Editor’s View: There are lessons for employers in mishandling of harassment complaints
Two stories in this week’s paper highlight one of the crucial challenges in theatre’s struggle to combat harassment in the workplace.
Actors Touring Company’s slow investigation into allegations against its artistic director Ramin Gray and the experience Fiona Allan recounts of an incident of sexual assault early in her career provide important lessons for an employer.
In both cases, there is as much frustration around how a complaint has been handled, as the incident itself.
The ATC complainants feel they have been left in the dark while the investigation is allowed to “fizzle out”. Allan – at the time of her incident – felt that there was no mechanism through which she could raise a complaint and that the senior staff member’s behaviour was being implicitly condoned – or at least ignored – by the organisation she was working for.
The mistakes made by the organisations may have been born of the fact they had not had to deal with similar accusations before and didn’t know how best to proceed. But that is no longer – if it ever was – a valid excuse.
Organisations must be fair to the accused, which means being thorough and not rushing to judgement, but they must also treat the accusers fairly.
As well as taking their allegations seriously, this also means being open and transparent as well as managing a complainant’s expectations.
How do they complain? Who will be dealing with their complaint? How? And, perhaps most importantly, how quickly?
Especially in the case of historic allegations, this might be the first time someone has found the courage to speak about their experiences. To have that emotional release then followed by an indeterminate delay can be extremely frustrating, to say the least. It can also play on the fears that may have prevented them from speaking out in the first place – concerns they wouldn’t be believed, or that the more senior person’s word would be taken over theirs and the whole thing brushed under the carpet.
This is why the guidelines published by UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre are so important and why it is crucial that all theatres pay them more than just lip service.
It is also why the deafening silence from ATC following its initial announcement of an investigation into Gray – whatever the conclusions of that are – is unacceptable.
As Allan says, theatre can no longer ignore this problem and it must learn to handle such complaints much, much better.
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Update on 05/04/18
Following the publication of this column, the board of Actors Touring Company issued the following statement:
“The board of ATC has been working in close collaboration with ITC (Independent Theatre Council), to ensure a full and thorough process, following complaints received relating to artistic director Ramin Gray. Far from ‘fizzling out’, it has been and remains at the forefront of the board’s mind and at the centre of its activity. This issue is of critical importance to ATC’s board, and we are currently very much engaged in seeing it through. ITC continues to advise the board and has worked with ATC to keep Equity (which has been liaising directly with their members) and Arts Council England fully informed throughout.
“Arts organisations, like all employers across every sector, are obliged to ensure that, when allegations of any sort are raised, due process is followed. This is essential to ensure fairness to everyone involved, including the complainants. That process can, and in this case does, involve more than one stage. It is a simple fact that this takes time. Hurrying it could compromise the process, as could making premature comment. It risks an ineffective and unfair outcome. Until the process is complete, we ask for understanding that it is simply not possible to comment further at this time.”