Features

My experiences of harassment at media agencies in India and Singapore

In this guest post, a senior media agency executive who chooses to remain anonymous reveals two examples of the sexual harassment she experienced in India and Singapore

I am sure many of us working in the marketing and communications industry were really not surprised by the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

That’s simply because we have become so used to seeing such behaviour in varying degrees. Most of us women have or know of someone who has been inappropriately propositioned in the workplace or in public. This is not just an entertainment industry phenomenon. It happens everywhere – banking, retail, the government and no points for guessing where else: advertising, of course,

Now, in the wake of the ‘#MeToo’ phenomenon, whereby scores of women – and men – took to social media to share their tales of harassment – I feel ready to share my own grim experiences at media agencies in India and Singapore.

Throughout all my professional years, I have worked for global media agencies in different capacities. I can safely say it is, indeed, a crazy world. You spend late nights at the office, trying to convince clients to increase their media investment or you’re pitching for new business.

Your colleagues and bosses become your friends, while your long-time friends fade into the background and become merely acquaintances. And it was in such a scenario that I found myself sharing a good rapport with a senior executive at the global media agency where I was working in India. Apart from work, we had similar interests in music and films, although I was always conscious of keeping the appropriate distance. 

Yet soon things began to change. Personal texts showed too much care. And numerous invites for coffee and drinks made things obvious for me.

Shortly thereafter, I walked up to his office and boldly asked him to keep things professional. I was just a year into my first job. Even saying this took a lot of courage from me. But he didn’t relent. He kept finding ‘work’ reasons to talk to me, to schedule unnecessary meetings with me.

One afternoon as I walked into the room, he tried to usher me by keeping his hand very firmly on my waist. In that moment, I just felt so stupid about not doing anything about the situation earlier. I didn’t wait there for a minute, I walked straight up to the HR department and told them everything. I was prepared to lose my job for badmouthing a senior employee, as I didn’t know any better then.

It turned out that the senior executive didn’t end up losing his job either. Instead, he was given a stern warning and let off with little more than a slap on the wrist. So much for those so-called ‘non-toleration of harassment’ in the workplace policies that so many companies love banging on about.

Fast-forward to some time later and I began a new job in Singapore. Once again everything started off great. But then within the first six months of my joining the agency, a trip to Dubai for a big client meeting was planned.

It was during this time I became aware that my boss had a reputation within the agency of being a player and a womaniser. However, at that point he had never behaved inappropriately towards his team in front of me. So I thought, naturally, that this trip to Dubai would be no different. Boy, was I wrong.

The first two evenings passed as normal with the usual post-meeting dinners and early retirements to one of Dubai’s plushy hotels. However, by the third evening, things became a bit unsettling.

First, my boss invited me to a popular club in Dubai. Given I am not fond of clubbing at all,  I declined. He decided not to go as well and stayed in the hotel lounge. Two hours later, he messaged me asking if I wanted to watch a movie in his room, to which again I politely declined. This is when I started to get really suspicious about his intentions.

One more hour later, I hear a knock on my hotel door. I looked through the peephole on the door and there he was. I stayed silent hoping he would go away. The another knock; and then another – all separated by long pauses. Horrified, I immediately called my colleague’s room. Said peer advised me not to open the door at all that night.  

Back in Singapore, I chose not to speak of this incident to the HR department as I didn’t believe that any appropriate action would be taken. I was so new to the country and to the job, so I was apprehensive as to how his behaviour would be treated.

Luckily for the agency’s women, he eventually got fired for sexual harassment – after a new employee in the legal department marched into HR brandishing a WhatsApp feed full of obscene messages from him. Old habits die hard, so they say.

Both these incidents left me feeling angry and stupid. Stupid for not being curt enough earlier on. Angry because men use their position and power in this industry to get closer to women in work place with caring about ethics and policies.

Yet such behaviour really is not uncommon at any agency. But it is up to the company’s management to drive a zero-tolerance culture against sexual harassment. The employees, particularly the female staff, must be assured of absolute anonymity and protection. 

And most importantly, men must be reminded that they should respect a woman’s wishes. ‘No’ really does means ‘no’. 

Mumbrella Asia would like to hear more of your testimonies. If you wish to share them with us – either openly or anonymously – please contact the editor Eleanor Dickinson on eleanor@mumbrella.asia 

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