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Equality expectations in the #Timesup era

5 Jun 2018 - Blog


In 2017, employee satisfaction with workplace equality and diversity in the UK fell.

Across all our surveys, the annual benchmark score for ‘My company ensures that all people are treated fairly and equally’ fell 4 percentage points whilst most other scores remained flat. That’s quite a drop considering the benchmark is made of millions of data points.

In the post Weinstein #metoo world, employees’ expectations are higher and organisations have not kept apace with the shift in wider cultural expectations. It would have been unthinkable a year ago that this Sunday’s Oscars would have so heavily referenced gender equality and #Timesup in the way it did.


Margaret Heffernan writing for the FT says:

 “This is an existential moment for everyone in management. It is not up to film stars to sort it out. It is up to you.”


She offers 3 pieces of advice:

  1. Accept that according to the statistics, sexual harassment is almost certainly happening in your workplace.
  2. Recognise that harassment is against the law[1]. It does not matter if it was intentional or not.
  3. Understand that everyone is watching. Senior leaders MUST act with sincere and relevant change, not just token gestures


But what should we do? Other than dusting off policies and giving speeches, understanding what’s really going on, and what your culture is really like should be a priority for leaders. Here’s a few issues to consider:


Predictors of sexual harassment

Emma Jacobs writes eloquently on the conditions that may allow harassment to happen:

  • A male dominated power base where women and minorities are under represented
  • No obvious cultural expectations of or role models of behaviour
  • A workforce very dependent on tips or going above and beyond for customers (both internal and external customers) who might tolerate harassment
  • A young workforce, distant from the ‘power base’ who may be less aware of the rules and more worried about their career
  • Job roles that are frustrating, boring, unengaging (the devil makes work for idle hands)


Reverse mentoring

Reverse mentoring – or asking more junior members of your organisation to give frank feedback to leaders is a good place to start. Now this needs a genuine will and a large dose of trust, but can be a brilliant way to gain insights into how leaders are perceived and what’s the word on the ‘shop floor.’


Feedback about equality, harassment and culture in the employee survey

More and more organisations are including this as a priority. Importantly, this isn’t just tick the box public sector reporting obligations, but a genuine demonstration of leaders’ concern, to find areas for improvement. (Ask us for more on how to go about doing this.)


How to have ‘that conversation’

Chris Norris says his consultancy has seen a tripling of interest in his Workplace Investigative Interviewing Strategy (WIIS) training, which helps handle complaints sensitively and explore accusations appropriately.

But it’s difficult, “there really are not best practices established in harassment training…it’s pretty unchartered territory” – says Professor Vicki Magley, University of Connecticut.


Innovative reporting mechanisms

Anonymous reporting may help those who feel unable to speak out. Tools like Stopit and AllVoices allow allegations to be made to employers anonymously online so they can see patterns of issues and complaints.

This sort of thing works – at Cambridge University – in their ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign they launched an anonymous online form to allow staff to report incidents, 173 were reported in just nine months. That compares to only 6 incidents reported in the previous 5 years through more formal approaches.


International Women’s Day

It’s International Women’s Day this week, March 8th. Thousands of women are expected to take to the streets to mark the day and celebrate suffrage centenary – referencing this or planning a whole host of activities internally would certainly demonstrate support.


Whatever your organisation choses to do, to do something you must. Read more at:

  1. CNBC
  2. Forbes
  3. Forbes
  4. Parliament


[1] In the UK under the Equality Act 2010 section 26


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