Social movements have the potential to shape individuals’ beliefs and behavior, as well as policies, and governmental response. The feminist movement that began in the 19th century in the US, for instance, has spread all over the world and fundamentally altered people’s attitudes towards women, including those of women themselves. This, in turn, has substantially improved women’s rights, voices, and socioeconomic status. In the proposed study, we seek to provide causal, micro-level evidence on how an introduction to anti-sexual harassment movements affects the beliefs, behavior, and workplace outcomes of the targeted populations.
Our focus is on the prominent #MeToo movement. Beginning with Tarana Burke who coined the phrase “Me Too” as a way to encourage women who had survived sexual violence to share their stories, it was made more famous by celebrities who bravely shared their misfortunes in social media. Many female victims of sexual violence joined the movement by sharing their own experiences and by publicly accusing the perpetrators. This movement helps victims understand they are part of a broader collective of women, and they are not alone in suffering sexual harassment. Moreover, it also helps remind women that by taking action to speak out against sexual harassment they might benefit others. In this study, we seek to address the following questions: Does information related to #MeToo movement affect women’s tolerance of, attitudes towards, and behavioral responses to sexual harassment? If so, how does this consequently affect women’s subjective well-being and workplace performance?
To this end, we have designed a randomized controlled trial in a large Chinese spa chain to evaluate the impact of the anti-harassment movement on female spa workers. Our setting is unusual and well-suited for studying the proposed questions. Although #MeToo has become a prominent social movement in the U.S. and many western countries, due to Chinese media censorship and a relatively low education level in the spa industry, many workers were unaware of and unaffected by this movement. This allows us to experimentally manipulate the information available to the subjects. It also allows us to avoid the potential backlash of women against #MeToo that might not align with it politically. Unfortunately, due to the nature of spa services, sexual harassment from customers is fairly common among female workers, which allows us to measure the effect of the anti-harassment movement in a timely manner.
In partnership with a leading multinational spa chain home-based in China, we conduct a 3-month field experiment with about 3,000 female workers in 154 stores. During the intervention period, we provide intensive information about the anti-sexual harassment movement to employees in randomly selected treatment stores. In the control group, we only provide basic information on harassment. The experimental and survey data collected before, during, and after the intervention, coupled with administrative data on worker background, performance, and retention, will allow us to assess both the short- and long-run impacts of anti-harassment information on employee well-being and performance.