Companies in Singapore have been making strides in creating a workplace that is more gender-diverse, but have they been following it up with measures to offer a safe working environment as well? A recent, first-of-its-kind survey by the Ministry of Manpower brought to light the fact that two in five women had experienced harassment at work in the past 5 years. With perpetrators often being seniors or peers, seven out of ten cases of harassment have gone unreported. It’s important to examine just what causes this discrepancy in the reporting of such incidents.
The same report also brought to light the lack of awareness amongst employees regarding what constitutes harassment. On being informed of the nitty-gritty, some employees shared incidents from their past that they either wanted to forget about or thought weren’t “severe” enough to report. This issue brings to the fore the need for a strategic internal communications plan, that will help disseminate important information regarding safety and harassment across all ranks within the organization. Not only is this a crucial step towards broadening awareness, it will also act as a channel for reporting such incidents to the appointed authorities.
But, why should an organization care about such incidents when they can directly be reported to the judicial authorities? For one, episodes such as these can turn the workplace environment sour and impact team relationships, apart from leaving a lasting impression on the victims’ mind. It is the responsibility of the employers to ensure a safe working environment for all their employees, regardless of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity or designation. From a productivity standpoint, incessant worrying and fear within the workplace will also hamper employee performance, whilst setting a negative example for the other employees. The onus of building a secure work environment falls on the employer, and it’s imperative go beyond just diversity in numbers, and create safe, inclusive spaces for all.
A lack of statutory guidelines in the workplace to address harassment may be part of the reason why many incidents never reach appropriate redressal. A detailed act in the city-state’s legislature giving a clear definition of workplace harassment, legal provisions within the workplace such as a designated complaints committee in association with an NGO, and a descriptive annual report outlining each of these - All such measures will help address issues faced by people across the gender spectrum.
Legislation designed to combat harassment in the workplace will also place the accountability of safety on the employers, ensuring an improved response. Clarity regarding what makes up the workplace, the many forms of harassment, and the mechanism to report them will simplify the process in the unfortunate case that such an incident occurs. Ultimately, having such formal resources in place also helps employees feel more in control of their own wellbeing at work.
Introducing such an act will also inform employees about what is acceptable within the workplace, and place an expectation on them to behave accordingly. With a strategic internal communications plan in place to share these basic guidelines, companies can ensure employee adherence and make it a safer workplace for all. Besides, companies may also choose to take proactive measures and deploy a third party to carry out anonymous culture-based surveys and analyze the data (to prevent any biases or misunderstandings between employees within the company). This will help them understand the ground reality and plan their future actions accordingly.
While it is commendable that companies are making moves to improve the gender ratio at the workplace, they need to keep in mind that token measures will not go a long way in uprooting issues such as harassment. Active policy planning, sensitivity training and campaigns for inclusion are necessary to make the workplace a safe and comfortable environment for everyone.