Robert Lewis, Employment Partner and Head of Education, explores 'Everyone's Invited', the social media movement aimed at exposing and addressing alleged harassment and sexual assault in education. What does this campaign mean for the next generation of graduates and school leavers in the workplace?
In March 2021, as students started tentatively returning to schools after the second Covid-enforced lockdown, a media tsunami swept across the sector. Under the radar at first, a website called Everyone's Invited had been collecting and publishing anonymous testimonies of alleged misogyny, harassment, sexual abuse and sexual assault in education institutions since the previous summer. The website, which had been founded by Soma Sara, a former student at Wycombe Abbey and UCL, was re-publishing the testimonies on its social media profiles.
The Everyone's Invited testimonies went viral, embroiling many of the country's most prestigious schools in allegations of misogyny and rape culture. (According to the Oxford dictionary, rape culture is defined as an environment in which prevailing and embedded social attitudes have the effect of normalising sexual assault and abuse.)
Several schools commissioned their own independent reviews and Ofsted, the inspectorate for the school sector, commissioned a rapid review.
As a movement, Everyone's Invited shares both similarities and differences with #MeToo, in part due to the nature of the concerns highlighted by the Everyone's Invited testimonies and the experiences and expectations of younger generations.
#MeToo often concentrates on the behaviour of men in positions of power, who utilise that power to sexually harass women. Responses to #MeToo may therefore concentrate on holding senior perpetrators to account and addressing the power imbalances within organisations that allow serial abusers to carry out their abuse. However, the alleged perpetrators of harmful behaviour in most of the Everyone's Invited testimonies were not people in power, but fellow students. Authorities, such as schools and universities, were held to account for the culture that had developed within their institutions; a culture that fostered harmful behaviour. Often the alleged abusive behaviour occurred outside the schools and campuses, at parties during the evenings and weekends. Everyone's Invited explicitly drew a link between the culture of the student body and the responsibilities of leadership not to condone or tolerate seemingly commonplace behaviours.
The campaign successfully used a combination of website, social media and mainstream media tools to get widespread attention and try to affect change. The 'drip feed' effect of publishing testimonies one by one on social media kept the issue in the news for weeks and led to some schools taking proactive action before any testimonies mentioned them.
Everyone's Invited was not, however, the only campaign of this type recently. Similar tactics have been used to call for change in specific schools or workplaces, such as the campaign launched by employees of BrewDog.
Everyone's Invited highlights some of the significant challenges faced by today's teenagers and young adults. The Ofsted rapid review concluded that responsible adults (teachers, school leaders and parents) have very little insight into the pressures faced by young people. The prevalence of online pornography, the ease with which nude photographs can be taken and shared, a highly sexualised online culture and the growing influence of online misogynistic communities are combining to make a uniquely challenging environment for young people. By way of example, nearly 90% of girls and nearly 50% of boys interviewed by Ofsted reported being sent explicit images they did not wish to see either "a lot" or "sometimes". Meanwhile, girls reported that they were regularly asked to share inappropriate images. In one school, girls reported that some girls can be contacted by up to 10 or 11 different boys a night asking for nude or semi-nude images.
While we have a tendency to assume that each new generation is more liberal and permissive on issues like gender relations, this may not in fact be the case with the current generation of boys and young men. As Laura Bates detailed in her recent book Men Who Hate Women, a network of misogynistic online communities (collectively referred to as the "manosphere") is having increasing influence over young men. The recent controversy over misogynist social media influencer Andrew Tate may just be the tip of the iceberg as young men are radicalised into sexist subcultures. The emergence of these subcultures is directly at odds with the push to address and eradicate everyday misogynism and sexist behaviours and attitudes.
What does the rise of Everyone's Invited mean for employers?
Each new generation brings with it new cultures and ways of interacting into the workplace. As the generation of Zoom lessons and Everyone's Invited enters the workplace, employers will likely face increased expectations to set clear boundaries on expected workplace culture. There is potentially a disconnect between how young people conduct themselves online – particularly on more private platforms like Snapchat and WhatsApp – and how employers expect their employees to behave. Public campaigns are expected to become more common as employees seek to 'call out' behaviour they don't agree with.