To err is human - just ask any politician, Hollywood director or sports star. Being in the public eye means every action and comment is scrutinised and, if found wanting, called out by either the media or the mob.

But today the line between what is acceptable and what is a lynchable offence is an unmapped minefield. Not a week (nay, day) goes by without someone or some organisation's error of judgment (or worse) being revealed and picked apart.

Does this mean we have become more human, or less forgiving? Or has something else happened that's caught so many off guard?

Martin Luther King Jr said that 'the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice'. In essence, transgressions that were once acceptable or ignored are now seen as offensive actions that rightly should be called out and exposed.


We are no more (or less) human, but our tolerance for misconduct has changed. We are simply no longer accepting of individuals or businesses who cross the moral line.

The challenge is that with time, the line keeps shifting. What was once okay is no longer acceptable. The 'societal norms' of 20 or fewer years ago are not those of today. Our moral compass has changed. And, for all those who yell 'PC gone mad', there are many more of us (particular us women) who are thrilled that time is finally up.

It would be understandable for a business with a great culture, robust HR policies and clear leadership, to feel that you are immune to these types of issues. I'd advise you to think again.

As the last nine months have shown us, you can never predict when the spotlight will turn on you, or your industry. There are many skeletons in the collective corporate closet and some of them have been there for years waiting for the right time to emerge. The line may be closer than you think and with social media, the time between tweet and front page can be rapid.

For starters, #MeToo and #TimesUp are not going away any time soon. In March #TimeTo launched in the UK with the ambition to eradicate sexual harassment from the advertising industry. At the same time, the US advertising industry become one of the first to embrace the Time's Up movement with 'Times's Up/Advertising' established. These will not be the first, nor will they be restricted to the US and UK. Expect similar movements to surface in Australia and New Zealand sometime this year, and new movements focused on fresh concerns.

Secondly, there are two sayings common in newsrooms. One of them is 'sex sells' and the other 'if it bleeds it leads'. In the media houses where views equal revenue, uncovering stories that appeal to our collective sense of fascination with wrongdoing are going to get extra resourcing, even if it isn't about sex but about harassment and assault. Added to which, the media naturally support the aggrieved and the voiceless. Given this, expect to see more stories appearing over the coming months and years.

Finally, there is safety in numbers. I applaud the women who have stood up and talked about their experiences – from famous actresses to young legal interns, it takes guts to be first. The wronged have had their voices heard and noticed without (too much) recrimination. This will embolden others who have been holding onto some pretty disturbing memories to also speak up.

Women across the world have taken to the streets to support those who have told their stories. Photo/123RF.
Women across the world have taken to the streets to support those who have told their stories. Photo/123RF.

To stand still as society moves forward would be foolhardy. Not only should you be doing some forensics into your business but also preparing to answer questions about your attitudes and policies. Ask yourselves the hard questions. Do you fall short? Would you believe you? What would it look like on the front page of the Herald?


Be sincere. If you've done something wrong, own up to it and do something about fixing it. If your employee, organisation or industry has done something wrong, say so.

Arguably the pressure on the legal profession was redoubled after the statements from both Russell McVeagh and the Law Society seemed less than sincere and definitely not as contrite as the public expected. As the recent Cricket Australia ball tampering scandal showed, when everyone knows it is cheating, you're going to be hung out to dry for pretending it isn't.

Perhaps the most important investment is one you should have started making years ago and that is making deposits in your reputation or 'trust bank'. When five McDonald's restaurants escaped the 1992 LA riots unscathed, community members said it was because of the franchisees' commitment to giving back. They had what has become known as 'goodwill in the trust bank'.

If you haven't started building your business' trust bank, start! And it doesn't just mean having a strong corporate social responsibility policy or a charity day for the staff.

A resilient reputation is built from having values that the organisation lives and breathes in all it does. What better time than now to review your organisation's values and ensure they are fit for this brave new world, before you get trampled in the riot.

- Claudia Macdonald is the managing director at Mango Communications.