#MeToo Movement Reshaping Workplace Dynamics in Singapore

SINGAPORE – THE #MeToo movement has spread rapidly across the world, since it began gaining traction on social media at the end of 2017. Arising from various female celebrities around the world sharing their stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the film industry, the movement soon inspired a global movement for women to share their stories using the #MeToo hashtag. The popularity of this movement eventually grew into a global phenomenon which we now know as the #MeToo movement. Black Dot Research (BDR) recently concluded an online qualitative survey on Singaporeans’ attitudes towards the #MeToo movement to examine the impact it has had on the corporate environment in Singapore.

A total of 68 respondents participated in the survey between February and March 2019. The survey presented a differentiated set of questions to employers, male employees, and female employees along the same theme of drawing insights on Singaporeans’ views on the #MeToo movement. Two rounds of pilot tests were conducted before the survey commenced.

Random sampling was conducted in the selection of respondents. The sample is representative of the Singaporean working population, with 45.6% of the respondents being female. The surveys were conducted online with a mix of quantitative and qualitative questions, which allowed for the collection of generalizable data while offering deep insights for analysis.

Mixed methods analysis of the data was carried out by BDR’s Research Team following the conclusion of the surveys to draw insights into Singaporean’s attitudes towards the #MeToo movement.

The study found that majority of the respondents (77.9%) were aware of the #MeToo movement. Respondents who indicated their unfamiliarity to the movement were referred to a short introduction of the movement before being redirected to subsequent questions. Almost all respondents (98.5%) supported the #MeToo movement with varying views on how the workplace dynamics have changed since the #MeToo movement.

The Management’s Views on #MeToo Hardly Affect Career Progression
Question: In your view, how far does the management’s position towards the #MeToo movement affects your career progression as compared to your female colleagues (OR vis-à-vis that of your male colleagues)?
(Not at all/ Hardly/ Neutral/ Slightly/ Very Much)

With just a quarter of the respondents (“Slightly” and “Very Much”) agreeing that their management’s views on the #MeToo movement affect the career progression between male and female employees, there is a perception that management’s beliefs and support for the movement will not sway their professional judgments and gender preference when it comes to work-related issues.

Male Employees More Cautious of Their Behaviors Since #MeToo
Question: How much do you agree that male employees are more careful than before when dealing with female colleagues after the #MeToo movement? OR How much do you agree that your male colleagues are more careful than before when dealing with you or female colleagues after the #MeToo movement?
(1 – Not at all; 2 –  Hardly; 3 –  Neutral; 4 – Slightly; 5 – Very Much)

A majority of male respondents thought that the #MeToo movement has changed the way they behave at work, and were particularly concerned that their actions or words might be misconstrued as sexual harassment when dealing with their female colleagues. A majority of female respondents, however, were undecided (“Neutral”) if there has been a change in attitudes of their male colleagues.

Companies’ Support for #MeToo Movement Could Also Mean the Selective Disclosure of Incidents
Question: How supportive do you think your workplace is towards the #MeToo movement?
(1 – Not supportive at all; 3 – Neutral; 5 – Very supportive)

Question: Do you know if your colleagues ever made a report for sexual harassment in the workplace?
(Yes/ No)

While most female respondents were unsure of their companies’ support for the #MeToo movement (62.16% “Neutral”), there was a significantly higher awareness in female respondents as compared to male respondents when it comes to reports related to sexual harassment in the workplace. What is unclear from our survey findings is the disclosure policies of companies when it comes to cases of sexual harassments in office, which begs the question if companies’ support for the #MeToo movement should also include an open reporting culture and “name-and-shame” policies.

Consistent Definition of Sexual Harassment in Singapore
Sexual harassment has been widely defined as behavior characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situations. This is consistent with the views expressed by respondents of our survey. Apart from physical touch, most respondents included verbal harassment such as inappropriate, sexual or derogatory remarks. The majority of respondents explicitly cited the female as the subject of sexual harassments even though two respondents questioned if male employees were entitled to the social rights of reporting sexual harassment themselves.

With the ubiquity of social media and text messaging, sharing of obscene or suggestive content on such platforms has been cited as non-physical sexual harassment as well.

Divided Views on #MeToo’s Effects on Gender Equality in the Workplace
The respondents were divided on whether #MeToo has alleviated gender inequality concerns in their workplace.

Question: Please state how far you would agree with the following statement: “The #MeToo campaign has made companies and businesses more careful about how they hire and build teams to reduce the risk of sexual harassment and also prevent such concerns from arising.”.
(1 – Disagree; 3 – Neutral; 5 – Agree)

While this quantitative question revealed a high level of agreement (80.6%) that companies and businesses could be more careful when hiring and deploying employees to reduce the risks of sexual harassment, respondents also elaborated that they feel #MeToo had neither improved gender equality nor widened gender inequality in the workplace. Notably, a respondent said: “It (the #MeToo movement) might have worsened gender inequality as the males think it’s unfair to them.”. Another respondent added: “I think the #MeToo movement has worsened gender inequality because it has portrayed women to be of a more inferior or fragile personality thus overshadowing the women’s strengths and capabilities.”.

Most respondents felt that it would be difficult to attribute changes to employment norms to the #MeToo movement. Sharing about sexual harassment before and after the #MeToo movement, a respondent said: “I believe harassment has always been an issue, even before this movement started.”. On the potential of the movement to benefit the society, a respondent said: “One thing is that it can help those being abused. But others with malicious intention may take the movement as an advantage.”.

The data from the qualitative questions on how the #MeToo movement could have changed workplace dynamics suggest mixed sentiments and the awareness of the movement as a double-edged sword in the workplace.

This study on the #MeToo movement in Singapore offers a glimpse into the possible changes that may have taken place in the workplace as a result of the movement, and highlights some of the concerns that might arise.

The findings give insights into the level of awareness and support for the #MeToo movement in Singapore, and the perceived changes in workplace dynamics. The issue of public disclosure or “naming and shaming” in the workplace remains a cause for concern due to the sensitivity of sexual harassments. The ubiquity of social media and text messaging in our daily lives also call for the redefinition of sexual harassment against the backdrop of a social media-dominated communication landscape.

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