Terry Prone: 'mistake'

A Sunday Tribune survey of businesswomen and female academics in the wake of the "fruitbat controversy" at UCC has revealed that sexual harassment in the workplace is now a major problem, despite the fact few women have made official complaints.

Ninety per cent of women contacted last week by this newspaper said they or their colleagues had been victims of sexual harassment.

One academic, principal of a university language department, says the issue is about to "break open" following the UCC case, in which a male member of staff, Dylan Evans, faces disciplinary proceedings over showing a female colleague a survey on the sexual peccadillos of the fruitbat.

"There is one very bad case of sexual harassment coming to my attention at the moment," this academic said. "We can laugh about fruitbats but for someone like me, it makes uncomfortable reading. It's remarkable more has not come out but the issue of sexual harassment in universities is about to break open."

Few women are willing to take their complaints to an official level, she said. Instead they try to ignore it or ask advice from colleagues.

"All universities have policies on dignity and respect yet so few women take it this far, though I have a feeling the case in Cork is actually the tip of the iceberg. I have spoken to female colleagues who have all told me of conversations in which there would be uncomfortable sexual undertones. It can be done very cleverly."

One female manager in a well-known property agency says derogatory comments make up the majority of cases of harassment in her business.

"There would be comments flying from male colleagues when women got pregnant, saying things like 'Well, you won't be seeing her again'. Women in our profession will meet this problem along the way. You just have to be as tough as nails. I have seen women who have given up work because of it and not come back. This is how far I have seen it go."

PR guru Terry Prone believes women should not take their complaints to an official level, and confront the situation themselves instead.

"A lot of women are making the mistake of going to the law with these cases. My advice always is not to go to the law. Not only is it so much more complicated, but you are a marked woman then. You will be remembered as 'that one' who lost a case."