Select Page

Active, authentic allyship is essential to help make the advertising and marketing sector a better place to work, argues Jonathan Palmer, co-director of learning and development at Outvertising.

Since the tragic murder of Sabina Nessa, we have (thankfully) seen another resurgence in the conversation about keeping women safe. Not just on the streets, but in homes and in workplaces. It’s a travesty it takes yet another woman to lose her life for this to become important. 

But, as the headline suggests, I’d like to look at this from a different angle. 
I want to remind everyone that allyship isn’t just about men calling out sexual harassment on women, to show up and shout it out – it’s about everyone calling it out and tackling it, no matter what your gender, no matter who it happens to. Because harassment happens to everyone. 

Now I’m not going to be as tone-deaf and, let’s just say it, idiotic as deputy prime minister Dominic Raab and say “misogyny is absolutely wrong whether against a man or a woman,” but sexual harassment does happen to all genders, in all communities. 

A TUC report showed that around seven out of 10 LGBT+ workers experienced at least one type of sexual harassment at work (68%) and almost one in eight LGBT+ women (12%) reported being seriously sexually assaulted or raped at work. Trans women were even more likely than other women to experience sexual assault and rape at work, with around one-third of trans women (32%) reporting being sexually assaulted and over one in five (22%) experiencing serious sexual assault or rape.
 
And, as a gay man, this really hits home against some of my own personal experiences over the last 20 years working in this industry.

I remember finding out that, just before I started at one of my first agencies, that an email had been sent out to the (mainly male) workforce to curb the gay jokes as they had one starting. Not only did this in essence ‘out’ me to an entire agency before I had even walked through the doors, it put me in a position where my sexuality was a defining trait. This led to many jokes at my expense, all being quite sexual in nature, and very personal questions being asked.

I’ve had so many women joke about “turning me,” groping me and on one occasion lap-dancing me to try to get me hard. But that’s alright, eh? Because I’m a gay guy? I even had one job where I was referred to as GayP by a senior member of staff quite openly. At the time I leaned into it all and made fun of myself and thought it was all part of our industry’s working. I now look back and realize that this was far from acceptable. 

I’ve spoken to many a gay man and the experience is very similar. One spoke of returning to his desk and finding it covered with gay porn “as a joke.” I can only imagine what it is like from the standpoint of the trans community. From the conversations I have had with trans friends, it is a hell of a lot worse than I have experienced.

I am in no way trying to take the wind out of the sails of any conversation about the atrocious way women are treated, but I don’t want the way people from the LGBT+ community are treated to be hidden either. In a lot of cases it is hidden and not reported at all because it isn’t seen as harassment by so many. It’s just jokes, right? 

This is why I decided to get involved with TimeTo and also why I am co-director of learning and development at Outvertising, the UK industry LGBT+ advocacy group, running training on what it means to be an ally to all marginalized groups.

So, to be an active ally, here are my top tips. 

First and foremost, emphasis on the ‘active.’ Anyone can sit back passively and claim to be an ally, but unless you are actively being an ally you are not being an ally at all. 

Check yourself, your actions and your opinions on what you classify as harassment. Look at those things through the lens of the person who might be on the receiving end. How comfortable does that make you? 

If you see someone being harassed, stand up and speak up. This can be lewd jokes, body language, invading personal space and comments about their sex life and orientation, among other things. The power of your voice, as an ally, to your peers can be stronger than victims’ in the eyes of those doing the harassing. Use it.

Take the time to research and learn about the different forms of sexual harassment. What you are looking at as banter could be something far more harmful for the person on the receiving end. There is plenty of information out there, all you have to do is Google it – it’s not hard. 

Listen to people’s stories of their lived experiences without judgement. Believe them, and do not try to insert your opinions into their experiences. 

Lastly, talk openly and strongly about your stance. People will take notice, whether colleagues, clients or management. You have influence in your workplace. No matter where you are in terms of seniority, there are people that look to you for how to behave, how to be. If you show them that this is your firm belief it will trickle down.

There is no room for sexual harassment in our workplace and it has been going on for too long under the guise of banter and jokes to all genders and sexualities. It is up to all of us to recognize it, expose it and stamp it out.