Female ex-employees of EU gender equality institute in Vilnius: Harassment was widespread
Sexual harassment at the European Institute of Gender Equality (EIGE) in Vilnius was more widespread than the few cases of harassment, former foreign employees of the European Union's (EU) institution told BNS.
"It is not only three women. There are only three women that complained but the problem was much more widespread than that," Anne told BNS on a condition of anonymity.
Interviewed by BNS Lithuania, two former employees said that the institute was indifferent to the reports about possibly undue conduct in the team, adding that the reputation of the two women who had come forward was being damaged.
"This is the most toxic place I have ever seen. It is a culture of silence, and it seems that staff are still scared to talk," said Anne.
Politico.eu portal said last Thursday that complaints filed by two female interns about sexual harassment by three men had been examined at the institution in 2014. In two cases, the complaints were found valid.
BNS spoke with another female described by the portal. She wanted to referred to as Judith. She had written an email to the institute's personnel manager about a colleague's undue conduct, however, did not file an official complaint. This took place in 2012, and one of the interns filed claim about harassment by the same colleague later on.
Judith said she was applying for a higher position at the institute and the colleague heading the competition jury had invited her for a meeting on the eve of the interview, saying she would have to meet more people from the institute.
"I still remember this crazy situation: it was only me, him and one more woman who was also applying for this position, she wasn't from EIGE. We were sitting in front of him and he was just looking at us like a hungry dog, taking photos of us. I felt paralyzed. (...) And then this comment: that if I invite him 'for dinner with breakfast', you know, I can win the recruitment," said Judith.
Judith said she had left and later sent him a message, saying she considered his conduct undue and pledging to file an official complaint in case of repeated conduct. She said the man did not repeat any undue conduct later on. Also, she was not selected for the higher position.
In her words, the group of male employees with characteristic undue behavior were from Western Europe and did not even try to hide their belittling attitude towards Central and Eastern Europe.
The institute's director Virginija Langbakk told BNS last Thursday that the cases of sexual harassment had to do with different communication patterns in different cultures.
"If there are 20 different nationalities, people think differently and the interpretations of gestures, words and conduct are different – it is more acceptable in some places and less acceptable elsewhere," she said.
Judith said that the attitude towards what had happened showed that the head of the institute had failed to realize how serious the situation actually was.
"It shows that the EIGE's management still has not understood what harassment is and they still have problems with dividing harassment from cultural differences or other issues. Which is alarming, especially for the European Institute for Gender Equality," said Judith.
Politico.eu said that young females doing internship at EIGE had complained about continued flirtation from the above-mentioned men, along with juicy comments and invitations to go out. One of the interns said a man had touched her in an impropper manner.
Inquiries were conducted into the complaints, and they were found valid in two cases. The men at issue are no longer employed at the institute.
Anne said there was a broader problem with work culture and relationships in the institution.
"There is a wider issue of institutional bullying going on there, and from recent conversations with current staff that are scared for their job I believe that this has not stopped. The sexual harassment is just a manifestation of that. Sexual harassment is always to do with power and not sexuality. It is about people asserting their power in any way they can, this is why some of the perpetrators went after trainees and not more senior people like me," said Anne.
She said he had left work at the institute for a worse job offer, as she could no longer stand the negative attitude and heavy work load.
The European Institute of Gender Equality is an independent institution of the European Union, aimed at contributing to promotion of gender equality and fighting discrimination on the grounds of gender.