Bullying and Harassment in Production. What can we do?

The surfacing revelations regarding Harvey Weinstein speaks to a widespread problem within the industry in which we work. Whilst the initial allegations which have shocked the world were deemed to be of a sexual nature, the recent media attention highlights a widespread problem; the abuse of power on many levels – sexual, verbal and psychological – and it’s not just happening to women.

As the MD of The Crewing Company, leaders in creative recruitment, we have a close network of freelancers and clients across all sectors from TV, advertising, corporate and broadcast. We are often asked our advice on many things and have been told about situations, occurring within the Industry on both client and freelancer side that would shock. We feel it’s our duty to join those other organisations in the industry to stand up to this.

Ok but what are we talking about here? Is everyone just being sensitive? What is actually classed as abuse?

Obviously recent discussions have focussed on sexual harassment but it also covers verbal and psychological abuse, which is perhaps more prevalent. The CIPD’s recent factsheet on Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace describes ‘unwanted physical contact and unwelcome remarks, personal insults, isolation and exclusion to shouting and persistent unwarranted criticism’. It goes on to explain that research shows that those who are bullied or harassed in the workplace are more likely to be depressed and anxious, highly prone to stress, less satisfied with their work and more likely to have a low opinion of their managers.

You just need to type into google ‘harassment in the creative industry’ and you will be able to read hundreds of recent articles of high profile stories – from the likes of Janet Street-Porter, Arabella Weir, and Emma Thompson amongst others. The most recent of these ‘celebrity’ cases is the news that Kevin Spacey has been dropped by Netflix due to allegations made about him, but what about the day to day abuse that is often brushed over and not really shouted about. Where is your voice and is there anyone listening?

In writing this post I spoke to the staff here at The Crewing Company to see if we could get some experiences from freelancers of any incidents which they have either witnessed or felt subject to, and the general consensus was that we didn’t feel that it was appropriate to ask them – but why is this? Why do we as a nation feel that we are unable to have an honest up-front discussion about the bullying and harassment that we see? A culture of silence seems to have been handed down to us through generations, which has quite simply allowed unacceptable behaviour to continue – and it is time that this cycle gets broken. It is vital for the health and wellbeing of all those working in any Industry to feel that they have a voice and that action will be taken to foster a fair and inclusive working environment.

One of our members of staff was herself bullied by a colleague at a former company. She describes it as follows;

‘As the only female in my team, I had striven hard to be accepted as one of ‘the boys’. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t feel that I had to prove myself (rightly or wrongly) and in particular with one member of the team. There were many comments and remarks made that had over several months worn me down and made me feel inadequate, despite all my efforts to show that I wasn’t a ‘girl’ and that I could handle myself within the male orientated environment.

After work one day we went for drinks, and the individual approached me – clearly drunk – and began a tirade of all the reasons why I should never have been employed, and why I would never be one of the team, etc etc. The exact details of the wording I have blocked out as part of coming to terms with the abuse. I don’t even recall my response – I was shocked and incredibly vulnerable. Whilst it had been clear that he felt that way from his treatment of me previously, to have someone so blatantly inform me of my ‘shortcomings’ in such an aggressive manner was very unexpected. I put on a brave face, and walked away.

I was disappointed in myself that I had not stood up to him more, but in that moment it was not something that I felt able to do – would I have done so if there was no drink involved? Honestly …. probably not. He was a very popular member of the team, and I was now questioning my role in it.

As it happens, someone spoke out for me. There was another member of the company there that evening, who I didn’t actually know, but who reported the incident. A complete stranger who stood up for me, and who gave me the voice I didn’t have myself. I never did thank them for doing that – again something stopped me from doing so – most likely the shame of it even happening in the first place.’

I’d like to think most of us would class the above as unacceptable behaviour, but perhaps this is actually a similar situation we have all witnessed, I certainly have and at that moment in time, why did I not stand up and say anything? Well, my excuse was I was young, nervous and would probably have got fired for causing trouble but that’s no reason to have not spoken out.

