The allegations that Arcadia Group boss Sir Philip Green bullied, racially abused and sexually harassed some of his employees have sent ripples through the industry.
Green has categorically denied any unlawful actions, and said he simply indulged in “banter” with his staff. But while that may be how he sees it, the allegations suggest that his behaviour has caused offence, intentional or not.
It is, sadly, all too easy to believe that this type of behaviour is still thought to be acceptable by some powerful men in fashion retail.
For years, rumours have been rife about the conduct of certain CEOs. Bullying, sexist or racist behaviour often seems to go unchecked, usually because the perpetrator is in a position of power and there is an illusion that they are untouchable. In some cases, it is simply because this type of abuse feels worryingly normal.
There is still an old boys’ club feel to some gatherings of the top brass in fashion retail, where jokey sexist or racist comments are dismissed with a roll of the eyes, despite making many people feel uncomfortable. I have been guilty of letting distasteful comments slide because I don’t want to make a fuss, and I have witnessed others do the same.
Sometimes, the damaging impact of intimidating behaviour is not obvious until viewed in a wider context.
There is still an old boys’ club feel to some gatherings of the top brass in fashion retail
This is what happened when the #metoo movement first started. Suddenly, people began to view one-off sexist comments or moments of inappropriate conduct not in isolation, but as part of a sequence. Once you realise there is a pattern, it highlights a much bigger issue.
The situation is not helped by the use of non-disclosure agreements to “gag” employees – which can mask what is really going on at a business.
The #metoo movement has encouraged many victims of abuse to speak out, but for most people this is still an extremely daunting prospect – especially if it means going up against a powerful business leader, and potentially losing your job or risking your entire career.
The industry must put in place business practices that support staff and make them feel they can talk about any concerns or worries in the workplace, without fear of repercussion.
Business leaders must realise that when in a position of power, this type of “banter” is not acceptable, and can intimidate and offend staff. We must stand up collectively to bullying or inappropriate behaviour and strive to make the fashion industry a safe and secure place to work, which offers equal opportunities for all.