Social media experiment to reduce workplace harassment towards women

Drawing of women in protest

Anaya Dam and Diego Dabed of the Utrecht University School of Economics (U.S.E.) will conduct a targeted social media experiment to reduce workplace harassment towards women. Their proposed research project is called LinkinOut Harassment and will evaluate the effectiveness of anti- workplace harassment campaigns to raise awareness, change behaviours and norms, and eventually reduce harassment experiences and improve well-being of women in the workforce. The geographical focus of the project is in India. The researchers were awarded a grant for this investigation by UKAID and IZA Bonn under its Gender, Growth and Labour Markets in Low Income Countries Programme.

LinkinOut Harassment

How can we use social media to create behavioural change? Social media, over the years, has been used by firms to market various products, but during Covid-19 it also became a useful tool for low cost and large-scale public service announcements, Anaya Dam says. And what raised awareness about the urgent topic of workplace harassment? The #MeToo movement that was kickstarted on social media.

Quantifying the impact social media platforms to generate change

Campaigns have been used by NGOs, e.g. UN Women’s 16 Days of activism against gender-based violence; for public service announcements, e.g., social-distancing measures and guidelines during the Covid-19 pandemic or social movements, e.g., 'Black lives matter' and '#metoo', she goes on. But at the same time there is an overwhelming amount of information and disinformation on platforms, as well as limited attention spans. An open question remains on quantifying the impact these platforms can have to generate change. In particular, for whom and how can campaigns be designed, and how targeted ads be used to generate effective social impact.

Their research will conduct an A/B test of the effectiveness of an anti-harassment campaign on LinkedIn, and collect novel survey data on women’s harassment experiences, wellbeing and labour market outcomes.

LinkedIn is the biggest social media platform for corporate sector workers and the targeted demographic of this study: corporate women workers in India, working in the IT, banking and consultancy sector. Why will this project focus on this specific sample of the workforce? Dam explains: The work force in India has grown a lot in recent years, particularly with educated women that have been employed in the corporate sectors. However, harassment is still prevalent. So, this could be the group we could really have impact with, especially by using social media.

Workplace harassment towards women is still prevalent worldwide

It is a section of the labour force but nevertheless an important one, she adds. Workplace harassment towards women is still prevalent worldwide with one in two women reporting such experiences in their lifetime: including The Netherlands for instance. It will make the findings of our research generalizable and relevant.

The social media campaign on LinkedIn will be designed by a local NGO in India that works specifically on awareness about the Indian law around the prevention of (sexual) harassment in the workplace. This organisation is already creating awareness by offering trainings for the corporate sector, online posts and support to survivors.

Awareness: ‘Generating empathy’ or ‘the fear of being caught’

Based on the evidence, the likelihood of perpetrators being male is much higher than female and the likelihood of the victims being female is much higher than male. The campaign is therefore focused predominantly on changing the behaviour of men towards women.

Why do men perpetrate harassment towards women in the workplace? From the literature, we don’t know what types of content are more effective in changing behaviour, says Dam. We focus on two motivations of the perpetrators that are identified in the literature. In the first, with the generating empathy hypothesis, we design content aimed at generating awareness on the consequences faced by victims (psychological, monetary and/or physical) and in the second, the fear of being caught hypothesis, we design content aiming at raising awareness on the costs of sanctions to the perpetrator upon being reported.

Motivated researchers

The two awarded PhD researchers who came up with this idea are very excited and motivated to conduct this societally relevant topic that could have a real impact, also globally. What is also great for us personally is that we are one of the few PhD students who were awarded this competitive grant as Primary Investigators, Anaya Dam says. We are grateful to the funders for this opportunity to take our research idea from concept to reality. At the same time, we recognize the immense responsibility of researching a sensitive and socially-impactful issue.

A first policy report based on this research project is expected in fall 2024. The entire project will run from 2023-2026.

More information

You can find more information about this project in a blogpost on the funder’s website.

Or contact Anaya Dam ( or Diego Dabed (

Go to the blogpost (website)