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3 Top Tips for Voluntary Sector SLT's When Reporting Sexual Harassment Incidents

Following the surfacing of a number of high-profile incidents of sexual misconduct within the voluntary sector, the prevalence of sexual harassment within fundraising has recently been brought to light. 50% of female fundraisers have experienced sexually inappropriate behaviour, according to research carried out by Rogare in 2019.

Lizzi Hollis, Specialist in Corporate Partnerships, shares some insights with us on what senior leaders can do to support their teams to come forward and report incidents of harassment.

We all know that incidents of sexual harassment in the voluntary sector are far more commonplace than is acceptable, but what is less known is how we as managers can support our teams to feel confident in reporting incidents and for those reports to be taken as seriously as they deserve. As a manager it can be difficult to know how to navigate these situations with your team members, ensuring they feel safe to come forward in the first instance and then supported in taking any accusations forward.

Here are my top 3 tips for how senior leaders can support their team members in reporting incidents.

1. Let your team know before any incidents that you believe them and that speaking to you is a safe space


As Head of Corporate Partnerships managing an all-female team, it’s vital to me to ensure the safety of the women I manage. Our fundraising function requires us to go to a lot of events, from small in-office fundraisers to large scale fundraising galas. For the most part the people we meet at these events are welcoming, friendly and enthusiastic about our work. However, as I don’t know a single female fundraiser who hasn’t experienced some kind of sexual harassment, it is vital for me to make it explicit to my team that should such an experience happen to them, they will be taken seriously and believed. When I started in my current role, in one of my first team meetings I let my team know that should they ever feel uncomfortable in a situation with a donor they do not have to stay in that situation and that under no circumstances is their safety less important than a donation. I repeat this before every event, so it’s fresh in their mind.


2. Have discussions with senior management teams


Without the integrity of our organisations these behaviours will continue and the safety and wellbeing of fundraisers will be compromised. It can be difficult to know where your senior management stand on such topics and this can create challenges in reporting, should an incident occur. While everyone will agree that sexual harassment is unacceptable and should have a zero-tolerance policy, in reality this may be difficult to quantify. Often members of the senior management team are not behaving maliciously, they may simply just not understand the severity of the accusation, particularly if they have no experience of this behaviour. The best way to mitigate these situations occurring are to have conversations about what is acceptable before an incident occurs. If you feel you are too junior to have these conversations directly with senior managers, speak to someone you trust, who can have them. Put in time with your CEO, Director of Fundraising or HR Director to discuss the topic. Ask how they think you can best support your team should an incident occur and find out what policies are in place to protect fundraisers and decline donations from perpetrators. If the senior people in your organisation respond better to facts and statistics, go armed with information about the negative impact not addressing these behaviours could have on your organisations bottom line – from loss of donations from philanthropic organisations who only want to support charities that take these accusations seriously, to the cost of replacing staff who feel unsupported.


3. Understand micro-aggressions

A really important way to support your teams when it comes to reporting incidents, is to understand the types of negative behaviour they may be subjected to, particularly microaggressions. A microaggression is a statement, action or incident regarded as indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against a marginalised group. They are important because I have found them to be the most widespread but innocuous form of harassment. Microaggressions can be incredibly harmful because they create discomfort for the recipient, without being able to fully explain why. Being aware of the existence of microaggressions and what they are (examples include questions like “Where are you really from?” to a BAME person, asking a female team member to do a specific task as its “woman’s work” or dismissal of sexuality e.g. refusing someone’s identity as bisexual) means you can help your team members identify when they have experienced it and validate their feelings of frustration. If you are able to equip yourself with an understanding of this type of discrimination, you will be able to better support your team members when they bring these experiences to you.