Tuesday 4 December 2018 7:59 am

DEBATE: Are we at risk of overreacting to the story of ‘forced hugging’ at Ted Baker?

Are we at risk of overreacting to the story of ‘forced hugging’ at Ted Baker?

Dr Joanna Williams, author of Women vs Feminism: Why We All Need Liberating from the Gender Wars, says YES.

Alarming stories of sleazy bosses taking advantage of vulnerable young women can make it seem as if the workplace hasn’t changed since the 1960s. Back then, women were relegated to low-paid and insecure jobs, leaving them easy prey to sexual harassment.

Today, things could not be more different. More women are in work than ever before; they are dominating the professions and taking more of the top jobs. Women have all the same employment rights as men.

But rather than celebrating this success, we seem determined to scare young women away from work with salacious stories of sexism and abuse.

In 2018, no woman has to put up with “forced hugs”. Most workplaces are flooded with bureaucratic HR policies dictating all aspects of personal behaviour. Just as importantly, women are more than capable of saying “no”, walking away from outstretched arms, or leaving a working environment they don’t want to be in. To pretend otherwise makes women seem pathetic.

Emily Redding, director of think tank platform smartthinking.org.uk, says NO.

At first glance this may seem to be one of those cases that falls within the grey area of the #MeToo movement. Some will argue that Ted Baker’s “forced hugging” culture is not as bad as groping, or that actions may have been misinterpreted. But this is exactly why it should be loudly called out.

It is this form of insidious harassment that is often so hard to pin down and therefore to challenge and stop.

A hug in a workplace between friends who are also colleagues is entirely different to people in positions of seniority insisting on invading an employee’s personal space without them having the ability to confidently say no. When you know that something is not right but it doesn’t stray enough over the line to feel definitive, it can be incredibly difficult to speak out.

Until these kinds of situations are rooted out along with the more blatant cases of harassment, the twenty-first century workplace will still be a minefield for people, particularly women, to navigate.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.