Safeguarding is currently a hot topic in corporate Boardrooms, charities and institutions as a result of powerful #metoo campaigns and revelations about historic events at both major British charities exposed in the media and inquiries and police actions. People who have been abused and the media have brought important experiences and stories to the public attention. Survivors have a voice and social media, whistleblowing and high-profile campaigning from within parliaments to national daily newspapers have and will continue to shine a light in to dark corners previously unseen. This is not only a wake-up call for heads of safeguarding, HR or senior management, but also for trustees, directors, investors and corporate partners.  It is right that all feel they must have a role ‘to get on top of this’ as historic and present culture risks, get more airtime around the Boardroom table. 

While more and more organisations have understood the importance of safeguarding, few are sufficiently prepared for how they might handle a revelation or accusation when it occurs. While some may be confident that they have implemented adequate procedures, our experience suggests that the ‘tick box exercise’ doesn’t mean things have changed, in practice. Senior management may think that they have ‘got it sorted’ and breathe a sigh of relief that they have protocols and procedures in place, rather than seeing it as a tangible, present issue in their organisation. Moving on to that next level is the challenge – shifting beyond an audit and compliance approach, in favour of one which focuses on shared understanding, a common view of zero tolerance and a truly open culture. 

There is also the delicate balance of reputational risk and meeting the needs of customers, commercial objectives or in the case of charities, serving the beneficiaries of donors’ largess. Where organisations are juggling many risks at different levels in fragile environments, inevitably reputation is a key issue. Striking a balance which enables Directors to preserve corporate and organisational reputation while also achieving the moral imperative of safeguarding employees, customers, beneficiaries and suppliers, needs to be carefully explored on a case by case basis. 

There is a fear factor when Boards discuss safeguarding. It is a sensitive topic and few wish to consider what happens when things go wrong. They need to. Planning ahead, thinking the unthinkable and preparing for what may be around the corner is good practice and important in preserving value and mitigating risk. 

Core to this is the understanding that it is people not policies, that safeguard colleagues and vulnerable people. So how do you embed a culture of safeguarding within an organisation? Senior management, directors or charity trustees need to understand what they want to achieve, and the type of organisation they want to lead. The risk is that Boardrooms treat safeguarding with a defensive mindset, and worry only about regulatory compliance. If that is the case, it will invariably become a negative topic and not constructive process. Viewing safeguarding in a wholly positive way enables organisations to move beyond compliance to a proper concentration on safety and well-being. This brings it to life, fosters a new, vibrant culture that can truly engage everyone, diffuses risk and can significantly contribute to commercial success.

 For information on DRD’s work in this sector, please click here