Save the Children UK has pledged to work with its staff to review its organisational structure and operations and thus tackle "workplace incivility" after an independent review of the charity found that 28 per cent of staff had experienced either discrimination or harassment.
The independent review, which was carried out by the organisational ethics expert Suzanne Shale, was launched by the charity earlier this year after staff expressed concern about how the charity had handled allegations of sexual misconduct against some of its senior executives.
Between 2012 and 2015, allegations were made about the charity’s former chief executive, Justin Forsyth, and its former director of policy and advocacy, Brendan Cox, claims that resurfaced in the media earlier this year.
A report on the independent review, which was published today, says a survey of the charity’s staff, to which 68 per cent of employees responded, found that although 91 per cent took pride in their work for Save the Children and 89 per cent said their colleagues were supportive, 28 per cent of respondents had experienced "either discrimination or harassment" in the past three years.
The report notes that the levels of harassment or discrimination were similar to those in organisations such as the NHS and the civil service.
It says that the inquiry heard of allegations of "incidents of interpersonal mistreatment, including a few of unwanted sexual attention", but found no evidence of sexual coercion.
The review makes five recommendations: to work collaboratively with staff on a comprehensive plan to reform the organisation; to reduce workplace "incivility" and increase support for staff; to increase diversity in the charity’s workforce and board; to review whistleblowing arrangements; and to ensure that the HR department is properly resourced and supported.
High staff turnover in the HR team and high levels of demand on that department have led to "mutually frustrating interactions" between line managers and the HR team, the report says.
Claire Rowney, an executive director at Save the Children UK who is overseeing the charity’s implementation of the independent review, told Third Sector the charity accepted and intended to address all of the review’s proposals.
She said the charity was putting together a comprehensive plan of action with staff to improve its organisational structure and culture, and all staff members would be encouraged to contribute.
"This won’t be a set of actions we are going to pull together behind closed doors," Rowney said. "This is something we have already begun to engage our staff in, and we are committed to making really long-term improvements and to have those independently monitored."
She said many of the changes would take time to implement and the charity would not seek quick fixes for the issues highlighted in the review, but it would be "really ambitious" about the speed at which changes could be made.
Rowney also set out some of the ways the charity would address the five key recommendations in the independent review. In terms of reducing "workforce incivility", Rowney said, the charity was evaluating discrimination and harassment at the charity and would work with staff to understand the issues and how to improve.
On diversity, she said it would look at why the charity did not reflect the diversity of London and what the root problems were that needed to be addressed, including how to do so at board level.
The charity would also review its whistleblowing arrangements and expected these to be implemented very quickly, Rowney said.
In terms of resources and demand on the HR department, she said the charity would "move heaven and earth to make sure we have the right resources in the right places for the organisation to work as well as it can".
She said: "We commissioned the review because we really want to make the organisation better. We want to build a new plan that pulls us up above the current situation that we are in with regards to discrimination and harassment and build the organisation our staff deserve."
The independent report says that, although the charity has a zero-tolerance approach to concerns about behaviour, staff at the charity seem uncertain about what this entailed.
Another big area that needs improvement, according to the report, is policy and practice for staff exiting the organisation, particularly in cases where there were ongoing disciplinary proceedings or disciplinary findings to which references need to refer.
The review has made recommendations to alter Save the Children’s proposed reforms for this area.
Gender harassment incidents identified by the review related to disparaging comments about pregnancy, child-rearing responsibilities and women’s appearance or demeanour.
While examples of unwanted sexual attention were very limited, the report says, it included sexual innuendo, sexualised remarks, intrusive questions about personal life and "unwelcome touching in areas such as the waist".
A Charity Commission statutory inquiry into Save the Children is ongoing.