Sexual Harassment, Westminster, Weinstein and Mediation.

06 November 2017


I was shocked to hear in one of the very first announcements from the Prime Minister Theresa May that Westminster would be reviewing procedures and setting up an independent mediation service. Mediation, on this issue, at this time? This is bad advice, it is negligent advice and un-ethical. Such advice damages the reputation of the Prime Minister and damages the reputation of mediation.

It is worrying that such influence exists in the world of mediation. I suspect the advice did not come from a workplace mediation specialist. The mediation marketplace is highly competitive with many mediators from other sectors e.g.: civil & commercial mediation seeking opportunities and markets. The timing of such advice is both insensitive and unjust. 

No doubt the advice was well intentioned, however if mediators cannot see why referencing mediation at this point is wrong, then they are missing the global landmark change for women that Weinstein and Westminster represents. They also risk administering mediation processes that can damage and hurt women further. 

This is a time for advocating, protecting and strengthening women's rights and for sanctioning behaviours and offenders. Mediation is about interests and needs, it is not and should never be about negotiating people's rights. This is a time for the protection of rights, to strengthen and advocate rights, not to negotiate and erode those rights through an interpersonal process such as mediation. To push issues of safety, security and dignity into mediation represents a dangerous lack of awareness on behalf of the mediator. Talking about mediation now misses the wider, global significance both culturally and socially for women and justice across the world.

Some MP's have described the events as becoming a witch-hunt. This is a damaging statement that discredits the voices and experiences of women, and risks discouraging more vulnerable women or those who have come to doubt themselves and their experiences. It also exploits the loyalty and power imbalances that operate at Westminster. It erodes the confidence of women everywhere to speak up and speak out about their experiences and make their voices heard. If those MP's are walking the corridors of Westminster and feeling hunted, uncomfortable, uncertain and unsure. If those MP's who are guilty of sexual harassment or sexual aggression return to their constituencies feeling unsafe and frightened, unsure about their jobs and unsure about their futures and their careers. If they are feeling uncertain, unsafe or wary when they walk into any room, unsure about how they will be met or greeted by any member of their constituency. It is only then that they may have an insight and possible empathy for the day-to-day experience of many women in this world.

Yes mediation does have its place, when justice, safety and protection are securely in place. Mediation should not be a substitute for this, it is a weak substitute and as such risks colluding with both power and privilege and leaves individuals exposed and without the wider protections. Mediation is a powerful process that gives people a voice and a sense of interpersonal justice. It can also be used to silence and weaken the voices of women and to hide responsibility and wrongdoing and undermine justice. Mediation risks leaving responsibility with individuals rather than with the organisations and structures who should be taking responsibility to protect. Mediation should be last in the line of choices not first: protection, support, advocacy, rights and justice should come first.

I am pleased to see that the right organisations are now being mentioned, we are now hearing about the police and specialist organisations in sexual harassment and sexual violence. If as a mediator, you do not understand the arguments here, then you should not be mediating equalities issues and issues of sexual harassment. If your membership body cannot understand this argument, ensure your membership body is a specialist in workplace mediation rather than a body from another sector who is seeking to move into workplace mediation. If your supervisor cannot understand the arguments here, change your supervisor and get further training. For those who advised on mediation in this situation, what gives you the authority to assume the role of expert on such issues, as an ethical and responsible practitioner why have you not referred onto the right experts and the right organisations?