Harassed

The recent expansion of the #MeToo movement has put into the spotlight egregious acts of sexual harassment in the workplace including sexual coercion -- threatening or tricking an employee into sexual activity that she does not want; physical forms of unwanted sexual attention -- fondling and other forms of inappropriate touching; and sexual assault. A single incident of any of these types of sexual harassment is considered severe and is illegal in the United States. A single incident can lead to a myriad of damaging impacts on psychological state, physical health, and job satisfaction and productivity. A much more underrecognized form of sexual harassment is that of gender harassment where repeated intimidating or offensive actions create a chronically hostile work environment that make the target of the gender harassment unable to perform her (or his) job well. Not only is gender harassment more common and harder to prove than more severe acts of sexual harassment, it is often difficult for the target of such harassment to acknowledge and validate the harm caused by the perpetrator's actions.

The Effects of Chronic Gender Harassment

The effects of chronic gender harassment are not much different in nature and severity to those that arise from sexual coercion, sexual assault, and unwanted sexual attention. Immediate psychological effects including insomnia, trouble focusing, and depressed mood can not only evolve into mental health disorders like clinical depression, substance abuse, and disordered eating, but also declines in physical health. At the same time, those who are gender harassed often withdraw from work resulting in reduced productivity and increased absenteeism and often to quitting and moving on to a different job or career. Even after a women who has been sexually harassed has left her job, she can suffer the effects of gender harassment for a long time with symptoms that share much in common with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Allie's Story

Allie graduated with a B.S. in electrical engineering and a passion for an area of EE called power systems. Her bubbly personality and feminine appearance made her look very different from most other engineers, although her qualifications and capability to do the job were on par with her co-workers. In her first job, the pressure and deadlines of the job dominated and pulled the team together regardless of individual personalities on the team. In her second job, however, things did not go as smoothly. Here is Allie's story.


What's going on here?

For whatever reason, Allie's manager believed that her personality would hold her back from advancing in the company. This belief seems to have led the manager to play an active role in holding Allie back by refusing to provide recommendations for positions in other groups within the company and by limiting her opportunities to grow her skills and take a break (vacation). Allie's "failure" to change her personality also seems to have escalated the manager's dislike of her. And the manager responded by restricting her opportunities even further. This is an escalating cycle of gender harassment. Allie's manager ridiculed and mocked her to the point that she could not advance alongside her coworkers and her opportunities because limited as a result.

Strategies for Reducing Gender Harassment in the Workplace:
Cooper, M. (2017). The 3 things that make organizations more prone to sexual harassment. The Atlantic. Full text is available here.

Dobbin, Frank, & Kalev, Alexandra. (2020). Why Sexual Harassment Programs Backfire. Harvard Business Review. Full text is available here.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). How can I prevent harassment? Full text is available here.

Frye, Jocelyn. (2017). How to Combat Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. Center for American Progress. Full text is available here.

Smith, Brendan L. (2018). What it really takes to stop sexual harassment. American Psychological Association. Full text is available here.

More about the psychological, physical, and job impacts of Sexual Harassment:
Chan, D. K., Chow, S. Y., Lam, C. B., & Cheung, S. F. (2008). Examining the job-related, psychological, and physical outcomes of workplace sexual harassment: A meta-analytic review. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32(4), 362-376. Full text is available here.

Dansky, B. S., & Kilpatrick, D. G. (1997). Effects of sexual harassment. In W. O'Donohue (Ed.), Sexual harassment: Theory, research, and treatment (pp. 152–174). Allyn & Bacon.

Fitzgerald, L. F., Hulin, C. L., & Drasgow, F. (1994). The antecedents and consequences of sexual harrassment in organizations: An integrated model. In Job Stress in a Changing Workforce: Investigating Gender, Diversity, and Family Issues, edited by G. P. Keita and J. J. Hurrell (1994): 55–73. Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association. Abstract is available here.

Fitzgerald, L. F., Shullman, S. L., Bailey, N., Richards, M., Swecker, J., Gold, A., Ormerod, A. J., & Weitzman, L. (1988). The incidence and dimensions of sexual harassment in academia and the workplace. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 32, 152–175. Abstract is available here.

Ojong, Tambetta (2018). Sexual harassment and assault affects women’s psychological and physical health later in life. Full text is available here.

Spector, Nicole. (2017). The Hidden Health Effects of Sexual Harassment. Full text is available here.

Willness, C. R., Steel, P., & Lee, K. (2007). A meta‚Äźanalysis of the antecedents and consequences of workplace sexual harassment. Personnel psychology, 60(1), 127-162. Abstract is available here.