How did a female member of staff get a disciplinary warning for a day when she had a miscarriage?

What policy does her organisation have on period pain, menopause, postnatal depression, birth trauma, or are they all referred to occupational health rather than treated as discrimination – for exceptional treatment, not normal, a woman’s problem to deal with?

Universities are finding their image of quiet cerebral retreat, research, teaching and learning battered by new allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination. It turns out higher education can be just as difficult an environment for women as any other workplace.

The revelation that Universities have spent over £87 million on Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) in a business that is meant to be all about sharing knowledge and transparency has posed a real dilemma for HR practitioners and for the whole institutional approach to discrimination and bad behaviour.

Radio 4 had universities in the cross hairs with this story.

Universities UK, the membership trade body have been quick to state when NDAs should be used and when they are inappropriate. University College London has given a strong lead rejecting them in the settlement of harassment cases.

But how do trade and professional associations advise their members to navigate these growing demands? What are the new ways of dealing with these issues?

NDAs now look like a sign of failure rather than closure; a way of kicking the problem into the long grass and making it invisible. Meanwhile the individuals involved, whether victim or perpetrator of misconduct, are left with unresolved or unaddressed issues. What if it happens again? And meanwhile another career is interrupted, knocked off the rails or destroyed.

How do you call out such behaviour, how do you monitor what is going on? Some women are coming up with anonymous ways of reporting in organisations of acting when they see a perpetrator repeatedly named or linked to problems. But that is only the start.
Equality at work for women is clearly about much more than recruitment and pay mechanisms and the birth of a child treated as legislated issues. The dark revelations uncovered by the #MeToo movement along with growing demands for recognition of the common and normal cycles of female life have made sure that this is an issue which can no longer be ignored.

Women at Work - Breaking the Barriers - May 2019

Ann Francke the CEO of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), a leading professional body will be heading up a platform of speakers with hard experience of tackling these interacting issues and trying to envisage a new settlement for dealing with and repairing the damage of bad behaviour and ill informed taboos about women at the “Women at Work, Breaking the Barriers” National Conference on the 22nd may in London.

Other speakers include:

  • June Sarpong MBE
    TV presenter and author
  • Sam Smethers
    Chief Executive, The Fawcett Society
  • Emma Codd
    Managing Partner for Talent, Deloitte UK
  • Bina Mheta
    Partner, KPMG

View the full agenda here.

This programme will address the daily attitudes, behaviours, barriers, taboos and disadvantages experienced by women at work which undermine equality.

A must-attend event for every HR, equality, diversity and talent management professional and senior manager looking for answers, innovations and solutions.

We hope to see you there!

Neil Stewart
Editorial Director, The Education Studio