Bullying and harassment

“I spoke to my line manager first, when I saw that no change was made, I escalated this to my line manager’s manager. No changes were made and I then reached out to the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian through email as I was struggling to cope.

I spoke to the Guardian about the bullying and harassment I experienced from a colleague who targeted ethnic minorities. They would say things like  “How come your English is good?” and make racist, sexist and religious jokes.

I spoke to my line manager. “This is just what they’re like, but I will speak to them”, they said. But nothing changed, in fact they received a promotion, despite their behaviour which had been raised by others who had since left the organisation.

I then spoke up to my line manager’s superior. They said, “Stop being an angry black woman”. They said that a training exercise with the team would be arranged. But this was not pursued any further.

I felt repeatedly dismissed, alienated and insulted and it affected my confidence because I was afraid to speak up.

I then reached out to the organisation’s Freedom to Speak Up Guardian. At first I was afraid because I did not want to be alienated even further. It was as if I met a doctor; she was able to assess the situation and diagnose the problem. I felt empowered because the Guardian was extremely approachable and understanding, and she gave me encouragement which has allowed me to speak up now.

She spoke to my manager and my manager immediately spoke to the colleague on the telephone at home after work. When I came in to work the next morning, my manager told me that the colleague had cried and felt really bad as she was unaware of how her behaviour had affected me. But except for the initial apology, no other action has been taken.

The Guardian, in a bid to escalate this further, invited me to share my experience to a wider audience. I spoke with a group of line managers to highlight the impact of my experience and educate them on raising and handling concerns in the workplace.

The Guardian has shared my story at a board meeting, and there was a lot of discussion around race and managers’ behaviours. They agreed that all managers, including mine, will receive training in the handling of concerns which is being developed. The training will also cover sensitivity and inappropriate banter.

On reflection, I should have spoken up sooner rather than allow the issues to fester. I have learnt that speaking up about issues that I have experienced, seen or heard is worthwhile.  I am now no longer afraid to speak up.

This case study was part of our 100 Voices publication which accompanied the 2019 Annual Report.

Case studies are vital to illustrate the good work of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians. We encourage all organisations to share the learning from their speaking up stories.

If you have a Freedom to Speak Up story to share, please send an email to [email protected]