Female emergency services responders at a Bristol ambulance service were reportedly forced to watch pornographic videos, and according to a report on bullying, were also the victims of sexually abusive behavior.
The investigation into the South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust (SWASFT) revealed that female staff quit their jobs and even considered taking their own lives because of "highly sexualized and sexist" behavior in their workplace. The claims by the women include being forced to watch porn, give sexual favors, and also being sexually propositioned.
The Bristol Post reported that the SWASFT, which services the Gloucestershire area, launched a review after an NHS staff survey found out that 24% of the ambulance service's staff said they had been victims of bullying or harassment. The ambulance service's chief executive, Ken Wenman, described that the review's report was "the most important and significant" one he had read in two decades.
The Bristol Post also said that the report found "sexual banter" at the ambulance service created a "highly sexualized" atmosphere for some of the staff. The paper also said that the report claimed new female employees were regularly referred to as "fresh meat" or even told that they would be put over the manager's knee and "spanked". There have also been reports that a group of managers made a "club" and allegedly used the membership for sexual favors but this hasn't been proven.
The study said that one man and a woman simulated sex on the floor in front of others present, including managers, who allegedly failed to stop it. The report said: "Some male colleagues commented on how they found the culture in some work locations to be highly sexualized and sexist. Interviewees also talked about managers openly flirting with new employees in an attempt to exert power and control."
The report revealed that any brave women who stood up and complained about the alleged actions were sidelined for promotions and even alienated by their own colleagues. One interviewee said in the report: "It was made clear to me if I wanted to progress my career there were sexual favors that were required. Nights out, weekends away. You do as we want you to."
The document also revealed that aside from the highly sexualized behavior, people also thought that the managers and their colleagues were "openly sexist" towards women in what can be viewed as them thinking that they were less capable because they are women. The report also found that sexism was used in the workplace to give women unfair workloads compared to their male counterparts.
Even though the report said that some of the instances described were historical, the instances have "left its mark on interviewees". The document added: "Some women talked about being exposed to pornographic material, to being physically propositioned and to behaviors that are frankly bordering on gross misconduct or even sexual assault. Much of this seems to either have existed or to still be prevalent because of a culture where sexual banter was/is commonplace."
The review also stated that thoughts of suicide, as well as actual suicides, have happened. It said: "It is impossible to connect these directly to alleged bullying/inappropriate behavior, although some staff we interviewed made those connections themselves." The SWASFT has said that it is determined to squash any bullying and harassment from the workplace.
Tony Fox, the SWASFT chairman, said that he is happy with the findings because this gives the Trust Board an opportunity to be aware of the situation by a "greater level of detail" than just the NHS Staff Survey. He said: "The board will provide oversight and support to ensure the actions to address bullying and harassment are fully implemented and a step change and sustained improvement is seen across the Trust so that every employee feels valued and is treated with dignity and respect."
Amy Beet, the trust's executive director of people and culture, said: "All of the areas identified by the cultural review as hotspots for bullying and harassment have seen recent changes in senior leadership, with many of these occurring since the commencement of the survey. These leaders will be supported to take forward positive action to address the issues identified within each of these localities."