Not a day goes by right now without headlines over the epidemic that is sexual harassment. A zero tolerance approach is being taken and industry stalwarts such as Cindy Gallop have made a global call out to companies to protect victims and whistle-blowers of sexual harassment and end a culture of silence.
But what can you do if something has happened to you in the past? Or if something is happening to you right now? Or what if you’ve observed this type of behaviour? What can you do? Who should you speak to? What action can you take?
Perhaps it was an inappropriate touch, comment or joke. Perhaps a sexual demand was made or perhaps it was an email with sexual content. Are these behaviours something you can challenge?
If it made you feel violated, intimidated, degraded or humiliated then you have every right to speak up.
It may not seem that easy. You may feel intimidated, or in fear of repercussions and that is only something you can truly assess. But remember, you don’t have to make that assessment on your own. NABS is here for you throughout the process, at any stage.
Here are some actions you can take:
If you feel like you’re being harassed, be confident in your voice. Tell the person their behaviour is not acceptable. Use language that makes it clear you do not accept their actions. Explicitly point out to them what they are doing, forcing them to see your perspective.
If the moment moves quickly and you are in shock, it’s okay to draw their attention back to their unacceptable behaviour, whether that be a week or two weeks after it happened and tell them it was unwanted and unwelcome.
It may be that the person who is behaving in this way is in a position of power and so speaking up may not always be so easy. Likewise, you may not feel safe enough to speak up. If this is in the case, remove yourself safely from the situation, make a detailed note of what happened, including how it made you feel, what was said and any witnesses and talk to someone about it.
If challenging the behaviour of this person is not working or isn’t an option then take the matter to your line manager, HR department or another senior leader in the business. NABS can help you talk through the conversation and work out the best approach here. You may also need to put it in writing, keeping a copy for yourself, and follow your company’s grievance procedure, so keeping a diary or list detailing the times you have been harassed will become a useful guide.
Your company is obliged to address and deal with the harassment, it is prohibited under The Equality Act 2010 and your employer has a duty of care to keep you safe. And in extreme cases, the harassment may amount to indecent assault, meaning it may be appropriate to talk to the police.
There are clear legal risks associated with harassment in the workplace including a claim to an employment tribunal if your employer can’t resolve the problem through a grievance procedure. Plus, of course there is a moral duty as the wellbeing of staff and the company’s reputation may also be at stake. And a company that values its people will want to eradicate this type of behaviour and make sure it never happens again.
Speak up. As an observer of this type of behaviour, it can be much easier to just pretend it’s not happening and ignore. After all, it may bring you unwanted attention or bring you into a situation you don’t want to be a part of. And as uncomfortable as it may feel to become involved, in the longer term, it will make you feel much more uncomfortable to know something was happening to a fellow colleague and you failed to act.
Spotting the offensive behaviour is the first step in dealing with it – whether you’re experiencing it yourself, or seeing it amongst colleagues. Sexual harassment can be dressed up in humour or dismissed with an ‘only joking’ comment, making it easy to miss or not take seriously. Recognise this action for what it is and take action.
Tell the person you don’t find that funny or point out the offense. Talk to a senior leader so that can clarify to the organisation what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. This is difficult if you're working in a culture of fear so it’s important to remember that you too can contact NABS and understand what other options you have in addressing this behaviour.
Speak up. If you’re a senior leader at the top of your business, only you can lead by example. Make it clear the standards of behaviour expected of everyone in the workplace and drive to create a culture of zero tolerance of sexual harassment. You are the one that can reassure your employees of speaking up without reprisals.
This is not to say that office places need to become bastions of proper, immaculate behaviour, void of humour and fun. This is the advertising industry after all - one built on personalities and fun. But we must be aware and truly consider the affect our behaviour can have on others.
No one should have to experience sexual harassment; anytime or anywhere. If you or someone you know needs someone to talk to, contact NABS who can offer confidential advice and support on 0800 707 6607 or firstname.lastname@example.org #metoo
Lorraine Jennings is the director of services for Nabs