Wear pink and take a stand against bullying and harassment

This year, Pink Shirt Day (also known as Anti-Bullying Day) falls on Wednesday, February 23rd. Pink Shirt Day was initiated as a way for people of all ages to show their solidarity against bullying and harassment in schools and workplaces.

Why and how did Pink Shirt Day start?

The pink shirt campaign began in 2007 in Nova Scotia, when two grade 12 students witnessed a grade 9 student being bullied for wearing a pink shirt. As a result, the older students bought and distributed pink shirts to other students, and within a few days, over 400 were wearing them in support of the bullied student. The movement soon spread to other schools within the area, then throughout Nova Scotia and, eventually, across the world. Now recognized by the United Nations, Pink Shirt Day is acknowledged in more than 25 countries.

What is bullying?

Bullying includes any form of inappropriate conduct or comment that the person knows (or reasonably should know) would cause their target to be humiliated, intimidated, offended, or degraded. It usually occurs in repeated incidents or a pattern and is a form of power through aggression that may include physical, verbal, or emotional abuse. It shows up in different ways and can include everything from shouting/swearing, public criticism, targeting someone with practical jokes or spreading rumours to interfering with someone’s belongings/equipment or purposefully withholding information or excluding someone. Whatever the form, it can have a significant emotional, mental, and physical impact.

What is the impact of childhood bullying in adulthood and the workplace?

While Pink Shirt Day started in the school system, bullying doesn’t always start or stop there – in fact, it extends to and occurs in many workplaces. The lasting trauma of bullying cannot be denied. When children are bullied, the impact can, and often does, continue into adulthood. A 2015 online poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute showed that 75% of the 1,500 Canadian adults surveyed experienced bullying at school. The fact that they remember this experience is itself telling.

A more recent poll, conducted by Forum Research in 2018, looked at bullying in Canadian workplaces. Of the nearly 1,900 Canadians who completed the poll, 55% indicated having been bullied themselves or were aware of their co-workers being bullied. The poll further indicated that while half of those incidents were reported, only a third of them were addressed. The Canadian Safety Council indicated that three quarters of those who’ve been bullied at work end up leaving their jobs – possibly due to not feeling comfortable bringing the issue up, not having it addressed, and/or because nearly 72% of bullies were reportedly the victim’s manager.

We further outline the impacts of bullying in the workplace, including who the bullies and their targets are, in this recent Workplace Bullying post.

How can employers mitigate bullying in the workplace?

While we certainly support and encourage Pink Shirt Day, we acknowledge that wearing a pink shirt isn’t enough on its own to undo the lasting trauma and impact of bullying, nor to change behaviour. It is a way to show that the issue is important, and that, as an employer, you support a respectful workplace and won’t tolerate bullying. In doing so, be sure you’ve addressed or are addressing any actual instances of bullying and harassment. This also applies to any resources (e.g., policies, posters) that outline what you expect and won’t permit. If you show up wearing a pink shirt and encourage others to do so, but haven’t dealt with blatant issues in your workplace, you will further diminish trust – and unintentionally send the wrong message.

As with all fundamental policies and practices, start first with your culture and leadership team. Does your culture support your practices? Do your leaders? Is it a safe and acceptable environment for employees to bring issues forward? From there:

  • Create policies that are not only compliant with legislation, but align with your culture
  • Ensure policies include procedures, both informal and formal, that provide multiple avenues for employees to bring concerns forward
  • Train your leaders and managers and hold them accountable
  • Outline the consequences of not acting in alignment with your policy – and consistently and fairly hold all employees accountable
  • Educate your teams on your expectations and practices to make it a safe place to address their concerns; provide coaching and support
  • Immediately address any bullying and/or harassment in your workplace
  • Don’t let employees get away with bad behaviour, especially your leaders, managers or high performers (i.e., those who set the tone for the rest of the organization)
  • Listen to and check in with your employees regularly  

We encourage you and your organization to lift each other up on Pink Shirt Day. To purchase t-shirts and face masks and for details on how else to support the initiative, visit the Pink Shirt Day website. You can also opt to buy an Indigenous pink shirt.

Jouta’s HR Consultants can help lift your people up by supporting your respectful workplace and anti-bullying practices.