True inclusion means ending sexual harassment in adland 

Terri Bailey Director of Culture Change & Wellbeing Services at NABS introduces new training programmes for the year ahead to tackle sexual harassment at work & help create inclusive, non-toxic environments where everyone has a chance to thrive.

Terri Bailey

Director of Culture Change & Wellbeing Services NABS


Do you know what sexual harassment at work looks like? If you experienced or witnessed sexual harassment at work today, what would you do?

For many of us it’s obvious. Don’t make lewd/suggestive comments or innuendos, don’t force sexual contact onto somebody else, contact HR if somebody harasses you.

While those statements are true, what constitutes sexual harassment isn’t always clear, and reporting incidents may not always be that straightforward. There’s a lot of nuance and context to consider. What one person considers to be an innocent comment can be offensive to another. Somebody may appear to laugh off inappropriate behaviour while really feeling ashamed and frightened.

Sexual harassment takes many different forms. It’s not always as obvious as unwanted overtly sexual contact or propositioning.

Meanwhile, figuring out how to report sexual harassment safely and confidentially adds another layer of confusion, and that goes for witnesses to bad behaviour, as well as those who are unlucky enough to experience it.

Sexual harassment is an inclusion issue

Whatever form it takes, sexual harassment is an inclusion and equality issue as well as being, let’s be honest here, a human decency issue.

You cannot have true inclusion when some people in our workforce are currently afraid to go to work because they have been, or are being, harassed. Sexual harassment is a largely gendered issue, making it an important part of our industry’s diversity and inclusion work. Females, BAME workers and members of the LGBTQ+ community are most at risk of being sexually harassed, as are the youngest members of our workforce. Imagine securing your dream first role at 21, only to experience this awful treatment as your welcome into our industry.

We cannot expect anybody to thrive at work if they are being harassed or are frightened of being harassed. The effects of sexual harassment on somebody’s wellbeing can be immense; they may experience fear or shame and quite often it can result in them experiencing depression and anxiety.

Altogether, 42% of respondents have either experienced or witnessed sexual harassment while at work in our industry. For 9% of those, it happened within the past year.

Terri Bailey

Hopefully, you’ll already know the timeTo campaign to stamp out sexual harassment in our industry. A collaboration between us at NABS with WACL and the Advertising Association, we joined forces in 2018 to end sexual harassment in our workplaces for good. Although we’ve garnered great support for timeTo in the last year or so, there’s still much work to be done. The shocking results of our latest survey, conducted in June 2019, prove that. We asked 1,000 people working in timeTo endorser companies, organisations that have signed up to timeTo’s code of conduct, about their experiences of sexual harassment.

Altogether, 42% of respondents have either experienced or witnessed sexual harassment while at work in our industry. For 9% of those, it happened within the past year. Just under half of those people had been harassed at least once, while 5% have been harassed six or more times.  

What’s more, our research showed that too many incidents of sexual harassment go unreported, often for fear of repercussions or, perhaps more surprisingly, because of a lack of knowledge on how to report inappropriate behaviour. In fact, when we looked at the survey results, we were struck by people’s confusion around sexual harassment in the workplace. A huge 45% of timeTo’s respondents called for clearer guidance on the issue from their employers.

Information leads to empowerment

When we saw that statistic, we knew what we had to do to take timeTo a step further. We were determined to fill that education and awareness gap, knowing that information would lead to empowerment, which would lead to more people helping to end sexual harassment. Importantly, we wanted to create a safe and non-judgemental space in which issues could be discussed and people could be heard. This is a sensitive issue.

This month, we’re launching timeTo group training sessions. We’re going to get out into the industry, with our expert trainers leading interactive and informative sessions. Our hope is that everybody in the industry will experience timeTo training so that we can all get on the same page regarding sexual harassment. We all need to be able to identify when behaviour crosses the line and what to do when it does. The way to achieve that is via education, to empower us to role model good behaviour, and to call out bad behaviour if it happens.

I’ve been working in HR for over 20 years and sadly I’ve seen various cases of sexual harassment along the way. Sexual harassment isn’t particular to our industry, of course. From banking to entertainment, we know that this poison has infected too many industries. But we in adland have a chance to lead the way in stamping out sexual harassment by educating ourselves on the issue and then taking informed action as necessary. Let’s all work together to create inclusive, non-toxic environments where everyone has a chance to thrive.

timeTo training sessions are designed for up to 15/20 people in organisations in advertising and marketing. Each session lasts for three hours and includes guidance on sexual harassment, the legal position on sexual harassment, and how to report inappropriate behaviour. To find out more, including pricing, email [email protected] 

All proceeds raised from timeTo’s training sessions will be put back into timeTo to help the campaign to continue its vital work. 

Any company wishing to support timeTo should sign-up as an endorser via the timeTo website: http://timeto.org.uk/ 

Guest Author

Terri Bailey

Director of Culture Change & Wellbeing Services NABS


Terri Bailey is Director of Culture Change & Wellbeing Services at NABS. With more than 20 years experience in HR, Terri has worked as an HR director for the likes of Virgin Holidays and ebookers.com. She is passionate about developing people and encouraging good leadership behaviours that drive people engagement. Terri regularly speaks and writes on the subject of values and culture.

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