Commentary: Contrary to what we expect, women in senior roles face more workplace sexual harassment

SINGAPORE: Specialists have lengthy maintained that office sexual harassment is rooted in energy imbalances. 

The stereotypical perpetrator holds a strong management place – for instance, as a CEO or the top of a studio. 

The stereotypical goal is a colleague in a junior place – a secretary, say, or an aspiring actor.

You would possibly thus fairly anticipate that employees decrease down on the totem pole – who’ve much less skilled stature and are extra simply changed, therefore extra weak – would expertise extra harassment than these in highly effective positions.

Nonetheless, the reality isn’t fairly so easy. 

The primary nationally consultant survey of 1,000 respondents on office sexual harassment in Singapore, not too long ago accomplished by AWARE and Ipsos, has revealed that feminine managers expertise office sexual harassment at increased charges than feminine non-managers – whereas in managerial positions. 

A more in-depth take a look at various kinds of sexual harassment revealed discrepancies in prevalence between feminine managers’ and non-managers’ experiences. 

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For instance, 10 per cent of non-managers had obtained guarantees of enhanced profession prospects in return for sexual favours and threats to their profession prospects in the event that they didn’t return undesirable sexual advances. 

Alternatively, managers reported experiencing each these types of harassment at double the speed of non-managers at 21 per cent. 

Worldwide analysis has offered comparable proof that girls in supervisory roles appear to expertise better ranges of harassment.

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A 2012 US-based research by the colleges of Minnesota and Maine analysed longitudinal survey information of 522 respondents, in addition to qualitative interviews with 33 women and men. 

One supervisor who skilled office harassment instructed these researchers she felt she needed to “put up with [it]” to maintain her job and keep working relationships with colleagues.

Our survey discovered that many feminine managers did not report their harassment as a result of they simply needed to neglect concerning the incident. Virtually one in 5 felt that reporting the incident would backfire on them – impacting their skilled profession or damaging their status.

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Greek billionaire Alkiviades “Alki” David mentioned the authorized system is “broken” after he was ordered to pay US$58 million damages to a Hollywood assistant in a sexual harassment case. (Picture: AFP/Alex Wong)


One potential cause why this occurs is feminine managers are perceived as threats of their usually male-dominated workplaces. 

A lady wielding organisational authority subverts conventional notions of masculinity and is an impediment to male bonding at work. 

Sexual harassment turns into an instrument of equalising energy to “put women in their place.”

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In line with Heather McLaughlin, the writer of the 2012 research talked about above, harassment is a manner of undermining a strong girl’s credibility: “Instead of your boss, she’s just a woman on a power trip.”

Examples of such harassment embrace inappropriate, sexual remarks about ladies’s our bodies by male friends and subordinates. 

When interviewed for AWARE’s upcoming research on the profession and monetary results of office sexual harassment, a 45-year-old supervisor within the predominantly male IT trade revealed that she was ceaselessly verbally and bodily sexually harassed by a subordinate, whose actions included forcibly kissing her on the cheek and lips.

Though the supervisor had greater than 20 years of labor expertise and had managed this man for 4 years, her makes an attempt at pushing him away didn’t deter him in any respect.

This antipathy in the direction of ladies in energy might also be why feminine managers extra ceaselessly should cope with harassment involving the attribution of their skilled success to their sexuality. 

A Yougov Survey Found More Than A Quarter Of Women In Singapore Had Experienced Sexual Harassment

A YouGov survey discovered greater than 1 / 4 of ladies in Singapore had skilled sexual harassment however solely 56 p.c had reported the incidents AFP/Catherine Lai

The underlying premise is {that a} girl’s success is a results of offering sexual favours, an concept that not solely diminishes the arduous work of many feminine leaders, but in addition besmirches their reputations and undermines their authority. 

College of Illinois psychologist Louise F Fitzgerald, refers to this as “gender harassment” or “sexist hostility”: A subset of sexual harassment aimed toward conveying insulting, hostile and degrading attitudes about individuals of a selected gender. 


One more reason for the paradox of energy could also be that the presence of ladies begins to skinny out at increased management ranges. 

In line with govt recruitment agency Robert Walters, ladies maintain solely 21 per cent of senior administration roles in companies in Singapore, which is analogous to regional and worldwide ranges. 

Being just one in each 5 organisational leaders makes simple targets of the few ladies on the high. A lone feminine departmental head in a sea of males is sure to be extremely seen, whether or not or not she needs that spotlight. 

