From education to employment

Reducing the Risk of Sexual Harm: Episode 5 – Accountability


In this podcast we discuss how boards can tackle the question of accountability for creating a safe environment in the organisation they lead.   We look at what accountability means in this context, and in particular how the leadership of an organisation can take steps to demonstrate how their organisation is taking accountability seriously. 

We discuss the four questions that board members need to be able to answer in the context of sexual violence and harm:

  1. Do I understand the issues, and what is happening in my organisation?
  2. Do I know what measures could be taken to mitigate the risks?
  3. Am I clear that the measure we are putting in place are robust?
  4. Am I satisfied that I can see that they are effective?

We also talk about:

  • defining where accountability needs to be handed on, and
  • Democratising accountability so that everyone is sharing it

When it comes to the crunch,  if something goes wrong, the board is going to be held to account and it’s no good either pleading ignorance or trying to blame somebody or something else.   For non- executive directors or trustees in particular there is a classic dilemma.  On the one hand you’re told to keep a bit of a distance from the business, not to step over the line between non-exec and executives and to constrain your involvement to seeking assurance and giving robust challenge to the information that is presented to you by the execs.  On the other hand you are expected to take the full burden of responsibility for everything that happens within the organisation. 

We’ve all seen examples of boards being caught out by not having understood the intricacies of a particular topic and therefore not being aware of how that topic translates into risk.  Sometimes board members will bring their own specialist expertise to bear, but on the whole the people who sit round the board table and are taking that ultimate responsibility are not at the table because of a particular expertise and in fact in large organisations you can’t possibly have people who are expert in everything that the organisation covers.   They’re there because of their ability to set a strategy, to assess risk  and to judge whether the people actually doing the work within the organisation are both alert to the risks and doing everything reasonable to mitigate them.

One of the challenges is that the definition of sexual harm encompasses so many variations.  We’ve talked in earlier podcasts about legal definitions – so one of the areas board members definitely need to understand is what might be going on within their organisation which could be illegal.  Even then it’s not necessarily straightforward – there may be things happening on your premises which seem defensible but strictly speaking are illegal. 

To define what might be harmful though, even if it’s not illegal, is even more complicated.  The majority of your learners will be young people.  There is likely to be a big generational gap between those learners and the people on the board and in senior management.  Different generations may have very different views as to what is safe or not.  And in any case, they’re adults, so you can’t stop them doing things you think are risky even if you find out about them, which you may not. 

How do you come to an objective assessment of what constitutes harm and where your accountability lies in trying to avoid it? Will a decision that you have made as a leadership team stand up to hindsight when something goes wrong? 

A first step is understanding what the issues are and getting people to understand how sexual harm comes about.  The next is to find ways to listen to your organisation.  If I am a board member in my 60s, or a senior manager in my 40s, or even a junior manager in my 30s, how do I connect into the experience of the learners and find out what they think is happening in relation to sexual harm?  The really exciting question is how can you engage with learners to co-create your system of shared accountability around these issues.

Reducing the Risk of Sexual Harm

This brand new series of podcasts, by TDI, will be published on FE News every Thursday. Find each episode on FE News!

Find the series rundown below:

Episode 1 – The Big Picture – 15th June

    Episode 2 – The Law – 22nd June

      Episode 3 – Compliance – 29th June

        Episode 4 – The Challenge of Technology – 6th July

          Episode 5 – Accountability – 13th July

            Episode 6 – Creating A Safer Community – 20th July

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