timeTo: It’s conduct, not codes, that will stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace

Sadly it’s no surprise that 34 per cent of women and nine per cent of men who work in communications and marketing have been the victims of sexual harassment. Nor that booze, travel and events are the most common scenarios for offence.

The Advertising Association, NABS and WACL have come up with some pretty depressing numbers: 83 per cent of victims didn’t report their experiences, and 41 per cent thought victims of sexual harassment are ignored or made to shut up.

As a step towards combating the problem, NABS has produced a code of conduct. The code has obviously been painstakingly thought through, but it’s very long and it’s a bit like Apple’s terms and conditions: few people are going to read it or think about it before they click “agree.”

It’s revealing that NABS president Kerry Glazer feels the need to clarify that, even though groping isn’t allowed, office banter is still encouraged. She says: ”We aren’t setting out to create controlled, humourless offices but to ensure that no one’s dignity is undermined by someone else’s behaviour.”

Highlighting the prevalence of sexual harassment is the best first step to eliminating it, but it’s not codes of conduct that will make the real difference – it’s good conduct in practice, starting at the top.

This story is about discrimination rather than harassment, but it’s relevant. Barnaby Dawe, the outgoing CMO of Just Eat, was at a meeting where the water cooler had run dry. A male employee instinctively turned to a female employee to get it refilled.

Dawe spoke up immediately. He highlighted the gender bias of the male exec and pointed out that his behaviour was unacceptable.

Imagine how empowering it was for every person in the room to know that the boss noticed, and then cared enough to do something about it. It’s this kind of spontaneous, genuine conduct that makes a real difference to people’s working lives and permeates through the culture of a company.

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About Emma Hall

Emma Hall
Emma Hall is the former Europe Editor of Ad Age, where she covered European marketing advertising, digital and media stories. She has written for newspapers including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times and the Telegraph, and was previously a section editor at Campaign. Emma started her career in New York as a researcher for a biography of Keith Richards.