“No one steps in and they get away with it over and over again.”
These are the words of just one of the thousands of respondents to our mental health and wellbeing survey.
Talking about bullying in our industry, this person concludes:
“People are scared to step in or speak up because of not being hired again. It is always one rule for some and another rule for others. Always.”
On Monday Harvey Weinstein was finally convicted of rape and sexual assault. This landmark case has drawn attention to the experiences of people working in film and television and has generated a worldwide conversation about unequal power dynamics.
Here in the UK incredible work has been spearheaded by organisations including Time’s Up, BAFTA and the BFI to tackle discrimination, bullying and harassment both within our industry and more widely.
But from reality TV to Weinstein, much of the public focus has been on those in front of the camera lens.
We’re the charity for anyone working behind the scenes in our film and television industry: in development, on set, in post, VFX, animation, in distribution, broadcasting, marketing or in your local cinema.
We’ve become a place to turn for all too many people working in our industry who tell us about their experiences of feeling powerless and voiceless.
Through our mental health research, published in February this year, thousands of people shared heartbreaking accounts of being belittled and humiliated, of being afraid to speak up and afraid of losing work (Work Foundation (2020): The Looking Glass).
Our research reveals that bullying and harassment is widespread and deep-rooted behind the scenes in our industry:
- 4 in 10 women (39%) have experienced sexual harassment at work (and also 12% of men)
Our research found a high prevalence of bullying for both men and women:
- Two-thirds of women (67%) and half of men (50%) have experienced bullying themselves
- Overall, 82% of all workers have experienced or witnessed bullying
And freelancers were even more likely to have experienced workplace bullying or sexual harassment, compared to those in regular employment:
- Almost 2 in 3 freelancers (64%) have experienced bullying (compared with 46% of employees)
- Nearly half (45%) of female freelancers have experienced sexual harassment, (compared with 34% of female employees)
What we uncovered aligns with wider research in this area, including a report published by the Women and Equalities Committee that highlights that freelancers are at greater risk of harassment.
Power and position
“We don’t have any training as managers or HR people yet it comes as part of the job. It would be great to have support in developing us as better people managers, and to also find a way to deal with the weight of the responsibility on our shoulders.”
Other research into mental wellbeing at work has emphasised the role of managers in supporting workers through meaningful relationships, providing support and guidance to help people manage the demands of a role.
Where freelancing is common in areas of the film and TV industry, many people won’t have access to any traditional line-management relationship.
Amongst the respondents to our research, the sense of the absence of HR structures and a tendency to protect people in senior roles was evident.
A power imbalance is creating a culture in which it’s difficult to speak out about inappropriate behaviour or seek any kind of formal redress after experiencing abuse.
Several respondents described experiences of raising a complaint and consequently being blacklisted and struggling to find work, or of being fired from the job they were on. And we heard accounts of multiple people raising concerns about a particular individual, and no action being taken.
The role of power was highlighted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in a paper in 2018, finding that across the wider economy senior colleagues are not challenged by HR departments or other colleagues due to their position of influence, with some labelling these individuals ‘untouchable’.
Findings from the open-ended responses in our survey indicate that in many cases the perpetrators are in more senior roles.
Why mental health?
Sexual harassment and bullying are not standalone issues – the experience is associated with a host of negative outcomes including the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, eating disorders, suicidality, dissociation, and high-risk sexual behaviours (see Littleton et al, 2018).
The combination of poor outcomes for bullying and harassment, alongside other issues highlighted in our research such as long hours and difficulty managing work-life balance, are putting people at risk and creating a perfect storm for poor mental health. 87% of all respondents to our survey reported having had a mental health problem.
The research we’ve conducted has given the whole industry an unequivocal evidence base on which to mount far-ranging action.
Our action plan, the Whole Picture Programme, has received widespread support from leaders across the industry. We’re heartened to already have secured the commitment of companies in film and TV who have joined our Film and TV Taskforce on Mental Health.
You can help to raise awareness by reading our report and sharing the issues we’ve found with friends and colleagues.
All quotes are anonymous survey respondents.
Sexual assault, sexual abuse, and harassment: Understanding the mental health impact and providing care for survivors: An International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Briefing Paper, Littleton, H., Abrahams, N., Bergman, M., Berliner, L., Blaustein, M., Cohen, J., Dworkin, E., Krahe, B., Pereda, N., Peterson, Z. and Pina, A., (2018)
Women and Equalities Committee (2018) Sexual Harassment in the workplace, Fifth Report of Session 2017-19
EHRC (2018) Turning the Tables: ending sexual harassment at work
The Looking Glass, the Work Foundation, 2020