‘DO you have a boyfriend?”?He’d followed me into the hallway. It’s where the loos were. He worked there too, so he had every reason to come out of the door behind me.


“Have you got a boyfriend?” Closer now: “You can still give me a quick kiss. He won’t know.”

There was no-one around. I had a plate in each hand, smeared with Steak Diane and wilted salad. He was old to me then, but younger than I am now. All Lynx and fag smoke. He backed me against the Anaglypta and lunged in for a kiss.

I turned my head, snaked out of the way and continued to the kitchen. The chef was arranging a mixed grill, another waitress spooning coulis into a meringue nest.

“I don’t feel well. Can I go home early?”

I took my ten pounds, put my denim jacket on and left. It’s the first time I was sexually harassed at work. I was fourteen.

I was doing my Standard Grades and had already had a taste of why whisper networks and safety work are strategies we adopt. People had been making sexual comments at me for years. It never occurred to me that I could call the police or tell anyone about it. I’d already accepted that this was a dynamic that could persist to some degree in any area of my life.

It’s taken 17 years to realise how wrong it is that girls absorb harassment into their daily lives.

Women find ways to work around it. You can ignore it, confront it, report it or speak out, according to the stakes. All have the possibility of making things even worse, though everything but pretending it didn’t happen requires a willingness to put yourself on trial. Your word is up against well-liked, trusted and admired men’s reputations. Speaking up can backfire.

In trying to address a wrong, you can instead demolish your own reputation, as seen in recent months. Staying quiet has often been the most pragmatic solution, but it’s no longer tenable.

Unsurprisingly, the sexual harassment reckoning has made its way from Hollywood to Holyrood. Findings report that one in five staff members have been a victim. One in three women were victims, and half of the perpetrators were MSPs, confirming what’s already well understood: that sexual harassment is heavily gendered and co-morbid with positions of power.

The First Minister has expressed her shock, sadness and disappointment.

I’m saddened and disappointed too – but I don’t think any of us are truly “shocked”. In most jobs I’ve had, there’s been someone who’s overstepped the line – from the customer who followed me home, to the boss who commented on my chest, to the department head who kept turning up at my house.

Outmanoeuvring sexist behaviour has always been part of my working life. It’s been a part of far too many women’s working lives. If this is what normal looks like, we have to change it.

Allegations reveal how this cuts across all industries. Media. Movies. Music. Fashion. Hospitality. Charity. Politics. No-one is immune.

The grim reality is that all workplaces are capable of harbouring good workers and nice men who are capable of behaving badly. Each revelation illuminates further, like a beacon lit in a tower along a great wall. Women are telegraphing their situation to the world. We see how connected we all are and for all the wrong reasons.

Given the scale, women can’t solve this alone. It shouldn’t be for us to find new strategies for coping with an age-old problem. Women speaking up and speaking out is not enough to change things on its own.

Workplaces need to stand by or adopt zero-tolerance policies, but perhaps more fundamentally in terms of culture-change, what’s needed now are allies. We need the men who are outraged by those who continue to limit women’s full participation in working life to do something about it.

In response to the findings, I’m pleased that Deputy First Minister John Swinney has spoken unequivocally about men’s role.

He stressed that to end sexual harassment men must improve their conduct around women. I’d go even further than that – men must improve their conduct around each other.

When this happens at work, it’s not casual. It’s a symptom that indicates the workplace needs a close look. It means that there’s a reason some men feel not just comfortable behaving inappropriately, but buffered from the potential consequences.

Given that this behaviour is a product of a sexist ideology going unchallenged by workplace culture, you’re far more likely to be dealing with a pattern of behaviour, where positions of authority have been abused successfully time and again.

Men can help break the chain. When confronting sexist and misogynistic men, our voices carry little weight. If a woman complains, it can make things worse. But if a man challenges another man – confronting a sexist joke or remark – he can make a difference.

A sexist man might not care about a woman’s feelings, but approval and validation from other men will matter, and you can use that to your advantage.

If you witness sexist behaviour, overhear it or are told about it, say something. Say why you don’t like it and why you think it’s unacceptable.

Women have spoken up, but men, it’s up to you to be the vanguard of the cultural shift we desperately need.