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File -- Google Employees Protest The Company&Amp;Apos;S Handling Of Sexual Harassment During A Walkout

FILE — Google staff protest the corporate’s dealing with of sexual harassment throughout a walkout on the firm’s workplaces in New York, Nov. 1, 2018. Google staff should not shy about talking up, however there’s one topic they keep away from in any respect prices: antitrust. (John Taggart/The New York Instances)

Probably the most prevalent sorts of office sexual harassment revealed by the AWARE-Ipsos survey have been crude, distressing sexual remarks, and inappropriate texts, emails, or different digital communications. 

Because of the fashionable false impression that non-physical acts of harassment are “not as serious” as assault, some of these sexual harassment are sometimes dismissed as “harmless jokes” or “office banter” – inherent to firm tradition.

This perspective blames victims for making a mountain out of a molehill, and assumes they need to adapt to the tradition round them, not vice versa.  

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Within the case of ladies in energy, this type of tradition pressures them to get together with the opposite (male) managers for the sake of the organisation, and to let sure sorts of sexual harassment slide. 

Repeatedly, we see ladies in male-dominated industries, power themselves to simply accept and even undertake masculine cultural norms. 

By performing like “one of the boys”, they inadvertently find yourself exacerbating the issue by contributing to the normalisation of a poisonous office tradition. 


Maybe the survey findings reveal some excellent news too: Maybe feminine managers report increased charges – 49 per cent as in comparison with 26 per cent of non-managers – of office sexual harassment partially as a result of they’re extra educated about it. 

The lack of information is a really actual barrier to combatting sexual harassment. 

When requested if that they had been sexually harassed up to now 5 years, one in 5 respondents of the AWARE-Ipsos survey solely realised what that they had skilled was problematic after sexual harassment situations involving verbal feedback, specific texts and memes have been described to them.

However when varied harassment situations have been described – together with verbal feedback and specific texts or memes – two in 5 indicated having skilled these behaviours. 

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Indian journalists protested towards sexual harassment within the media trade in New Delhi in October 2018, because the nation’s #MeToo motion engulfed a number of big-name personalities AFP/CHANDAN KHANNA

This speaks to a gulf in understanding of harassment throughout our workforce.

Office coaching periods are typically directed at managers, enabling them to reply sensitively to conditions of harassment. 

Consequently, managers are extra conscious of what constitutes harassment.

It is sensible, subsequently, that managers would extra readily establish themselves as having skilled it in comparison with non-managers who will not be equally educated.  


Plainly for working ladies, energy – like bodily attractiveness – is yet one more double bind. Ladies are penalised in some methods for having too little energy, and penalised in others for having an excessive amount of of it.  

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As far we all know, most workplaces, even these with strong anti-harassment trainings, don’t consider the dangers that feminine managers face in terms of sexual harassment. 

Acknowledging that energy doesn’t essentially shield is simply step one. What subsequent? 

Recognising that the difficulty is organisational and systemic in nature, not a person drawback, we must always introduce nationwide laws particularly towards office harassment in Singapore. 

Gavel 12 Court Crime Singapore - File Photo

File picture of a gavel (Picture: Jeremy Lengthy)


Such a laws would transcend the scope of present prison legal guidelines, which concentrate on apparent crimes reminiscent of molest, outrage of modesty or involuntary use of power, and the Safety from Harassment Act (POHA). 

It might sign societal intolerance for office sexual harassment whereas additionally offering very important recourse to its victims.

This regulation ought to present a definition and examples of office sexual harassment, guarantee safety for all employees, and implement employer legal responsibility for office sexual harassment. 

Though robust anti-harassment insurance policies by particular person employers will even do the job, as a result of urgency of this drawback, we can’t look ahead to corporations to get to this on their very own time. 

A nationwide authorized framework would jump-start the method. 

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Even a regulation can’t obtain the whole lot. Employers nonetheless want to raised equip themselves to cope with the issue. 

Each organisation ought to create a well-defined sexual harassment coverage that features examples of prohibited behaviour, in addition to a complete reporting and grievance process. 

By taking these steps, we are able to work in the direction of mitigating sexual harassment, regardless of gender, trade, or place of energy.

Hearken to the writer additionally break down who bears the burden of change in enhancing gender equality in Singapore on CNA’s Coronary heart of the Matter podcast:

Shailey Hingorani is Head of Analysis and Advocacy at AWARE.


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