Call sexual harassment, sexual harassment - and other tips for our industry

TimeTo: launched to confront harassment in the workplace
TimeTo: launched to confront harassment in the workplace

If you're a woman working in advertising and aged under 25, there's a one-in-five chance that you've already been sexually harassed during your career. That's according to research undertaken by new ad industry initiative, timeTo.

Last week a group represented by Nabs, Wacl (Women in Advertising and Communications, London) and the Advertising Association launched timeTo with the bold ambition of ending sexual harassment in adland. We published a code of conduct with advice to people across the industry – those affected by sexual harassment, witnesses, business leaders and even those who’ve crossed the line – plus guidance on changing cultures, and definitions of harassment.

To write the code, we first needed to understand the experiences and views of people in the industry towards sexual harassment. Some 3,500 responded to our survey. The results can be seen in this two-minute film.

The main finding is:

Over a quarter of respondents (26%) have experienced sexual harassment during their career.

Since I started working on this project – in fact, since October 2017, when the Hollywood harassment stories first broke – a few things have struck me:

1. Call sexual harassment, sexual harassment

Post-Weinstein (et al), I’ve been truly floored by my own ignorance as to how far sexual harassment reaches. I’ve been stunned and ashamed to realise how many of my female friends, family and colleagues have been affected.

It seems only now, with the increase in reporting and the shifting of the topic into mainstream consciousness, are many realising and communicating that their experiences – perhaps previously set aside and ignored – may have constituted harassment, or even assault.

Campaigns like David Schwimmer’s series of shorts "That’s harassment" or Thames Valley Police’s Tea and Consent focus on something that came through in our research too - a need to universally understand where lines are drawn and what might be inappropriate behaviours. "If you say 'hey, would you like a cup of tea?' and they’re like, 'I’m not really sure…', then you can make them a cup of tea, or not, but be aware that they might not drink it, and if they don’t drink it – and this is the important bit – don’t make them drink it."

The more we expose the behaviour that isn't acceptable – not clouded by the murkiness of what was once acceptable (a fifth of respondents believe people are now complaining about things they were perfectly happy with years ago) – the less easy it will be for perpetrators to hide behind supposed ignorance, for witnesses to dismiss it as banter, and for those who’ve been harassed to question the veracity of their claim or the validation of their feelings.

2. Sexual harassment has little to do with sex

How much of sexual harassment is really about sex? Isn’t it really about power? 82% of respondents who have been sexually harassed say the perpetrator was someone senior to them (85% of female  respondents, 65% of male).

Of all the famous cases to come to light over the past year, dominance is always a recurring theme: dominance in wealth and resources, in physicality, in personality, in success.

They are bullies. And they are successful. They engage in displays of power among subordinates and use sex as a way to degrade and demean.

Little surprise then that sexual harassment often goes unreported. Almost half of those who’d been harassed (47%) ignored the incident. Fewer people who witnessed harassment say they ignored it (28%). But it can be hard to be a whistle-blower or complainant and NDAs are common place, making it difficult to detect.

The timeTo code of conduct offers advice to employers about the steps to take to end sexual harassment in their workplace, while also offering guidance to employees who have been directly and indirectly affected by sexual harassment.

3. There’s something I can do

As a heterosexual man (whilst 9% of male responders said they’ve been sexually harassed, it’s 25% amongst gay men) the fact is I’m far less likely to be sexually harassed. But does that fact relinquish me from responsibility in ensuring it doesn’t happen?

We must all play a part. So if you’re like me, and if you're feeling a little unsure of how you can help make change, here are some ideas of things we can all do to help put an end to sexual harassment:

1. Call it out. If you become aware of problematic behaviour, speak up. Don’t take the easy option. Make the person committing the offence see that their behaviour is wrong. Silence is complicity.

2. Be self-aware. Don’t take it as a given that everyone will recognise your banter as that. Be mindful of your behaviour, especially in social settings, and be aware about how you might come across.

3. Be an ally. Be a source of support to someone who might be experiencing harassment, and, if necessary, be a witness. It can be an incredibly isolating experience. Signpost them to the timeTo code of conduct – it’s designed to help.

4. Challenge bullies. It can be difficult to do. Their dominance means they will often be in positions of power. But understand there are channels – many of which are outlined in the code – that can help combat their behaviour.

5. Take responsibility. If you fear you have acted inappropriately, apologise. Do it sincerely, not to cover or excuse your behaviour. Apologies begin with: "I’m sorry", not "lighten up".

6. Call Nabs. Nabs is the industry’s support organisation and the Advice Line is available to anyone who’s been affected by sexual harassment, either directly or indirectly. Don’t wait for it to happen again.

No one should have to put up with sexual harassment; anytime, anywhere. If you or someone you know needs someone to talk to, contact Nabs who can offer free, confidential and impartial advice, guidance and support on 0800 707 6607.

Visit or for more information.

Luke Morris is the marketing director of Nabs


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