The big story of the past week has been the decline – and maybe eventually the fall – of ITV’s flagship show, This Morning. The programme and channel have been subject to widespread criticism about the way they have handled issues of alleged workplace impropriety.
While the facts of what has happened are still to be agreed, ITV faces a vocal audience of disappointed viewers who feel invested in the multi-award-winning family show which has been on screen for over 20 years. But ITV’s concerns don’t stop there. The high-profile company is listed and faces shareholder – and even political expectations – around its commitment to social purpose and the creation of a safe and inclusive workplace.
Of course, ITV is not alone. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has also faced very public criticism in recent weeks over serious allegations of sexual misconduct at the organisation. While an investigation, in this case, has been started, large numbers of high-profile businesses have already publicly quit their memberships. There is debate among some commentators as to whether the CBI will survive the reputational damage in the long term, with lawyers appointed to advise whether it can continue as a going concern.
These cases serve as a good reminder that while it is important for businesses to be outward looking to identify the next potential threat or challenge on the horizon, sometimes the most reputationally damaging stories can begin far closer to home.
It is therefore vital that businesses demonstrate their commitment to an ethical workplace culture with best practices in key areas. These may include for example: assessing the approach to recruitment to ensure a focus on diversity; the development of induction materials that demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion; and being aware of possible sex discrimination cases which may come down the track, by reviewing exit interviews and HR complaints. It is important to remember that non-disclosure agreements have exceptions and there are caveats to allow whistleblowing and the reporting of illegal behaviour.
Of course, best practice HR policies and procedures are not sufficient on their own, businesses need to work hard to create a culture in which everyone feels valued and listened to, and importantly has confidence that complaints when raised will be taken seriously.
What next for ITV? The broadcaster seems to be facing two possibilities: it either knowingly allowed workplace impropriety or it failed to sufficiently investigate allegations of as much. Neither of these is an acceptable outcome for one of the UK’s biggest broadcasters.
While it said very little publicly in the early days, ITV has now committed to an external inquiry led by barristers. This is important in order to build trust and overcome criticism of any initial handling of events. The failure to get a grip quickly has allowed the narrative to run away from the broadcaster and it is learning the hard way that it can be the handling of a crisis which can lead to the greatest reputational harm in the end.