How Timeto lifted the lid on UK advertising's untold story of sexual harassment

The director of Credos tells the behind-the-scenes story of how timeTo lifted the lid on the scale of sexual harassment in advertising to make the industry better for everyone.

As leader of Credos, advertising’s think tank, I’ve had the privilege to be involved with some defining projects for the industry. However, working with the timeTo group, led by Tess Alps, has been the most important report of my working life.

In creating the survey that informed the code of conduct launched today, we faced a number of challenges. The first being the fact that we would have to conjure up substantial money if we had approached it conventionally. Though, on this one, I’m with Ernest Rutherford, the well-known physicist who said "We've got no money, so we've got to think". Having no money certainly did make us think.

A collective push

The timeTo steering group worked together to galvanise their extensive networks, which, combined, offered a very large and wide-reaching potential sample.  Stephen Woodford for the Advertising Association, Diana Tickell for NABS, and WACL President Kerry Glazer. In addition, Helen Calcraft and Lorraine Jennings gained support from a great many leaders across our industry – brand owners, production companies, agencies and media owners, trade bodies and charities - all of whom pledged support and distributed the survey to their entire staff. Over 3,500 people responded – 10 times what we’d expected.

In this way, we addressed our second major challenge, the issue of survey bias. In common with similar polls for other industries, the tendency is for victims of sexual harassment to - understandably - want to respond. In contrast, those unaffected by sexual harassment are much less motivated to take the time to respond.  Our approach, while maybe not totally eradicating that bias, did much to minimise the risk. We believe we have a fairer reflection of the problems of sexual harassment in our industry as a result.

Building a safe space

Our third challenge was to preserve anonymity. The timeTo mission is clear. We want to stop sexual harassment now, and in future. We do not intend to ‘out’ people who’ve harassed in the past. We asked our respondents not to name any names, and they didn’t. We also guaranteed our respondents' privacy.  We had to limit ourselves mainly to closed questions, but in addition there were 3 open-ended questions. A great many people told us their experiences. The answers to just one question filled 44 closely typed pages and the same themes were replayed many times over. Their extensive, moving stories helped us understand so much, but they will always be kept confidential and will never be revealed to anyone.

So why exactly is this the most important piece of work I’ve ever done? Because ours is a vibrant, creative, collaborative industry. It’s fun to work in advertising. It always has been, and I hope it always will be, but some people (women and men – but mainly women) are experiencing sexual harassment that makes them doubt themselves, and their employers’ commitment to their wellbeing. It limits their potential, their careers, their achievements. It’s stifling creativity and collaboration at a time when, arguably, we need it most. It engenders fear. This is not the industry I want to work in, and I doubt it’s the one you want either. It’s timeTo change

Karen Fraser MBE, is the director of Credos, advertising’s think tank

No one should have to experience sexual harassment; anytime or anywhere. If you or someone you know needs someone to talk to, contact Nabs who can offer free, confidential advice, guidance and support on 0800 707 6607 or support@nabs.org.uk

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