What to Say?

During the last few days, many people have been asking why we have been so quiet since the “The Voice” scandal exploded. The short answer is: There is just so much to say.

For our partners located outside the Netherlands: You might have heard about the #metoo revelations of the past few days: Dozens of incidents of sexual harassment have been revealed, all from young and ambitious candidates of the television show The Voice of Holland. Prominent Dutch celebrities are being accused, high-profile artists with impeccable reputations which seems to have intensified the public outrage.

With #metoo many horrible secrets just burst. We’re being reminded that this type of behaviour is still out there, closer than what we might think. How many of these women could have been saved from harm, humiliation and suffering if a witness (not the victim or their family!) had had the initiative and courage to speak up? It is time to face the facts: an inappropriate behavioural culture is what is at root. Having a solid SpeakUp Programme can help detect such issues, and ideally even prevent them. Still any kind of signal needs to be responded to immediately and fiercely. Because if not, the SpeakUp Programme will be inefficient.

Dangerous silence is present every minute, every day, at every level. From playground to atrocity. Why?

Speaking Up feels ‘unnatural’. For you. For us. For everyone. It is human nature being loyal to the group. Otherwise, it feels like snitching. And it is perceived as snitching. Surely, a lot of people on the set of the Voice were aware of what was going on. And a lot more will be revealed during the upcoming months. How do we know? Because this is always the case with scandals. If only more people would speak up… the world would be a safer place.

So, some lessons from our day-to-day practice on this difficult problem:

  • Never (never!) underestimate the difficulty of speaking up when designing your SpeakUp Programme.
  • Have your reporting persona in mind while designing the ways people can reach out.
  • Make sure that reaching out is easy: not 25 different points to turn to.
  • Provide safety for reaching out: a witness has a lot at stake, anonymity can be their only power.
  • Assign “listening” responsibilities clearly (as well as following up and reporting).
  • Aside making things easy, remember to also ask questions! Again, anonymously.
  • It is extremely important for victims to be well informed on his/her rights and the ways they’ll be protected before they find themselves in a vulnerable position. This should be possible to be done in a safe and anonymous way. Make it happen!
  • Do not limit the scope of your SpeakUp Programme: every sign of bad behaviour can be a red flag for something bigger. Cultural problems are the worse.
  • Have a clear overview of all possible signals, so that you can connect the dots.

One thing that was striking in both the #metoo and The Voice scandals, was the role of the media. It was those persistent journalists that refused to give up, and insisted on connecting the dots until they reached a point of a massive, collective force: victim A felt supported and protected by victim B, and also victim C and so on. This wasn’t just “the last drop”, the whole glass burst into pieces. If these kinds of incidents are happening within your organisation, how can you connect the dots and trigger the change?

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