Study reveals type of companies likely to 'tolerate' sexual harassment

20 November 2017 - 11:36 By Claire Keeton
Women are not the only targets of sexual harassment at work.
Women are not the only targets of sexual harassment at work.
Image: 123RF/highwaystarz

Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was fired recently following accusations of sexual harassment by dozens of women‚ but many sexual predators get away with harassment in the workplace and‚ a new American study shows‚ it is hard to predict who will behave this way.

“What we do know is that harassers tend to lack a social conscience and engage in manipulative‚ immature‚ irresponsible and exploitative behaviours‚” said Dr Antonio Puente‚ president of the American Psychological Association.

Supervisors and superiors are not the only perpetrators of sexual harassment‚ said Puente. Co-workers‚ subordinates‚ customers and clients can also transgress boundaries.

“Sexual harassment in the workplace is a pervasive‚ chronic problem that can cause enduring psychological harm‚” he warned.

Roughly two-thirds of female lawyers in South Africa said they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace more than once‚ a study by Legal Week revealed last month.

Women are not the only targets of sexual harassment at work

Women are not the only targets of sexual harassment at work. Men are also at risk of this misconduct‚ particularly those in the military.

Men in uniform are ten times more likely to be sexually harassed than civilian men but 80% of them will not report it‚ according to the research‚ published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

Men may be at higher risk of depression and mental health conditions‚ the US researchers reported.

But the women tended to report more harmful effects than men after sexual harassment at work‚ including “anxiety‚ depression‚ eating disorders‚ drug and alcohol abuse‚ post-traumatic stress and a lower level of overall happiness”.

Highlighting the problem‚ Puente described sexual harassment at work as a “significant occupational health psychology problem”.

South African laws allow the victims of sexual harassment and discrimination to lodge a claim against the employer if the employer fails to act against such misconduct.

Guaranteeing the right to fair treatment in the workplace is contained in the Employment Equity Act. This law offers protection against prohibited actions‚ like sexual harassment‚ and puts the onus on employers to act against discrimination and promote equal opportunity.

The US report found that climate in the organisation would strongly predict whether harassment is tolerated and can include:

  • Situations when men outnumber women;
  • Where supervisors are mostly male; and
  • Where there is a sense among employees that complaints will not be taken seriously.

Research has shown that hierarchical power dynamics are at the root of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment training only works effectively as part of a comprehensive effort to control the problem‚ said Puente.

“Most research points to sanctions as the primary way that organizations can be less tolerant of harassment‚” he said‚ urging management to establish policies that prohibit harassment and practices to implement them‚ and to raise awareness to avert sexual harassment at work. - TimesLIVE

The article‚ 'Sexual Harassment: Have We Made Any Progress?' was written by Dr James Campbell Quick.