Time's Up: How to guarantee women's inclusion and fair treatment at work

Victoria Murphy
Time's Up: How to guarantee women's inclusion and fair treatment at work

After decades of inequality, 2018 saw Hollywood pledge to tackle discrimination following the immense scrutiny generated by the Time’s Up movement. It started with the #MeToo hashtag after the Harvey Weinstein allegations, which led to the #TimesUp campaign, and now actor Frances McDormand has thrown “inclusion rider” into the mix with her Oscar-winner’s speech.

Will these powerful messages of inclusivity permeate down from the bright lights of Hollywood and reach the average workplace? And what will the impact be on organisational culture?

What does inclusion rider mean?

The morning after the 2018 Oscars, we all hit Google: what is an inclusion rider, and do we need to get one? Frances McDormand’s passionate speech calling for Hollywood equality was the most talked-about moment of a politically-charged night.

“Inclusion rider” refers to an equity clause an A-list actor can insist on adding to their contract — the film they are signing up for will have a cast and crew that meets an agreed level of diversity. This was a concept introduced by Dr Stacy L Smith at TEDWomen 2016 with the purpose to “counter bias in the auditioning and casting process.”

Outside of Hollywood, can an equity clause be lifted from the A-lister agreement and transplanted into a new CEO’s contract?

The answer is, no — not in that form. Positive discrimination, even with the best of intentions, is generally regarded as unlawful under European employment law. Even if diversity is an organisational benefit, we cannot actively recruit to fill profile gaps.

Hollywood Hills, the start of the Time's Up campaign

What can we do to guarantee more equity in the workplace?

The solution to inequity in the workplace lies in equal treatment and opportunity, which can be enshrined in your organisation’s policies. Achieving pay parity has been a major issue in the UK recently, and one that the government is seeking to address in law.

There is now a requirement for annual gender pay gap reporting. Unlike equal pay, the pay gap is calculated across the organisation, rather than looking at individuals, identifying concerns and — let’s keep this positive — successes.

Following high-profile controversies about pay parity, in January the BBC published the findings of the PricewaterhouseCoopers review. PwC claimed that the problems don’t lie with pay discrimination (a finding contested by the National Union of Journalists) but with transparency and a lack of clarity.

How to avoid discrimination in the workplace

It is very hard to have a discriminatory — or a perceived discriminatory — organisation if your company has an open culture. Clear pay scales, appraisal and reward schemes, and equal promotional opportunities are all areas HR can own to ensure that parity is upheld. Make sure all policies are visible and shared, at all levels. It is not difficult to embed equality and diversity in an organisation’s formal culture.

And here we come to the second challenge: the informal culture, or the “locker room banter” ethos, which is being vociferously challenged by #MeToo and #TimesUp. Can these campaigns empower people to challenge discrimination?

Time’s Up: the end of the informal “robust” culture?

With so many women coming forward with accounts of sexual harassment, the #MeToo hashtag was adopted. Women all around the world shared their experiences of workplace harassment and gender discrimination, highlighting that in many social situations, this is seen as the norm.

The Time’s Up campaign launched on New Year’s Day this year. Calling time on sexual harassment, high-profile performers have raised millions of dollars to support women bringing workplace harassment cases. The campaign — associated with A-listers wearing white roses on red carpets — actually has more of a grass-roots start. It began late last year, with a letter of solidarity for Hollywood women written by American women’s farmworker organisation, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas.

The letter, written on behalf of 700,000 women farmworkers, underpinned the Time’s Up movement’s belief that those who face prejudice or harassment should be able to speak up. Not everyone has a media platform, but that shouldn’t mean they don’t have a voice.

Time's Up campaign logo

What does Time’s Up mean for workplaces?

It may be hard to see the relevance of a Hollywood initiative for women in the workplace, or any other employees who may face discrimination or bullying (LBGT, BEM, disabled, young, old, or overseas colleagues). However, the Time’s Up movement stretches well beyond Los Angeles.

A line has been clearly and publicly drawn — thanks to celebrity and social media trends — that unwanted attention and comments, however casual, are at best inappropriate. In an ideal world, employees will feel empowered to stand up for themselves and each other, sending out a clear message of what’s unacceptable. Those who may have unthinkingly made offensive comments in the past, may start to think again.

It’s a nice thought. However, as is often the case with informal cultures, intervention may be needed, such as:

  • Clear communication of the equality and diversity policies is essential. Perhaps have a post-#TimesUp review of these (involving colleagues).
  • Ensure top-down buy-in — even if the board lacks diversity, it can still demonstrate a socially-conscious attitude.
  • Borrow from Dr Smith’s inclusion rider clause, and create diverse teams for specific projects, encouraging collaboration and appreciation.

Employees from different backgrounds each bring different things to the mix. If you are lucky enough to have a diverse workforce with a range of knowledge and experience, and that reflects your client base, you have a competitive advantage over narrower teams.

You can always hold talks or workshops if you see a real need to educate and involve colleagues. With your diverse colleagues behind you, developing a “culturally competent” and inclusive company is not as hard as it sounds.

Certainly, in workplaces, social communities and online, people have started talking, sharing and questioning attitudes. Is 2018 the year when it’s Time Up for discrimination? When Hollywood stars start influencing global HR policies, anything could happen.

Forfatter - Victoria Murphy