Taking a Stand

Written by Debbie Epstein, Diversity & Inclusion Manager 

One way to help create a culture where everyone has a common understanding of the standards of appropriate behaviour and behaviour that will not be tolerated, is to become an active bystander.  An active bystander is someone who observes unacceptable behaviour and takes steps to make a difference.  They assess the situation, decide what kind of help, if any might be appropriate, evaluate options and choose a strategy for responding.

This type of action sends a strong signal of solidarity to the person who is on the receiving end of the behaviour, and indicates to both parties, and any witnesses, what you consider to be acceptable conduct.  The behavioural norms can shift, if a core number of people have a common understanding of what is acceptable, as the group effect means any outliers will be discouraged from stepping outside these established norms.  Research, mainly conducted in the US, shows that where comprehensive active bystander training and interventions have been put in place, to help reduce the incidence of sexual harassment and violence on campus amongst students, these have been effective.

So how can we be active bystanders and stand up to inappropriate behaviour that we and others experience?

Key steps to take when assessing potential situations:

  • Is the behaviour unacceptable, does it have the ability to cause offense, make someone feel uncomfortable, awkward or humiliated?
  • Can you play a role?  What are you hoping to achieve, is someone else better placed to step in?
  • What are your options?  See below for some suggestions
  • What are the risks to you and others?  Are they worth taking, how could they be reduced?
  • Should you act, and if so now or later?

Active bystander strategies

Below are some suggested approaches, but there will be others.  It’s important not to put yourself or others at risk through the action you take, so use your judgment and common sense and take advice if needed.  You can find more about each of these strategies here.

Strategies in the Moment:

  • Name or acknowledge an offense
  • Point to the “elephant in the room”
  • Interrupt the behaviour
  • Publicly support an aggrieved person
  • Use body language to show disapproval
  • Use humour (with care)
  • Encourage dialogue
  • Help calm strong feelings
  • Call for help

Strategies after the Fact: 

  • Privately support an upset person
  • Talk privately with the party who has committed the act

King’s Diversity & Inclusion Team has started to adopt the active bystander approach in training that is offered to students, and from September 2017 all students will be encourage to participate in an on-line module which includes a focus on active bystander strategies.  Work is currently being undertaken to assess how to make consistent the reporting, support, policies and practices covering bullying and harassment for staff and students, so that provision builds on the already successful and nationally recognised It Stops Here Campaign.

Content for this posting was taken from here.

Further reading:


A Review of Evidence for Bystander Intervention

FoLSM Bullying & Harassment Awareness Month

Written by Dr Ah-Lai Law, Diversity & Inclusion Champion in FoLSM

I am the Diversity and Inclusion Representative for The Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine (FoLSM) whilst working as a postdoc at the Randall Division.  My time working in different academic institutions has helped me recognise that research staff work in a unique environment. The academic environment is not less or more stressful than a job in industry or in the corporate world and is not less “real”. Quite simply, the stress is different. Most of us are in academia because the research is interesting and it engages our minds. We never stop thinking about the research we do and our research becomes part of us; perhaps similar to nurturing a child and wanting your child to succeed. We often work self-inflicting hours to achieve deadlines and to get the result we want. Hours spent getting an experiment to work is soul draining but when you do succeed, the reward of the euphoric feeling of  gaining new knowledge is immense and addictive and makes the constant battle with the peaks and troughs  worthwhile. This drive we have makes competition fierce. This, I feel has, helped develop a culture where working long hours are normal and sometimes even expected of you. The competitive environment also adds to the pressure. Most of the time, the pressure is manageable but sometimes this pressure turns into behaviour that is bullying and harassment, which perhaps was not even intentional.

The Research Staff Network (RSN) representatives recognise that bullying, harassment and discrimination exists and this can occur across many different levels in the academic hierarchy and these unwanted behaviours come in many forms. The FoLSM Bullying and Harassment Awareness month is a campaign to
help raise the awareness of bullying, harassment and discrimination and to offer sources of help and advice.  We have put on two repeating events: Monday 20th March: 12-2 pm at Guy’s and Tuesday 28th 4-6 pm at Waterloo to help us understand what to do and how to deal with bullying, harassment and discrimination.  These events will also help us to understand more about the different problems people experience so that we can change existing unwanted behaviour. My role as Diversity and Inclusion Representative is to listen to your views, problems and suggestions and relay this back to the decision making heads to better our work place environment and make it a place that is inclusive and supportive to allow everyone to thrive.

If you are interested in similar events being held within your faculty, please contact Dr Amy Birch at amy.birch@kcl.ac.uk

Ah-Lai Law is a postdoc in the Randall Division. She is currently the Diversity and Inclusion Representative for The Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine and is a member of the Faculty Diversity & Inclusion Steering Group and Kings Harassment Working Group. Ah-Lai completed her PhD at UCL and joined Kings after her first postdoc in Paris. These posts have provided her with experience in a variety of research environments and a clear understanding of the obstacles often experienced by research staff both in their native country and in a foreign country. Ah-Lai enjoys running and the arts in her spare time.

 Poster 3  28-02-2017