Hello PPMA friends

Last night, I should by rights, have had an early night – as a long trip down to see our wonderful South West Region colleagues awaited me this morning. Well, the moral of that story is best laid plans and all that.

But, 2 things kept me awake:

The BBC Panorama programme that has seen much twitter traffic.

Gemma White, QC’s report into inappropriate conduct in Westminster, published today.

I find myself, yet again, in a mixture of absolute rage given what has been revealed.  But also grateful that light is finally being shone on issues in a more coordinated way.  In the interests of equity, it is important to say that the BBC Panorama programme on anti-Semitism could easily have been on Islamaphobia (and a different political party), homophobia or any other form of despicable treatment towards a groups in society.

It should go without saying that the behaviours we see demonstrated towards ANY group that is ‘different’ often has ignorance, intolerance, fear and a smattering of cowardice as core ingredients.

There is something important to say too about this ignorance. It is often caused by short, snappy headlines that serve to further confuse and cause anger.  Asking a simple question e.g., is political party x (or y) anti-this (r that) is deeply unhelpful. It implies that everyone in a party has a problem and that is deeply unfair – and for many deeply offensive. It usually causes people to become defensive or closed off to the very issue we are trying to explore. And, it forces binary choices in terms of how issues are seen.  These binary choices rarely reflect human perception and behaviour.

So the 2 things that stand out and give me pause for thought are as follows.  Firstly, Gemma White’s report contains the following quote:

“As long as getting political jobs in Parliament are dependent on who you know and who you’re related to, sexual harassment will be a necessary evil for ambitious young…. people like me who will choose our careers over our comfort every time”.

There are any number of things that I take exception to in this quote.  As a tax payer, I find it utterly risible that such a culture has been allowed to take hold in some parts of our parliamentary democracy.  As a HR professional I also find it mind bogglingly risible that the ‘who you know culture’ prevails so strongly in some parts.

As HR and OD professionals we surely have obligations to our organisations to discourage such behaviours. By the way,  that means we shouldn’t be indulging in it ourselves.  If I was writing a political blog I’d make a sarcastic observation that perhaps it’s this very culture – that people are clearly willing to condone by participating in it – that is a fundamental part of why our politics is so broken. And why it’s so damned difficult for extraordinary public servants to do their jobs days in and day out. I suppose it’s just as well then that I’m not writing a political blog……

Safe to say it is way beyond time that Westminster got its house in order in terms of how it treats its own workforce.  I’d venture further and say it is testing credibility for Westminster to legislate on workforce matters whilst not addressing it’s own toxicity.

Secondly, what stood out in a profoundly compelling way in the Panorama programme is the behaviour that the Dispute Investigation team described. These experiences are deeply akin to the experiences of people being bullied in workplaces across public services. And of HR and non-HR investigators doing their damnedest to uphold organisation values and bring justice to people in the workplace. That justice does not always mean that complaints are automatically going to be proved, but even the most basic justice absolutely must be that people have confidence that investigations can be conducted independently without fear or favour; that organisations will have the balls to accept investigation outcomes and also have the balls to discipline people found guilty of bullying etc.  It is a profoundly disappointing situation to see investigators being bullied, threatened and defamed.

We are living in troubled times. I suspect we would all agree, but I’m sure there would be healthy debate and disagreement on why those troubled times have arisen.  That’s fine – different opinion is ok.  BUT what is not fine is a denial that bullying cultures exist and an acceptance that these cultures are something to be tolerated.

We have to challenge and call out every instance of bullying, harassment and victimisation wherever we see it.  To do that successfully, we must be clear about what this means, how we will investigate it and how we will deal with it.  We also need to be ruthlessly and consistently clear about what supportive and enabling leadership, culture and behaviour looks like.

All these issues of course are at the heart of #outoftheshadows.

I want to share with you where we are on this important campaign. I am absolutely delighted to share with you that the wonderful Helene Donnelly OBE, has agreed to be the PPMA Ambassador for the campaign. For those of you who may not know, Helene was the Nurse whistleblower at the Mid Staffs Public Inquiry.  You will be reading a blog from Helene in the near future. Her story is utterly horrifying but her humanity and courage is humbling.

I am also incredibly grateful to our friends in ADPH. They agree with us that bullying, harassment and victimisation is a public health issue. ADPH council has agreed to formally endorse our campaign and you will see their logo on future materials.  The force of nature that is Professor Jim McManus will be bringing his own experiences, his considerable wisdom and knowledge to supporting our campaign. We very much look forward to working with Jim, ADPH colleagues and Directors of Public Health across the country.

Our #outoftheshadows webpages and research survey are undergoing final review. They will be up shortly. We are pleased with them but are working with other partner organisations to get their input too, to make sure they really are as good as we want them to be.

My final reflection is a plea. Please please participate in #outoftheshadows. Our research is comprehensive and is looking at the issue from the widest number of perspectives that we believe has been done before. We’re not doing that to win a prize or because we think we’re smart.  We’re taking a comprehensive approach because this isn’t a single issue problem. And there won’t be a single answer.

Future blogs will feature Helene, Jim and other key partners in our campaign.  Until then, I want to share with you the most meaningful advice that I have ever been given. It has saved me in many situations and I hope it will comfort you too.

A dear friend said to me once that I must always remember that ‘wherever you are in your life, you are there for your highest good’. Given that I wasn’t in a great place at the time of that advice, I pretty angrily dismissed it as psychobabble bullshit. And that is the printable version.

But of course, friends are often smarter than you would like to acknowledge. Carole’s advice has sustained me in the two darkest times of my life. Believing that in everything you go through there is learning – and that you’ll get through whatever situation you are in, is a profoundly healing and comforting notion. It has stood me in good stead and I hope that in some way it will help those of you currently struggling.

With love