Sexual predators are smart

It's #timeTo wake up this Christmas party season.

iList Judge and Lucky Generals Founding Partner Helen Calcraft looks at why during Christmas party season we must make sure everyone feels welcome and comfortable.

Christmas Party Season. For most, it is a time to celebrate a year of hard graft, have a laugh, and raise a glass to friends and colleagues. But for some, the season takes on a much darker tone. What should be a safe space becomes a scary place where abuses of power, coercion and bullying, cause misery and distress. And all in the name of the Christmas Spirit.

The timeTo movement has no interest in bringing good times to an end. One of the key attractions of the ad industry is that we are a sociable bunch who enjoy working hard and playing hard. We do not have a moral position on consensual behaviour. Many of us meet our future partners through work and many of us like to hit the dance floor and sing along to something cheesy with our colleagues.

No harassment in plain sight

Fun, however, must be harmless and it must be inclusive. No one should have to leave the party feeling upset, diminished or compromised (or worse). And we all have a responsibility to be vigilant and ensure that harassment does not occur “in plain sight” at our company and industry gatherings.

In October, our latest poll found that 14% of female participants aged 18-24 had experienced sexual harassment in the past 12 months. 31% of those experiencing sexual harassment "ignored"/ did not report the incident. It is clear we must do more to help people understand where to draw the line and also to help people feel empowered to speak up if that line is crossed. This is the driving force behind our campaign.

However, the issue is not binary and it involves those who observe harassment, as well as those who perpetrate and suffer it. Our research revealed that 11% of all respondents had witnessed sexual harassment happening to others.

Bystander issue

We looked at the verbatims in the research and saw that the bystander issue is complex and multi-layered. Of course, there are incidents where there is a group effect and a harasser is emboldened, if not actively encouraged, by others. But in many more cases, bystanders are themselves deeply upset by the behaviour they witness, yet they feel disempowered or afraid to speak up for fear of reprisals.

Sexual predators are smart. They often abuse their power and hide under the cloak of good humour to manipulate others into being an accessory to their harassment. They can place people who have no power over them in an impossible position by getting them to “play along” and therefore normalise their behaviour. So in our latest work, we wanted to highlight the plight of the bystander, and urge them to find someone they trust and speak up. The Christmas Party is a high-risk environment and one where witnesses can feel at a loss.

Hopefully, you’ve seen our recent ad. If not, watch it here.

Change behaviour in real-time

We urgently need to create a climate where people know that they can and should say something if they witness predatory behaviour. If they don’t trust anyone in their organisation or if they are not sure what to do, we would urge them to call NABS for support and confidential advice.

Our intent is to change behaviour in real-time, as there is an urgent and immediate need. That’s why, in addition to our latest film, we have sent out hundreds of personalised boxes of mistletoe to all the industry leaders reminding them that this seemingly harmless decoration can create an excuse for harmful behaviour. Our ask to CEOs is simple. Set the tone. Don’t allow harassment to go unchecked on your watch.

On the timeTo website, they will also be able to download an all-staff email template to send out ahead of the upcoming festive parties as well as an A4 poster set to put up in bathrooms, helping to tackle the issue at source.

Above all we want to have an inclusive conversation with everyone in the industry as we are all stakeholders and we all have a role to play in eradicating sexual harassment. This movement isn’t as simple as outing and removing a few high profile offenders. We must change the climate and the culture in our industry so that people know they do not have to suffer in silence. That way we can ensure we all have ourselves a merry little Christmas.

Helen Calcraft is the Founding Partner of Lucky Generals. For more information about the timeTo visit timeto.org.uk. Helen is one of the judges for the iList, a free initiative to galvanise the industry into becoming a more inclusive, diverse place to work and celebrate the role models who are driving this change.

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Last updated 21 September 2020