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#FEUdignity: making workplaces safe places

1 February 2019

After all the powerful and passionate #MeToo statements it was time for the industry to think about the practical ways to support employees and to consider ways to change the culture, said Cassie Chadderton, UK Theatre’s head of theatre and membership development.

She was speaking on an employers’ panel at a conference organised under the Federation of Entertainment Union’s (FEU) rubric Creating without Conflict , a campaign against bullying, harassment and discrimination in the media and creative industries. Next to her on the panel was Natasha Moore, Directors UK’s lead campaigner on bullying and harassment issues. Her organisation had had to admit that the bullies and the harassers were among its ranks.There was a job of educating and training to do and an expectation that bad behaviour was called out, she said. The process of hiring needed to be more transparent and formalised.

The #MeToo movement had galvanised unions and arts organisations to bring forward new ideas to tackle the problem: joint codes of conduct, helplines, safe spaces, focus groups, training and guidance. The FEU launched a new equalities e-course and updated its bullying and harassment guidance.Tim Hunter, BAFTA’s head of learning and events, said 30 organisations had now signed up to a new set of principles and guidance developed with organisations across the film, games and television industries. High-profile names, such as actors Emma Watson, Gemma Arterton, Jodie Whittaker, Gemma Chan, and producers Barbara Broccoli, Rebecca O’Brien and Alison Owen, had given their support.

Were these measures making a difference or was something more radical needed? That was the subject of the day.

Sarah Ward, Bectu’s national secretary, said unions had long been aware of the problem – a TUC report said more than half of women (52 per cent) had experienced sexual harassment –  and that the creative industries had been identified as a hotspot.

Comedian and actress Sameena Zehra kicked off the union’s panel. Her show at the Edinburgh Festival tackled the issue of sexual harassment and she invited women members to share their stories, from the rape of a woman by a comic and watched by another in his Edinburgh flat, to the day-in-day-out groping, leering, smacks on the arse and sexual innuendo women comics and actors faced from promoters, colleagues and the audience. “Unions have to be there to provide the safe space for people to be able to talk about what has happened, so they can get help and feel supported, even if they prefer their case to be anonymous,” she said.

The NUJ’s Natasha Hirst said as a freelance photographer in a male-dominated world she felt “lucky” to have only experienced sexual harassment a few times. She said: “It is designed to shut down voices. It stifles plurality in the media, prevents the free sharing of information and attacks our democracy. That affects every single one of us, whether we are direct targets of harassment or not.”

She added: “A key message for employers is that trade unions are your allies. Workplace reps have training and resources to support employers to improve workplace culture and meet their duty of care towards staff and freelances who work for them.” Sexual harassment is a health and safety issue; reps had the power to assess the risk to metal health where bullying and harassment is prevalent, she said.

Isabelle Gutierrez, the MU’s head of communications & government relations, related how she had reported someone for sexual harassment and despite being in a secure job and having the support of her boss it had been a harrowing experience. The perpetrator had appealed and accused her of lying. “Even having support, I ended up on medication and had many sleepless nights. But if it had happened to me, it had probably happened to others and would have gone on happening unless he was stopped,” she said.

The conference discussed the main reasons for people being too afraid to speak out. A large proportion of the people working in the media and arts are freelance. The work is precarious. The harassment usually takes place within a power relation: who will be believed you or the popular presenter, Nobel-prize winning author, or Hollywood director? According to a BECTU survey, 42 per cent said they feared it would have a negative effect on their career if they complained. Many of the members who spoke to the union helplines or sought help did so on the condition of anonymity.

Is the power dynamic underlying predatory behaviour the reason why most of the perpetrators are men? Do men also need to be educated to call out bad behaviour?

Cassie Chadderton said: “The cult of personality and the power imbalance it creates becomes a particular problem in theatres where at least 45 per cent of the workforce is freelance. There needs to be practical action and procedures in place to break this generational cycle of abuse.”

    Full conference report


Tags: , feu, creating without conflict, sexual harassment, equity, musicians' union, writers' guild, wggb, bectu, Sameena Zehra, health and safety, Natasha Hirst, bullying, reps, #MeToo