Transcriber: Ivana Korom
Reviewer: Krystian Aparta
I'm Dr. Julia Shaw,
a research associate
at University College London,
and the cofounder of Spot.
Spot is a tool that helps organizations
tackle harassment and discrimination
with better reporting options
and better training.
And in 2019,
along with Dr. Camilla Elphick
and Dr. Rashid Minhas,
and a number of international
NGOs and charities,
we conducted one
of the largest studies ever
on witnesses of harassment
and discrimination at work.
The first time that I was victimized
and became the target
of inappropriate workplace behavior,
I hadn't even left university.
A couple of academics
who were far more senior than me
repeatedly and relentlessly targeted me.
And every time something happened,
I wished that someone would speak up.
That they would tell me
that I'm not overreacting,
that I'm sane,
that there's something that we could do.
I found myself with reporting paralysis.
I didn't speak up
and neither did most other people.
Why didn't I just speak up?
Well, I was worried
about the consequences for my career,
because I loved my work.
I was also worried about things
that many people see as barriers,
like not being believed
or taken seriously,
like my situation resulting in no change.
Luckily, over the past couple of years,
we've seen that reporting paralysis
is affecting fewer people
and some people
are able to now have voices
who before were voiceless.
When we first started Spot,
we allowed people to submit statements
about experiencing harassment
And as researchers,
we looked at these stories,
and we were shocked when we found
that 93 percent of victims reported
that there was at least one witness.
These things aren't happening
behind closed doors.
Further research has since come out
which has further repeated this idea
that most harassment
and discrimination is witnessed.
And so how do we mobilize these witnesses?
First, let's talk about the psychology
of being a witness.
In 2018, two women were at a Starbucks
when they watched a barista
deny access to a washroom
to two African American men.
Instead, the barista called the police.
The two active bystanders
took a video of the men in handcuffs
and posted it online.
This active bystanding
had an almost immediate positive effect.
Starbucks closed a number of its doors
and implemented bias training.
Most of us think that we would be
these active bystanders.
That we would be these kinds of heroes.
In fact, in research on this,
when researchers give people
and ask if they would intervene,
most of us say, "Yes, of course,
of course I would stand up."
But even when those same researchers
present an actual physical situation
where someone needs to actually intervene,
most people do nothing.
And they fall prey
to the well-known bystander effect.
And what are the barriers
that people are facing?
In our research,
three quarters of people
who we had interviewed
and who we had participate in our study --
which was over 1,000 participants --
three quarters of them said
that they never reported
the incident to HR,
they never reported the incident
to someone who could do
something about it.
And the barriers that they cited?
The number one barrier
was actually the exact same
as the main barrier that victims report,
which is the fear
of consequences or retaliation.
Even witnesses are worried
about what might happen
to them and their careers.
Other reasons that people reported
was not wanting to interfere
or not wanting to be a snitch,
not knowing they could report,
or not knowing how.
All of these things can be targeted
with better education
and better systems in workplaces.
But the story of the witness
without also talking
about the consequences
for the witnesses themselves.
If you were to see someone
who just witnessed a crime
being committed on the street,
you would almost certainly
go up to that witness
and say, "Are you OK?
Do you need some support?"
You might even offer them
counseling or therapy
to process what they just saw.
But witnesses at work
are largely invisible.
And of course, so is support for them.
And some of this invisibility
might even be internalized.
When we asked our participants
and when we asked them
about the negative consequences for them,
we found that most people said,
when asked directly,
"Did witnessing this experience
have a negative repercussion?"
Most people said, "No, I'm fine."
But when we looked
at the qualitative entries,
when we looked at what people
actually wrote about this experience,
we found that these experiences
had profoundly negative impacts.
They increased stress
and anxiety and depression,
they increased the prevalence
of desire to leave the organization,
loss of faith.
Why is there this discrepancy?
It seems that we're doing
a comparative evaluation.
"Compared to the victim,
nothing really happened to me."
But that's not really the right question.
And support shouldn't be invisible
just because you're less affected.
Because we're all affected
and we should all
be supporting each other.
