Once upon a time, workplace harassment, especially sexual harassment, was a bogeyman we were forced to bury and endure. But with the passing and amendments of Anti-Sexual Harassment Bills across countries as well as movements against abuse, we know that it can be fought. But how many companies have exerted efforts to not only strengthen their policies and protect their workforce but also encourage them to do their part?
In a conversation with nine key individuals from Malaysian telecommunications platform provider Forest Interactive, we get a glimpse of their zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment issued in 2021 and their internal campaign aptly called #ItEndsNow.
Forest Interactive panel of interviewees:
Nen Lin Soo – group communications manager, Malaysia
Nisa Saharuddin – community engagement lead, Malaysia
Ajeng Nurwanda – senior people generalist, Indonesia
Annissa Badrie – public affairs executive, Malaysia
Cendra Buana – operation support center executive, Indonesia
Bayu Waskita – back end team lead, Indonesia
Arya Jamil – marketing and operational manager, Indonesia
Ignas Redyandaru – videographer, Indonesia
Arvee Gomez – media relations executive, Philippines
What pushed the company to initiate the #ItEndsNow campaign?
Nen: In 2020, Malaysian NGOs were banding together to gather signatures to petition for the Parliament to table the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill. As a business, we wanted to show our support. A talent proposed to the management team that we could promote this petition via an internal campaign, in conjunction with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. That was done and our CEO, Johary Mustapha, also shared it on his personal social media channels to further promote the cause. That was also the same year we became a signatory of UN Women Malaysia’s Women Empowerment Principles.
When one of the organizations we work with, LeadWomen, ran a session where they showcased the UN Women Harassment at the Workplace Toolkit, we immediately sprang into action to assess our progress and what we need to implement in order to be on par with the standards set by UN Women.
We also assessed our organizational policies, practices, programs, and initiatives based on the Gender Gap Analysis Tool. From there, we worked internally to do better. The #ItEndsNow campaign exists partly because of this.
What sets #ItEndsNow apart from other anti-workplace harassment campaigns?
Nen: The campaign has three phases: awareness, accountability, and impact. What sets us apart is that this is not a one-off campaign.
We began the campaign first with many improvements. Then, we collected responses from our talents prior to the campaign to note their realistic workday scenarios pertaining to harassment. Today, we are also sending surveys mid-campaign to ensure we continue to provide the resources and policies that serve our talents’ needs and what they hope to see in a company.
Our extensive efforts to cover all critical bases of Forest’s #ItEndsNow campaign stemmed from these responses, ranging from the development of weekly newsletters delivered to all talents within the organization, discussions on mental health coverage, identifying employees within the workforce considered most at-risk in terms of sexual harassment inside and outside of the workplace to even monitoring and auditing our financials to detect inappropriate use of business expenses. We designed the campaign carefully considering backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs of every Forest talent.
Is the company more firm in deciding and executing disciplinary actions for such cases now?
Nen: The company has moved forward with its approaches in the office. Among our implemented efforts include the materialization of an official sexual harassment policy, conduct of a tabled complaint procedure, structured grievance mechanisms, sex-disaggregated data of past and present cases, and seeking external resources for talents looking for further resolutions.
We also have an ongoing consultation regarding the development of our whistleblowing policy.
With a diverse workforce of different nationalities, did the talents’ reception and feedback to the campaign widely vary?
Nen: Some wondered whether something serious happened for us to do this, but we emphasized that it’s just to raise awareness and how we want to also inspire other organizations to do the same.
As an employee, what do you personally tend to look for in an anti-workplace harassment policy?
Annissa: The sexual harassment policy in our employee handbook is quite inclusive and complete. The ability to [provide] protection for those who report ethical misconduct and the swiftness in taking action are things I look for in such policy. However, an integral part of raising awareness is conducting internal training for management and talents, and preparing for and providing knowledge if faced with this situation.
Cendra: I tend to look for what kind of behavior could be categorized as harassment.
Bayu: We look for secrecy and protection of employees in communicating with management.
Arya: I look forward to the possible development of a policy addressing abuse of power in the workplace.
Are you satisfied with how harassment is defined in the company policy?
Annissa: I am satisfied with how Forest Interactive describes harassment and the open conversation we could have with our CEO.
Ajeng: It will be [more] satisfactory once the policy addresses common loopholes often overlooked. For example, most company policies do not cover any incident that happens outside the workplace setting and [do not provide] victims support or a rehabilitation process for the perpetrators.
Moving forward, how else can these types of workplace campaigns still be improved?
Annissa: I believe internal communication and HR plays a huge role in shaping workplace culture. The team and management must be 100 percent committed to delivering effectively without bias. Most campaigns focus on women getting harassed when men could be victims as well. When we do campaigns like this, we must remove bias and impart inclusivity in our message.
Ignas: It will be better if the organization provides more relatable examples of cases [written in] a straightforward manner for the ease of readers.
Bayu: Look into not only harassment but also other offensive behaviors such as bullying or humiliating co-workers.
Ajeng: By training the management who have the power to take action.
Arvee: Ongoing efforts can be further improved by reminding employees of accountability with their actions, and how their role and relationships impact the organization as a whole and contribute to its overall culture.
What’s the biggest tip you can give to companies who plan to launch a similar one?
Nen: Prioritize proactive prevention over reactive actions. Companies don’t always have to wait for something serious to happen before enacting change.
Progress demands failures along the way, not perfection. We may not be able to champion all of the changes we’d like to make (for now), but we can at the very least try or push for a version of the change that we can all agree to work with.