Changing the culture to tackle the issue of sexual harassment


The issues of sexism and sexual harassment have gained rising visibility in civil society across the world, since the advent of the #MeToo revelations concerning Harvey Weinstein and others. We mentioned this matter in our Group European agreement on gender equality signed at the end of 2017, as one of the pillars to improve gender equality and diversity.

With mainly technical activities, ENGIE is (numerically) a male-dominated workforce with women representing just 22% of employees worldwide. It is important that we attract young female engineers and provide them with good career development and safe working conditions.

What did you want to achieve?

Only a few cases of sexual harassment had been reported, making it easy for us to continue not addressing this issue. We knew that women, who are the most numerous victims, are reluctant to talk, even when ordinary sexism was at stake. With French legal constraints issued at the end of 2018, we decided to co-build an initiative from scratch and a whole system to change our culture and tackle this issue.

What did you do?

We took a progressive approach to co-building a holistic system – including prevention, orientation, support and treatment axes – with volunteer HR/diversity colleagues. We defined the roles of the newly appointed ‘referents’ and created a process and a communication toolkit, adaptable by local entities. The network of 70 referents we built and motivated in France 2019 has now grown to 120.

We are raising awareness among all employees, training HR and management, training new referents, subscribing to a specialised hotline with penal lawyers and psychologists and managing a steering committee with the main syndicates in ENGIE. A seminar we held in February 2020 gathered 100 people. External speakers and workshops targeted psychology and the role of the referent. As an extension of this initiative, we are also working on domestic violence since as it also affects well-being and performance, and have just provided recommendations to HR.

What are the results so far?

Quantitative results are difficult to assess because change happens over a long time, and women are still reluctant to talk openly. However, we can report: most ‘referents’ have been trained (90%) and half of the communication actions have been implemented (50%). So far, there are still very few cases reported (less than 10).

What have you learned?

We learned that engaging all internal stakeholders from the start is a key success factor: HR and also medicine, social representatives, ethics and compliance, HSE and social assistance. We also learned that we should motivate and train sexism ‘referents’ together and in the same way, whether appointed by their employer or personal representative bodies, and regularly ask referents about their expectations. Additionally, we learned that we need to provide a communication and training toolkit that can be customised to local needs and with local contacts, and to share the experience of local entities in their own words.