We also found evidence
of a social contagion.
While 23 percent of participants told HR,
more, 46 percent, told colleagues,
usually someone on their team,
and 67 percent told
someone outside of work.
What this shows is that the negative
consequences of the situation,
where someone is harassed
or discriminated against,
go far beyond the room.
People take that story with them
and that discontent grows
as they tell more and more people,
and this has the real effect
that is almost certainly threatening
your ability as an organization
to retain and attract
diverse and excellent candidates.
So what do we do to stop
this social contagion?
What do we do to reduce these barriers
and how do we provide support
for witnesses and victims?
How can we be better allies?
And it's easier than you might think.
In my research, I've come across
five particular things
that I think every organization
can and should do
to help tackle this issue
and to build healthier workplaces.
First, showcase your commitment.
If your leadership isn't repeatedly saying
how important diversity
and inclusion is to them,
and living by example,
no one is going to believe you.
An HR-driven campaign is insufficient.
Your organization is a direct mirror
of its leadership team,
and they need to be setting the tone.
Second, train your managers.
The main person who's likely to harass
someone in your organization
is a manager.
Perhaps because power corrupts,
or perhaps because we promote people
into managerial roles
because they're excellent at their jobs,
and we assume that they will pick up
the people skills,
pick up the management
skills along the way.
But then they don't.
And this provides a fertile ground
for harassment and discrimination
with unrealistic expectations,
with poor time management,
with poor conflict management skills.
Train your managers.
Third, we know from research on victims
that without the ability
to report anonymously,
the fear of consequences
is so overwhelming
that most people
will never report incidents.
We found the same was true for witnesses.
When we asked them directly, in our study,
whether organizations could do something
to improve the fact
that they might report,
they said, number one
that they could do better
was allowing for witness anonymity.
Second was providing choices
about who to report to.
are the most likely person
to be perpetrating harassment
in many organizations
they're also supposed to be
your first point of contact
when things go wrong.
Now that's a major sticking point.
So being able to choose
who you go to is crucial.
Third, encouraging witness reporting.
Back to setting a tone
in your organization,
saying you can and should report things,
and you can help stand up for each other.
Fourth, even when you have
all of this in place,
most people will not speak to HR.
We know this, because at Spot,
we though anonymity
would solve everything.
It did not.
Anonymity is one piece of the puzzle.
Conducting surveys means
that you go out to your employees,
you don't wait for them to come to you.
And you ask everybody about how they feel
about the health of inclusion
and diversity efforts
within the organization.
And be specific.
Ask people about specific incidents
or specific things they've witnessed.
Because just like in our survey,
if you ask people directly
if they have experienced
harassment or discrimination,
the default answer is no.
But if you ask about specific experiences
or specific behaviors,
most people go, "Oh, yeah,
I saw that the other week."
So making sure you ask
the right questions is crucial.
Finally, and most importantly,
research shows that one of the best ways
to mitigate the bystander effect
is to build a shared social identity.
It's not about policing each other,
it's not about calling each other out,
it's about being a cohesive unit.
We are in this together.
If you attack one of us,
you are attacking all of us.
Because wouldn't you want that?
Wouldn't you want someone to stand by you
if something negative happens?
We're all, hopefully, collectively
building an organization
that is stronger and healthier
and more diverse and inclusive.
Without my allies, I wouldn't be here.
When I was first targeted
with inappropriate behavior at work,
I fell into a depression,
and I almost left academia altogether.
Without a few people who stood by me,
I wouldn't be on this stage right now.
And I wish I had a happy ending for you.
these individuals are still at it.
You see, in organizational structures
where colleagues work in dispersed ways,
where it's difficult to know
who even to report to,
never mind what the consequences might be,
these kinds of behaviors
are most likely to flourish for longer.
But that doesn't stop me
from trying to stop it.
And I can tell you one thing --
that over the past
couple of years of my research,
I have found that there have been
so many positive changes.
Changes in legislation,
changes in attitudes,
and organizations are finally
taking these issues seriously.
I swear, the time of the harassers
and the bullies and the discriminators
is coming to an end.