Helping To Promote Dignity At Work

Karen Phillips, SVP Global Learning Resources and UK Editorial, SAGE Publishing | July 4, 2019

I’ve been supporting efforts in our London office to promote dignity at work, recognising that in publishing there are plenty of opportunities for harassment of junior employees by senior authors or editors, or more senior colleagues. It is an issue that touched me personally early on in my career when a colleague and friend was sexually assaulted at a conference by an older more senior man. At the age of 23 I didn’t know how to support her. I look back with regret that I didn’t encourage her to go to our managers and expect the organisation to take action. Incidents similar to this are so obviously unacceptable, and senior leadership teams should be taking responsibility, speaking up and doing something about it. This is within our power to change.

From what I have seen and heard over my 35-year long career, it is clear that many women experience some form of sexual harassment in their careers, and most likely early in their careers. Sexual harassment could mean many things: from being repeatedly asked out on dates; having your appearance regularly commented on; suggestions of what you might wear at work or for a specific meeting, or to get on better in your career; to uninvited touching, attempted kissing, and sexual assault. Publishing companies need to stop turning a blind eye.  As I progressed in my career and became Editorial Director in SAGE’s London office in 2011, it was an editorial colleague and head of our editorial books team at the time, Kiren Shoman, who suggested that we make a clear statement to support employees in any situation where they felt they were at risk of harassment. We did this at the same time as introducing an editorial training programme to support junior editorial employees.

More recently, I have seen real opportunities for wider change across the publishing industry. The excellent scholarly kitchen blog posts by Alison Mudditt; the first of which addressed the issue head on, naming the long-standing problem and calling for publishers not only to speak out but to make changes to stop this deplorable behaviour; generated a strong and supportive response. These posts, alongside the dignity at work sessions at ALPSP in September 2018 and SSP in May 2019, showed there is a good momentum and agreement across the publishing community to make changes. This means acknowledging that this can and does happen, taking actions to address unacceptable behaviour, and in turn changing the culture of publishing, and demanding that our employees are treated with dignity and respect.

We have been actively addressing the issue of harassment in our London office at SAGE through various initiatives:

  • Made a dignity at work statement on our corporate website (this is being retitled to ‘dignity at work policy’; formerly ‘anti-harassment and bullying policy’)
  • We have included a clause in our author and editor contracts requiring them to familiarize themselves with this policy and respect it in their interactions with our employees.
  • The policy is included in our employee handbook.
  • The President of SAGE International, Stephen Barr, made a statement that SAGE has zero tolerance of harassment at one of our company meetings just after the #MeToo movement began. I reiterated this at our Editorial Department Meeting.
  • We’ve worked on our training programme to make it more effective over time, most recently working with inspiring experts at Challenge Consultancy who have been running a training programme for our managers equipping them to deal with cases that arise.
  • Our HR team are just bringing out a new dignity at work leaflet to make sure people know about the policy, what to do if they have an issue that they want to discuss, who to go to and how a case of harassment will be handled. We are making sure that there are several options for employees to turn to in the first instance (HR, line manager or senior manager) and we are also introducing a trained employee support to deal with issues relating to harassment, bullying and mental health.

Over the last two years where much of this has been in place, we have had a few cases of third-party harassment reported and each has been dealt with in ways that we judge to be proportionate to the incident, but also, really importantly, we start by listening to the victims’ wishes on what they feel is the right response, as well as who is best placed to deliver our response. We have unfortunately been unable to make  our responses visible as case studies to learn from, as we have been asked to keep all cases confidential.

SAGE London is not alone in tackling this issue head on, as across the industry, great progress has been made, in particular:

  • The Society for Scholarly Publishing published a Code of Conduct in 2016 for Annual Meeting attendees, speakers, exhibitors, staff, contractors, volunteers, and guests as a declaration of the organization’s values and show of support of diversity and inclusion. They also have a Harassment Incident Report form available online.
  • Independent Book Publishers Association released an anti-harassment policy for all IBPA activities, meetings and networking events.
  • Most recently, a Commitment to Professional Behavior was published in December 2018 by the Association of Authors’ Agents (AAA), Society of Authors (SoA), Booksellers Association and Publishers Association (PA) to create a cross-industry code for all members. It outlines 5 key principles on not only sexual harassment, but wider behavior and conduct within the industry.

These initiatives are really powerful; they are explicit statements about expected and acceptable behaviour. The more individual publishers, as well as publishing associations, make similar statements of expected standards of behaviour, the more clearly we can enforce those standards and make important changes for the benefit of everyone working in publishing, and particularly younger women who are most likely to be the victims of harassment.

Karen joined SAGE Publishing in 1984 and has held several roles in marketing and editorial in over 30 years. Karen became Editorial Director in 2010, leading SAGE’s UK books, journals and online product teams. Karen became Senior Vice President of Global Learning Resources in June 2016, consolidating her position as SAGE’s global strategic lead for new digital resources for learning and research in Higher Education.

Originally published by the Workplace Equity Project.