My hope is that as we start to talk about these situations in our industry that those subject to abuse of any nature will feel confident enough to speak out when a line is crossed. We need to stand up together to stop this behaviour – it may be a very individual act at the time but as a community, change will happen. It just might not happen overnight.

There is a comment box at the bottom – if you feel you want to share anything to give others more of an understanding of situations and the confidence to stand up against it then please do comment. If you don’t want to share anything but want to acknowledge you have been subject to or witnessed something not right just add #metoo.

So what is our industry doing about it?
Well back in 2014, The Federation of Entertainment Unions carried out a survey of 4,000 workers in all levels of seniority and revealed that the world of media, arts and entertainment are ‘hotspots’ of bullying – this is quite obvious in my opinion from coming from a production background myself, but perhaps more shockingly over half of those questioned (56%) said they had been bullied, harassed or discriminated against at work. The results showed shocking levels of ill-treatment and inappropriate behaviour and a culture of silence, with only a third of those suffering bullying and harassment reporting the incidents.

Many organisations are thankfully getting on board with this – Directors UK met on Sat 21st October and released a statement to say  “We condemn any form of harassment, abuse, bullying and sexual assault within the film and television industry; such behaviour is unacceptable and must not be tolerated in our profession, on any level.

As the association of screen directors we will work independently and in partnership with key industry organisations to ensure this attitude and behaviour is eliminated. We are aware of several industry initiatives and will support and work with them to actively tackle abuse and the abusers.

They have hit the nail on the head with this comment. “Our own behaviour and attitudes must be reflective and respectful of others and the law, to ensure that there is no place for abusive behaviour on our productions or within the industry”

They also comment about a drive for better representation of women and gender imbalance and also a need for great equality and diversity in employment to help creative a more inclusive and balanced industry.

So, we know it’s going on and the industry is trying to change it, but what can you actually do?  Is there a step by step guide for both someone who is a victim or a witness?

Organisations, no matter how small, should have a policy designed to tackle harassment in the workplace – familiarise yourself with it and make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities – make sure you know who to contact and how you can take a complaint forward should you need to. Our Head of Operations, Caroline Dalton, has put in some step by step instructions on how to handle a situation you may find yourself in when you aren’t represented by an agency.

Step 1 – Take a breath.
Step 2 –If you feel comfortable doing so then confront them. State that the behaviour isn’t acceptable and ask them to stop. Be firm, but not aggressive and wherever possible remain positive and calm.
Step 3 – Avoid being alone with the bully or harasser.
Step 4 – Tell a colleague, preferably a manager so someone else is aware of it. You may feel like you are alone at first, but reach out to someone you trust – you may find out that you are the fourth complaint and they will soon be given their marching orders. Slowly but surely all the bullies of the world will just end up working with each other.
If you witnessed it, stand up for that person and then together tell someone else. They will likely be feeling vulnerable – so offer them your support.
Step 5 – Keep a diary of any incidents – if this is persistent behaviour, then detail dates, times, witnesses. If the bullying is happening over written or electronic communication then keep records of all those and your responses.
Step 6 – If necessary, report it in line with the procedures outlined in the Organisation’s policy.  A record will begin to build on people that do it time and time again.

For those freelancers and clients working with The Crewing Company, if they ever feel bullied or harassed in any work placements we make, then they should:
Come to us straight away and talk it through. We will then bring the situation to light with the client or the freelancer and liaise between the two.
Ultimately any actual legal resolution needs to happen between the freelancer and the company or vice versa, in line with their company policies, but we will be there to support the victim, client or freelancer, along the process.

Ultimately please remember abuse, in any form, is wrong. Apparently ‘the industry is so small’ – surely then if we all stand up to bullies, they will vanish or be forced to adapt their behaviour.

We need to see a behaviour change.

This can only happen from within.

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