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The Drum

Ad agencies need sexual harassment training to make a hybrid workplace safe for all

timeTo campaigns focused on Cannes and Christmas, now the group is thinking post-pandemic

This week it emerged that just seven of the 273 agencies that have signed up to the #timeTo cross-industry anti-sexual harassment initiative had actually completed its sexual harassment in the workplace workshop.

Today, Lorraine Jennings, director of culture change and wellbeing services at Nabs and timeTo steering committee member, explains why this training is so crucial and calls on the industry to educate itself.

Monday’s roadmap announcement, detailing our return to a post-pandemic life, has brought with it a mix of excitement and anxiety for many people.

Some of those who are feeling anxious have a particular, harrowing fear: the fear of being sexually harassed once we return to the office and hybrid ways of working.

Nobody should have to live under threat of sexual harassment, yet this behaviour is far too present in our industry.

According the latest research from timeTo — the cross-industry initiative which seeks to address sexual harassment in the marketing and advertising industries — half of industry professionals believe that harassment in the workplace will be more of a problem when businesses return to the office next year, compared with their experiences over the past 12 months.

Some survey respondents told us how lockdown and social distancing have provided a respite for them from sexual harassment. What’s more, many are concerned that the boundaries of appropriate behaviour have been forgotten.

It is appalling that people in our industry are being made to feel this way, and even more so when it’s layered with the anxiety and stress brought on by the pandemic in general.

When Nabs, the Advertising Association (AA) and WACL formed timeTo in 2018, we focused on the dangers present in the office and at work events – witness our campaigns focused on Cannes and Christmas.

Now, we’ve updated our focus to address the post-pandemic era, with updated group training at the centre of our mission to eradicate sexual harassment in our industry.

This training gives new levels of education about how sexual harassment can play out while we work at home, in the office and in a hybrid way. This is crucial now that we have a roadmap for post-lockdown: we also need a roadmap for how we’ll protect our people from inappropriate behaviour that crosses the line.

We’re proud of our awareness-raising campaigns, but now we need to bring the issue to life in a practical manner.

That’s what our training is designed to do. Our expert trainers can go into organisations (currently via Zoom) and improve people’s real-life understanding of sexual harassment, empowering them to work towards eradicating it for good. The training is built on the insights that we’ve collected throughout our research, with real-life examples at its core.

Each session provides a safe space where people can explore the issues, discuss concerns and ultimately learn, in a practical sense, about sexual harassment at work.

This approach can lead us to the culture change that our industry so desperately needs.

What does that changed culture look like?

It’s one where people feel empowered to recognise and challenge sexual harassment; where people feel safe at work. For those people who told us that they feel safer at home, we need to create equally safe spaces in our workplaces. And it’s a culture where leaders make clear what is and is not acceptable behaviour in their organisations, and demonstrate this in their own actions.

Frankly, it is incumbent upon us all to learn about sexual harassment, but it is not the responsibility of those who have experienced harassment to educate us or try to change the culture. That onus is on us, and that’s the purpose of our training.

That’s why the timeTo training is aimed at people of all levels in our industry. There is nobody too junior or too senior to attend. You can learn how to be an ally, calling out sexual harassment and helping those affected to be heard. Leaders can learn how to use their powers of influence to make lasting change.

There is much for us all to learn about sexual harassment, especially if we’re lucky enough not to have experienced it. What's more, sexual harassment is not a standalone issue. There may be other prejudices and biases at play here. There are subtleties and microaggressions that need to be highlighted to you if you don’t have lived experience of being part of a minoritised group. That‘s why this work crosses over into the crucial D,E &I work that many organisations are committing to – yet another reason why stamping out sexual harassment is our moral responsibility.

Just under 90% of respondents to our last survey told us that they believe it’s very important for the industry to focus on the issue of sexual harassment. But nearly a third of our respondents were unsure if their company had a strong enough stance on sexual harassment, and more than half agreed with this statement. There is room for improvement and education across the board.

So consider this a call to us all. To everybody in our industry: it is our collective and moral responsibility to educate ourselves and those around us so that we can eradicate sexual harassment for good.

To sign up for the timeTo training or to find out more email timetotraining@nabs.org.uk

Visit timeTo.org.uk for more information and resources, including our Code of Conduct refresh.