For Anti Bullying Week 2022 Diversity Role Models’ focus is on being an ‘Upstander’ rather than a ‘Bystander’. An Upstander has the confidence to identify bullying, challenge it, and protect the victim. They aren’t just against bullying, they are anti-bullying.

While our work is generally in schools I’d like to expand on the concept of being an Upstander to a work setting.

Bullying comes in many forms beyond physical and verbal abuse. Where a bully uses psychological or social abuse they may describe their behaviour as harmless. Subtle forms of bullying can be very difficult for the victim to call out because often they don’t even realise that what is happening is bullying. However, an Upstander can play their part in identifying it, challenging it and protecting the victim.

Let’s take a look at a few subtler forms of bullying.

Banter vs bullying

While teasing in the office or playground could be genuinely good humoured between friends, verbal-based bullying is often dismissed as banter.

‘That’s so gay’ is considered by some to be harmless banter. However, if you are gay, you know it is about as homophobic as it gets. A victim of this type of bullying may not understand what is going on, or if they object to it they find themselves being mocked for not having a sense of humour.

Being able to identify verbal bullying is a key skill for an Upstander. Bullying is about intent. If the so-called banter is belittling someone or targeting a protected characteristic then it is bullying.

You can challenge verbal bullying by telling the bully that you reject their language. Call it out for what it is. Get them to explain why they feel this choice of words is acceptable. By being an Upstander you’ll probably find that other people agree with you and your example could encourage them to stand up to the bully too.


Being excluded from professional or interpersonal interactions is a sign of bullying. Victims of bullying find themselves kept out of conversations, team activities and social events. They’ll often find they are talked about and made to feel uncomfortable. You can challenge this by actively including the victim, reaching out to them and demonstrating that you are opposed to their exclusion.

Singled out for unfair treatment

This is in some ways the opposite of being ignored. The bully chooses their victim for unfair treatment. The bully assigns excessive workload or thankless tasks. Their victim is set up to fail with the objective that the failure is humiliating. Often the bully is openly critical about their victim in front of others in order to demean their target.

A bully or a bystander will often dismiss each individual act as insignificant in itself. Sometimes the victim will be made to feel at fault for even raising their concerns. An Upstander however sees the individual act and the pattern of behaviour as bullying. They call it out.


A call out strategy

Picture a colleague (bully) regularly mistreating someone (victim) at work by ignoring or excluding them. Try this.

‘I notice that each morning when you come in you say hello to everyone except X.’
Bully ‘No, I don’t.’
‘I’m sure you do. However, I’ll take your word for it, but next time it happens I’ll point it out to you.’

You have publicly called out the behaviour. You have let the bully know that it’s no longer acceptable. The bully cannot continue acting in the belief that others will do nothing to challenge them.

Bullying succeeds when others standby and let it happen. Bullying ends when the bully realises they are outnumbered by Upstanders.

So, this Anti Bullying Week be an Upstander and put a stop to bullying once and for all.