Opinion

Ending sexual harassment in the workplace – a roadmap

As allegations of sexual harassment continue to rage through all industries across the globe, Q Communications’ ShuQi Liu offers her perspective on what steps women in Asia can take if they fall victim to inappropriate behaviour

For centuries, society has been conditioned to think that women are the weaker sex.

Aristotle, the most significant figure in ancient Greek philosophy, said that “a proper wife has to be as obedient as a slave”. Sometimes you have to wonder if that much has really changed in the past 2,000 years. 

Even in the 1970s, Norman Mailer, a distinguished American novelist and journalist, was able to get away with remarking “a little bit of rape is good for the soul” a the University of California.

It’s hardly surprising that men have been victimising women for centuries given such attitudes –have been allowed to pervade for so long. 

However, slowly, but surely, women are rising up and beating men down for their sexist attitudes. Most recently, we’ve seen perpetrators of workplace sexual harassment fall from grace. Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar are two high profile abusers who leveraged on their position of power to perform sexual misconduct.

When push comes to shove, we must trust that morally upright men and women will rise up to the challenge of navigating through muddy harassment waters. Things may get complicated along the way, but we can stand by each other for the greater good.

Given that there are many women in the public relations industry, it is crucially important for us to create proper protocols for victims of harassment to rely on and gain adequate support from.

As no gender can work in silo, every collective effort counts. It is important to create a safe environment for women to contribute at work.

And it all starts from helping each other call out the bias and misogynistic attitudes now. Although, the #MeToo may not have hit Asia with the same whirlwind force that it rocked the US, there are still actionable steps to help empower women to say no to this abhorrent behaviour. 

Here are just five of them:

  1. Collect evidence

If you are in the PR industry, you better be good at thinking on your feet. When the harassment takes place, stay calm and collect evidence. It could be as subtle as remembering that leering look, or boldly taking out your camera phone to document his defensive stance. If you prefer to play detective, check if there are security cameras around. Take heart that big brother is always watching.

  1. Physically avoid the worst people at work

Beware of people with a passive aggressive body language: seated with their crotch on full display, thumbs in pockets, waving an expensive watch and making chest-thumping assertions. Avoid them at all costs: skip the water cooler talk, the coffee run and getting into the same elevator. Just keep things professional. Your non-reciprocal body language could keep harassment at bay.

  1. Assert your power

The persistent male culture of business will always create hurdles for women. But it is very important to stick to your guns throughout the whole journey. When harassment takes place, assert your right to stand up for your modesty, professional success and moral values. Don’t let others underestimate your ability to call out bad behaviour.

  1. Talk it out

Find someone in the organisation to talk about the incident. At work, there’s a high chance that the HR and secretary departments have the most empathetic listeners. In their professional capacities, they are in the best position to assess a hair-raising situation. Outside of work, friends and family can provide an objective view and much needed emotional support. This is where the men comes in. If a girlfriend, wife or daughter has experienced workplace harassment, the support of a loved-one can be a crucial anchor during difficult times.

  1. Stand up for yourself

Believe that you are not in a helpless situation. Anyone, including yourself, can make a difference. Airing your grievances alone is a big first step towards sounding alarm bells and sending warning signs to other susceptible victims at the workplace. If the company condones lewd behaviour and sweeps everything under the carpet, do you still want to be part of this culture? The answer is no.

Vote with your actions – ask for a transfer, make many complaints, go to the police, file for a lawsuit. In the worst case scenario, just quit your job. There are better opportunities out there with a healthy support system for you.

ShuQi Liu is the founder and director of Singapore-based public relations company Q Communications.

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