“Harassment isn’t about sex. It’s about power.” Tell Jane founder guest speaker at HR event to tackle sex, work and power.

This Wednesday 6th March saw HR professionals from a wealth of sectors enjoy an exclusive Corporate and Cocktails event held in association with top UK law firm Vardags.

Insightful presentations from Vardags solicitors and Tell Jane founder Lisa Bell as guest speaker centred around sex, work and power posing the question to the attentive audience, what is your organisation doing to prevent and tackle workplace harassment?

The #MeToo movement has ensured workplace harassment remains top of public consciousness. However, it continues to fall short of being top of the agenda for many organisations.

With employees more aware of what constitutes inappropriate behaviour and more willing to speak out against it, there has never been a more pressing time to be on the front foot for tackling workplace harassment and to do so head on.

Vardags founder Ayesha Vardag’s welcome speech set the scene for proceedings. Rich with revealing and often shocking personal experiences, Ayesha shared her own journey to the top in a male dominated industry and her passion for empowering women in leadership as a means to disarm harassment: “I wanted to create a proper space for men and women to co-exist”.

Solicitor Giulia Sinibaldi followed with an equally insightful presentation, debunking myths around sexual harassment by exploring some eye-widening case studies and offering practical tips for dealing with harassment, all within context of the Equality Act 2010. Myths included men cannot be victims of sexual harassment, a one-off incident doesn’t count, s/he didn’t complain at the time and the old favourite – it’s just banter.

Head of Litigation and Employment at Vardags Frank Ryan gave much food for thought in his talk on respondents’ attitudes to harassment claims, posing questions such as should there be an obligation on employers to have a process in place for reporting claims, such as a third-party provider?

This point was further explored by Alexandra McCready, Head of Reputation and Privacy at Vardags. If employees feel they do not have a voice or are not listened to, their next port-of-call is social media or even the media. The question here, therefore, is not just do your people have a platform to voice their opinions within their organisation and are their complaints dealt with effectively, but also do you have the processes in place for handling media enquiries? Are you ready for the journalist’s call?

Communication and fostering a culture of trust and respect, were the focus points of Tell Jane founder Lisa Bell’s presentation on preventing workplace harassment: “As HR professionals, we can no longer concentrate on dealing with the aftermath of a harassment case. We need to get on the front foot and prevent harassment occurring in the first place”.

Having management buy-in and messages of appropriate workplace behaviour cascaded from the top down is key. Training can help determine what constitutes appropriate behaviour, but also raise awareness of workplace harassment, demonstrate that it is an issue the organisation takes seriously and engage colleagues in open discussion around the subject: “you’re giving your people insight but also a voice”.

Tell Jane’s anonymous reporting helpline additionally gives organisations that essential facility for reporting harassment claims. It also offers a means for gathering information and data on your current workplace in order to monitor the impact of training and responses to/handling of harassment cases.

A lively Q&A session with speakers and attendees concluded proceedings before a drinks and networking, where conversations about communication continued.

So on this International Woman’s Day, what does the workplace of the future look like? We at Tell Jane are striving for that future to be one of inclusion, openness and respect, and with events such as this and partnerships with equally passionate organisations like Vardags and Selway Search HR, we hope that future is not just in sight but in our grasp.          

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