s to be done?

Behaviour in the Automotive Industry

Let’s start with the role of ‘Driving Instructor’ as an example of individuals who are mostly men, in positions of power, and often dealing with young pupils. Instructor selection is an area for concern among parents and daughters but there are few female instructors as yet.

For example, I know of one recent incident where a male instructor asked to use a pupil’s bathroom after a driving lesson – he then seriously assaulted her. The police were informed but they weren’t as supportive as I’d expect them to be. This is another area that needs to be addressed.

There probably is a lot of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ in the motor industry but I’m not saying sexual assaults because I don’t have this information. All I can be sure of is that when the workshop banter gets going (which many women put up with because they have no choice) women are often the target.

So it’s good to see the sexual harassment advice and guidance that ACAS gives employers at their website.

I often wonder how a male in a customer service role can serve a female customer with respect after an earlier lewd conversation behind the scenes? I don’t think he can.

And then there are the not uncommon reports of Swiss Toni-like car salesmen interested in single female car buyers. This is worrying when the business has that customer’s home address.

When the MD of a Top Ten automotive group suggested I talk to two senior women employees to be reassured that his business was a ‘female friendly’ employer, they both told me, in strict confidence, that neither would describe the business as this. I wish I’d asked more about the business’ equality policy at the time and was able to tell the CEO what they said…

I’m also intrigued why the whistle-blower route doesn’t seem to work more effectively. Are individuals worried about personal repercussions? Or perhaps this is because there’s no one independent organisation or specialist individual within the motor industry to take action here?

For example, what happens in a business when a complaint is made (about internal harassment or assault?) to the HR Department? Especially when the ‘accused’ claims consensual justification or that the claimant has made a false allegation?

Heaven forbid we end up with support services per membership association (there are 43 I’m told), each with a vested interest in hushing such behaviour up within their community?

Gender equality lessons to learn

I hope some important lessons might be learned by the motor industry from Hollywood and Westminster events.

1) That this sort of behaviour and misogynistic attitudes are commonplace, not just evident in headline news. And that there can be no room for complacency.

2) That sexual sleaze is likely alive and well in a place near you.

3) Whilst it remains mostly a male activity, women can also harass, bully and abuse men.

4) That sexual harassment, depending on the circumstances may amount to both an employment rights matter and a criminal matter, such as in sexual assault allegations. In addition, harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 can be a criminal offence. And employers as well as staff can be held liable for this.

What I’d like to see happening is that…

5) Women stop saying ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘it was only a knee/a joke’ or ‘it’s just male banter.’ No matter the instance, this is never acceptable behaviour.

6) Unaccompanied women of all ages must say NO when it’s suggested they go to someone’s flat or hotel room, late at night. Or when it comes to working late at night, alongside a man they don’t know or trust.

7) Employers look at and review all business occasions where social events and activities involve alcohol.

8) Women start to realise β€œIt was not my fault. He took advantage of me.” rather than imagining they were responsible for any form of sexual assault.

9) Women decide NOT to join the boys club as their means of climbing the career ladder. Nobody should have to learn golf to be taken seriously for promotion.

10) The industry identifies and outlaws companies that use sexual images/innuendo to sell calendars and/or in advertising PLUS those that employ scantily or provocatively clad ‘promotional girls’ to gratify men. Men who’d hate their wives or girlfriends to be these calendar models or promotional girls of course…

A Note To Vulnerable Women In The Motor Industry

I’d like to finish with some advice for ambitious and talented women of all ages who might worry about being harassed or worse within the automotive industry.

It’s perfectly alright for women to behave like women even if they are working in a mainly male world. How else will we change this macho culture if we try to be like men, knowing that the dominant customer gender is female?

It’s pointless pretending this anyway. Men who encourage you to act like them, don’t respect you when you do. And most men are scared by the women who talk and act unnaturally tough and aggressive.

But perhaps the most important thing for women today is, how can you be proud about yourself if you feel you need to be someone you aren’t?

So don’t do this ladies.

Instead, be yourself, be proud, be a good female role model and win recognition for being a popular and talented team player, not a Queen Bee.

If you are an employer and you need to review your HR processes in the light of recent events, may I introduce Charlotte Allfrey from Metro HR consultants, as an excellent sounding board, following up with the level of professional and practical advice and guidance you may need.


PS: Feel free to contact me about any aspect of this to do with the motor industry by emailing me at