SoA signs up to industry codes on harassment

7 December 2018

We are proud to have co-written the book industry’s Commitment to Professional Behaviour and signed up to the BFI’s Principles designed to tackle harassment in the workplace.

A year ago, The Bookseller published a survey on the sexual harassment of people working in the book industry, finding that more than half of respondents had experienced harassment at work. 

Its publication set a major challenge for the industry to explore ways to ensure it is a safe environment in which everyone can work with dignity and respect. 

Throughout 2018, we have been working with the Association of Authors’ Agents, the Booksellers Association and the Publishers Association, to better understand the issues and to create a cross industry code that will work for all our members. 

The aim from the outset was to address concerns not only about sexual harassment, but all behaviour and conduct within the industry. 

Industry-wide Commitment to Professional Behaviour in Bookselling and Publishing 

Published today (7 December 2018), a milestone in that work is an industry-wide Commitment to Professional Behaviour (PDF download). Its key principles are:

  • We in the books industry support creative expression and the freedom of speech. However, our creative realm is also a professional one and we expect high standards of behaviour from everyone we encounter in the course of our work, including colleagues and customers. 
  • We will protect the passion, imagination and creativity of everyone in the books industry.
  • We will celebrate and promote diversity and inclusion so that all voices can be heard. 
  • We will recognise our influence and make a commitment to work together to prevent abuse of power, creating a work environment free of discrimination, sexual and other harassment, bullying and intimidation.
  • We will ensure that everyone in our industry is treated with dignity and respect so that individuals are supported and able to speak out. 

Designed to make the industry a better, safer and more respectful place, our aim is to use it a starting point that will benefit SoA members, staff and partners alike.

British Film Institute Principles

With many of our members working directly or indirectly in film and broadcasting, we have also become signatories to the British Film Institute’s Principles to tackle and prevent bullying and harassment in the screen industries.

Scriptwriter Elizabeth-Anne Wheal, the current chair of the SoA’s Scriptwriters Group committee, and who blogged about The Bookseller’s survey at the time, said:

We’ve done a lot of talking about this critical issue, so it’s encouraging to see our industry making this commitment and taking a firm step in the direction of real change. Bullying, harassment and abuses of power of all kinds have been embedded in the creative industries for far too long and this document makes explicit our individual and collective responsibility to act to prevent it. But let’s be clear – this is a beginning, a call to arms. The real work is yet to be done.

In practice

We have already taken practical steps to begin to act on these commitments.

We have clarified our guidance for members, employees and all third parties who work with the Society of Authors (PDF download) which together with our Equality Policy (PDF download) and the principles published today govern our relationships and practices.

We have strengthened and clarified our internal guidelines and policies for employees to ensure the Society of Authors is a respectful, considerate and professional environment for staff, members and visitors alike. We are nurturing a culture where everyone, regardless of role, is empowered to challenge and report bullying, harassment and other inappropriate behaviour if they witness it.

We are also putting into place processes which enable us to act as a trusted intermediary. If a SoA member contacts us with a complaint about bullying or harassment outside our control or environment but within our associated industries, we will offer to support the member through this process and, if necessary, act as a trusted intermediary on their behalf. If a member wishes to remain anonymous, we may help to bring a complaint to the attention of the employing organisation, especially where we are made aware of multiple complaints about the same individual.

And of course, we commit to keep our approach to this work under review, to ensure that it works for everyone we work with.

Commenting on this ongoing work, CEO Nicola Solomon said:

Any statement worth making should be about more than words alone, so we intend the publication of this Industry Commitment not to be an endpoint but a milestone in ongoing cross-sector culture change. If we can share, repeat and embed these core values, I hope we can ensure not only that everyone we work with is clear on appropriate behaviour, but also that we can foster working environments where anyone, regardless of role, is treated with dignity and empowered to speak up when they feel the commitment is not being honoured.

At the Society of Authors, we’re taking today’s publication as an opportunity to refresh and clarify our own guidelines and policies for staff, members and all our partners when working with us. These also go live today, explicitly embedding the principles of the Industry Commitment into our daily interactions.

Responses from authors

We invited authors to comment, some of whom have spoken out publicly on harassment in the creative industries or been involved in the work to develop the Industry Commitment.

Jonathan Emmet, children’s author:

An author's livelihood often feels precarious. So when one is the subject of or a witness to inappropriate behaviour from someone who might have some influence over that livelihood, putting up with it or turning a blind eye is an understandable response. However, if we want publishing to be an inclusive and safe industry in which to work, we must be mindful of our own behaviour and prepared to stand up and speak out for ourselves and others whenever harassment, bullying or discrimination occurs.

Kate Fox, poet:

Having (with trepidation) spoken out earlier this year about an experience of power abuse by a publisher and poetry promoter and then realised that many others had suffered at his hands, I welcome this industry commitment and hope it will galvanise some organisations who may have been wary of acting first or alone. It would be particularly valuable for organisations large and small to have clear codes of conduct inspired by these principles with clear signposting for how people can report bullying and harassment. As a freelance poet without H.R departments to rely on, it’s really not too much to ask that other people have my back in my workplace.

Irenosen Okojie, writer:

It is very encouraging to have this important document as a tool to help spark conversation and concrete action against any form of bullying or harassment in publishing. There should be no place for that in our industry. I hope this commitment to protecting the more vulnerable amongst us will be part of a groundswell of action to enable cultural change and ensure that the publishing landscape is safe for all to navigate.

Joelle Taylor, performance poet:

Guidelines such as these are essential for any place of work but even more so in the creative industries where behaviour is less regulated and power dynamics are often blurred. The document seeks to protect women in particular from harassment and bullying, and is a welcome intervention from the Society of Authors and their partners.  It is to be hoped that it becomes a template that can be used by all publishers, agents, freelancers, event organisers, and authors.

The best way to embed these values in our work and culture is to keep talking about them and to listen to the views of the people they’re designed to work for.

We look forward to working with all our members and industry partners to ensure that the spirit and intent of this work is carried through into all our professional environments.