Organise in the Financial Times πŸŽ‰

Screenshot 2019-01-18 at 12.52.42.png

The Organise community are in the Financial Times! πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰ Check out the article written by Emma Jacobs, here:

At the tail-end of last year, Ted Baker announced that Ray Kelvin, its founder and chief executive, would take a leave of absence while the UK fashion retailer investigated staff allegations about his conduct.

In a statement, Mr Kelvin said: "Ted Baker has been my life and soul for 30 years. I love this company and I care deeply for all my colleagues. It's for that reason that I have decided to take a temporary leave of absence."

His departure followed complaints from about 100 staff and an online petition that demanded an "end to forced 'hugging by the CEO'" and a "culture that leaves harassment unchallenged". The petition alleged that Mr Kelvin "regularly makes sexual innuendos . . . So many people have left the business due to harassment, whether that be verbal, physical or sexual."

It was a striking example of digital workplace activism in the wake of the #MeToo movement which took off at the end of 2017. Last October, the hashtag #Googlewalkout rallied Google workers across the world to protest against their employer's handling of sexual misconduct. Online petitions and articles have also publicised tech employees' discontent with the company's business strategies.

Nat Whalley, the quietly-spoken founder and chief executive of Organise, the social enterprise that surveyed Ted Baker staff and set up the online petition, says she was overwhelmed by the press attention. "Normally as campaigners you're trying to sell a story to journalists and all of a sudden we had journalists chasing us, which is overwhelming when we're quite a small team."

In fact there are just four Organise employees who are based in a shared office space at Toynbee Hall, which has been an east London location for social action for more than 130 years.

Organise was set up in 2017 by Ms Whalley after she worked in South Africa on secondment from 38 Degrees, an online political campaign group. Mobilising a community of low-income women alerted her to the possibility of workplace campaigning back home in the UK. "The key was being able to collect data and [use] that to evidence the changes you're asking for."

She then started the Organise tech platform, which has received a grant from Lush, the eco-friendly cosmetics retailer, and funding from Bethnal Green Ventures, a tech investor. She hopes that the app will become a paid subscription service.

One of Organise's recent campaigns sought improved shifts at the Co-operative Group's supermarkets. Other cases have involved demands for better parental leave.

The path to the Ted Baker campaign came on the back of reports of retail entrepreneur Philip Green's alleged misconduct. Organise decided to distribute a survey to its 47,000 members asking if they had seen or experienced harassment at work. About 400 people responded. "Two of them were from Ted Baker", says Ms Whalley. "They were very similar experiences."

Ted Baker employees then ran a survey to see if anyone else had the same experience, sharing it on WhatsApp groups. "Over the space of 48 hours we hit 25 people who'd reported harassment and we were like, 'this is huge'," says Ms Whalley. The final tally was 100 complaints.

With this information they launched the petition to protest against the company culture. Together with the survey, which included ex-Ted Baker employees, the fashion retailer launched an investigation. "Ted Baker were very proactive", says Usman Mohammed, Organise's lead campaigner.

However, not every campaign will receive the media attention that Ted Baker did, concede the pair. Rebecca Traister, the New York Magazine columnist, described in 2017 being overwhelmed by women coming forward with their stories of harassment. "To many of them I must say that their guy isn't well known enough," she wrote.

Some Organise campaigns will never make the news, such as the one by staff at the Co-op, who demanded an end to shifts with only one employee on the shop floor which can leave them vulnerable. But, notes Ms Whalley: "being headline news is not fun."

An anonymous survey which can be shared by WhatsApp is an important tool, Organise maintains, because it can identify common workplace problems.

The digital activists are working on an app which encourages workers to document misconduct as it happens. "You've then got this ready-made bank of evidence that you can take to your trade union representative or lawyer," says Mr Mohammed.

They insist that technology is a complement rather than replacement for on-the-ground campaigning.

Is there a danger that anonymous campaigns become a form of mob justice, charges that have been levelled at #MeToo? Organise says that its surveys are anonymous but respondents can volunteer to identify themselves to the campaign group, which in turn will verify their details via LinkedIn or payslips.

While Organise did not corroborate each story of harassment at Ted Baker, it says it is working with the law firm conducting the investigation.

Workplace bullying, particularly in academia, is another area that Organise believes needs attention. "There [are] a lot of structural challenges with academics," says Ms Whalley. "You can't call out your boss because your boss gives you funding to do your research . . . lots of them are on temporary contracts which means that they don't want to cause a fuss so they'll just put their heads down and crack on."

Machine learning will help Organise staff sift through survey responses and find trends within workplaces or across industries. The dream, says Ms Whalley, is to widen conversations so that individuals could be matched with peers in similar companies to source advice, for example on improving parental policies. She adds: "We're always developing new stuff."

Or here’s a link to the full article in the Financial Times (paywall): https://www.ft.com/content/81cbfd2c-1803-11e9-9e64-d150b3105d21