In a brave move to shed light on the pervasive issue of misogyny and sexual harassment within the Welsh Ambulance Service, three female paramedics have come forward to share their distressing experiences.
In a recent article by the BBC, the paramedics, who have chosen to remain anonymous for their safety, hope to initiate change within their workplace and bring an end to the toxic culture they have endured for too long.
One of the paramedics, who wished to be referred to as Victoria, disclosed that she “expects to be sexualised” by her colleagues every time she goes to work. Victoria expressed her fear that speaking up about the disturbing culture at the Welsh Ambulance Service could adversely affect her career prospects. Despite her apprehensions, she and her fellow paramedics have chosen to speak out, encouraged by the support of the ambulance service in sharing their stories.
The Welsh Ambulance Service decided to confront the issue of misogyny and sexual harassment within its ranks after learning of similar damning reports within other uniformed services like the Metropolitan Police, fire service, and armed forces. An internal audit and staff surveys were conducted, revealing unsettling yet unsurprising results.
Not “all men are bad”
Each of the courageous women emphasised that they do not believe “all men are bad” and acknowledged that they work with many incredible colleagues. They believe that management is now taking the problem seriously, which gives them hope for change.
Victoria’s account of her experiences shed light on the alarming behaviour she has had to endure from some male colleagues. She revealed that when she rejected unwanted advances or inappropriate comments, some colleagues responded with further persistence, stating that they would eventually wear her down. What’s even more concerning is that these comments were made openly, indicating a lack of fear of consequences.
The burden of preventing such behaviour is often placed on the victims, Victoria said, and she has even felt compelled to adopt more “laddish” behaviour to avoid being objectified. However, she remains concerned that speaking up might lead to a negative perception of her as the one trying to remove harmless banter.
Tamara Williams, a health board clinical lead for the Welsh Ambulance Trust, also shared her distressing experiences of unwanted attention when she first started with the service 12 years ago. Over time, the situation escalated, leaving her feeling uncomfortable and fearful about going to work. She emphasised the need to distinguish between humour and actions that make individuals feel unsafe.
Both Victoria and Tamara are part of the Voices Network, which provides a platform for people to share their harassment experiences. Tamara expressed surprise at the large number of people who came forward, demonstrating that the problem is far more common than initially thought.
Acknowledging the problem is a big step
Bron Biddle, who has been leading the work for the Welsh Ambulance Service to address misogyny and sexual harassment, stressed the importance of acknowledging the problem fully as the first step toward change. As Chief Executive of the service, Jason Killens expressed his shock at the isolation individuals feel when subjected to such inappropriate behaviour at work.
While disciplinary action will be taken where necessary, the focus is now on changing attitudes and behaviour within the workplace. The goal is to empower people to come forward with complaints and foster a culture where sexual harassment is not normalised.
The paramedics’ brave step to speak out against misogyny and sexual harassment in their workplace has brought this crucial issue to the forefront. The Welsh Ambulance Service now faces the challenge of tackling this problem head-on, with the hope of creating a safe and respectful environment for all its employees.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.