Time To support Fair NDAs

The Fair NDA initiative has been designed to stop the systematic silencing of victims of harassment, inappropriate behaviour or abuse and encourage an inclusive culture of transparency.

Georgie Moreton

Assistant Editor, BITE


The Fair NDA initiative was born out of the unrest and cross industry questioning sparked by Zoe Scaman's 'Mad Men and Furious Women' article that brought to light some of the harassment and assault women in the industry have had to face. With the help of legal experts and the endorsement of TimeTo, the Fair NDA initiative has been designed to stop the systematic silencing of victims of harassment, inappropriate behaviour or abuse and encourage an inclusive culture of transparency.

In a session at Advertising Week Europe hosted by Creative Brief’s Editorial Director Nicola Kemp, Lorraine Jennings-Creed, Director of culture change and wellbeing services at NABS and Shilpen Savani, Employment Lawyer at GunnerCooke delved into the Fair NDA program to explain how the initiative works and encourage agencies to sign up. 

The announcement of the Fair NDA falls against a back drop of a myriad of shocking research showing that sexual harassment continues to be rife within advertising. TimeTo has carried out research on 3500 people within the industry and found that 75% of people that have faced sexual harassment experienced it in the past five years. Sexual harassment is an issue that hasn’t gone away, despite press around women's violence and despite movements like #metoo, the issue is current and needs to be tackled. 

Responsibility to reform

NDAs are often part and parcel of business in the ad industry butter, they are being exploited and extended to make the lives of sexual assault victims worse. Employees run into trouble in the workplace and often with secrecy clauses come a financial aspect that places even more emotional weight on the individual. The article Mad Men Furious Women states “any woman who dares to speak out will never work again”, and this must change. 

GunnerCooke’s Shilpen Savani explained that in general there’s nothing wrong with NDA’s but to improve them when it comes to the wellbeing of assault victims, the fair NDA initiative is asking for three crucial changes.

  1. Zero tolerance when it comes to reporting workplace abuse; meaning that employers and decision-makers will not stand in the way of reporting
  2. Compensation doesn't buy silence; where the smallest breach of silence can lead to compensation being taken away this connection between money and silence puts extreme pressure on the victim
  3. Where there is clause, this should be limited to the employer and not extended to individuals (with regard to non-disparagement clauses) 

Change is in the hands of the employer now, the reformed, fair NDA provides support for employees and their victims to prevent the unfair silence.

Industry-wide support

Now, the initiative needs support from the wider industry, to step up and get involved to protect victims. Jennings-Creed expressed how important the TimeTo initiative is too, to educate and stop the ongoing cycle of incidents the industry continues to face. Where the fair NDA templates are available online for agencies to access, the legal aspect is there. Now, socially agencies must also invest in training for all employees such as TimeTo to impact ongoing behaviours before incidents occur and change the culture around abuse. 

Jennings-Creed urged the audience to “ask their employers if they have signed up and if not, why?” She called for “men to use your privilege and ask those difficult questions.” Highlighting the power of bystanders and how challenging comfort zones is the only way to create progress. Asking questions should not cause trouble, the legal element is ready-made and now progress is in the hands of the decision-makers who can choose to push forward fair NDAs, challenge their current NDAs and consider if there is scope for abuse at current. 

Not only have unfair NDAs forced victims into silence about their abuse, but some are left unable to even talk about their professional achievements and work. For agencies, the impact of doing nothing for victims is huge. For as Kemp reminded the audience, “leadership is not what you say, it is what you do when no one sees.”

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