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Abstract

It’s been nearly two years since the #MeToo movement took on wide momentum, and some big questions remain: What has changed? Do we know if reports of sexual harassment in organizations have decreased? What has happened to the women who have spoken up?
7/19/2019 Has Sexual Harassment at Work Decreased Since #MeToo?
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MANAGING ORGANIZATIONS
Has Sexual Harassment at Work
Decreased Since #MeToo?
by Stefanie K. Johnson, Ksenia Keplinger, Jessica F. Kirk, and Liza Barnes
JULY 18, 2019
TARA MOORE/GETTY IMAGES
It’s been nearly two years since the #MeToo movement took on wide momentum, and some big
questions remain: What has changed? Do we know if reports of sexual harassment in organizations
have decreased? What has happened to the women who have spoken up?
7/19/2019 Has Sexual Harassment at Work Decreased Since #MeToo?
https://hbr.org/2019/07/has-sexual-harassment-at-work-decreased-since-metoo 2/6
More on our sample
The overall sample for the survey data
consisted of 513 women who responded to
our Qualtrics panel (n = 250 in 2016 and n
= 263 in 2018). The participants ranged in
age from 25 to 45 and were working as full-
time employees in the US. The sample for
the interview data was 31 women in 2016
and 21 of those women in 2018. They
commented on sexual harassment and the
#MeToo Movement. We focused our
sample on women because, while men
certainly do experience sexual
harassment, they experience it at a lower
frequency and with fewer psychological
outcomes compared to women. We
controlled for factors such as work
experience, position level, and race to
account for differences between the 2016
It helps to look at data. In 2016, before #MeToo took off, we surveyed 250 working women in the
U.S., asking about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in their workplaces and how it impacts
them at work; we also interviewed 31 women in the U.S. about their individual experiences. We
conducted a second survey after #MeToo, in September 2018, of 263 women, and we reconnected
with some of the women we previously interviewed to see whether they’ve seen changes or have
changed their views. The survey was meant to gather quantitative evidence about changes since
#MeToo, and the interviews were meant to provide insight into why and how the changes occurred.
We measured sexual harassment along three dimensions: gender harassment, unwanted sexual
attention, and sexual coercion. Gender harassment involves negative treatment of women that is
not necessarily sexual, but may include things like a supervisor or coworker making sexist remarks,
telling inappropriate stories, or displaying sexist material. Unwanted sexual attention includes
coworker or supervisor behaviors such as staring, leering, ogling, or unwanted touching. Sexual
coercion includes bribing or pressuring women to engage in sexual behavior. We also measured
participants’ self-esteem and self-doubt, to see how these correlated with their experiences.
What did we find? In terms of what has changed,
we saw that fewer women in our sample reported
sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention
following the #MeToo movement. In 2016, 25% of
women reported being sexually coerced, and in
2018 that number had declined to 16%.
Unwanted sexual attention declined from 66% of
women to 25%. In contrast, we noticed an
increase in reports of gender harassment, from
76% of women in 2016 to 92% in 2018. This data
suggests that while blatant sexual harassment —
experiences that drive many women out of their
careers — might be declining, workplaces may be
seeing a “backlash effect,” or an increase in
hostility toward women.
7/19/2019 Has Sexual Harassment at Work Decreased Since #MeToo?
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and 2018 samples. The 2018 qualitative
data was collected with a subset of the
same women interviewed in 2016.
When we examined women’s feelings of self-
esteem and self-doubt, we found an increase in
self-esteem and a decrease in self-doubt since
2016. More important, the relationship between
unwanted sexual attention and both of these
outcomes (lower self-esteem, higher self-doubt) was weaker in 2018. Likewise, the relationship
between gender harassment and the outcomes decreased. We believe that the knowledge that so
many women experience sexual harassment has tempered its deleterious effects on self-doubt and
self-esteem.
Social psychological theories suggest that stigmatizing experiences, like sexual harassment, can be
very damaging to self-esteem, especially because the stigmatized individuals fear that they are
alone and share in the blame for their mistreatment. Knowing how pervasive sexual harassment is,
and hearing other women’s experiences, can help buffer one’s self-esteem from the stigma of
harassment.
The women we interviewed told us that the #MeToo movement helped them realize that they were
not alone in their experiences. A marketing executive in her late thirties explained, “I started seeing
[#MeToo posts] coming in, and I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re being so brave. Telling very
personal stories that I never knew about.’….It isn’t like I’m vindicated; it is more, I’m validated.
What should companies and managers be doing now? On the most basic level, we need to continue
to highlight the importance of preventing sexual harassment. Within organizations, human resource
departments need to maintain this as a priority, by offering bystander intervention training, having
clear zero-tolerance policies on sexual harassment, and responding dutifully to complaints.
Several women told us that it is imperative that human resource departments remain vigilant in
responding to concerns around harassment. One woman said, “I think that it’s more and more
common for people to say something when they see something, or feel uncomfortable….The bigger
issue isn’t somebody saying something in the first place; it’s the response from an employer when
they learn that one of their employees is sexually harassing another.” Managers can also ensure that
women and men feel safe to speak up about harassment.
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Organizations should also pay attention to gender harassment, including bullying and sexist
comments about women. One woman told us she believes that women who have been empowered
by #MeToo to call out inappropriate behavior have faced more hostility among coworkers. It is
important that organizations are aware of this, as constant exposure to gender harassment can be
just as damaging to women as the most egregious forms of sexual harassment.
Offering training that is focused on this issue, as well as on microaggressions and unconscious bias,
could be useful not only for encouraging civil behavior but also for empowering peers and leaders to
step in when they see bullying or harassing behavior in the workplace. It can be stressful for a
woman to stand up to sexist comments when they are directed at her, but it can be a lot easier for a
bystander to step in and diffuse the situation.
These efforts will be the most successful if organizations are able to successfully enlist male allies in
the gender equity conversation. Importantly, men need to hear the message that taking these issues
seriously is not an accusation against them, but rather is a mutual effort to create an environment of
respect in the workplace. I like the Twitter campaign #yesallwomen, which is intended to remind
men (and women) that no one believes all men are sexual harassers, but that all women do
experience harassment in their careers. As one woman told us, “[#MeToo] is bringing out a
community of men who are supportive of women and supporting them in whatever challenging
situations, whether it’s to the extreme of the #MeToo movement or just down to, How do I get equal
representation and equal voice in a meeting? It’s developing a network of men who are comfortable
saying, ‘Yeah, I’ll be your supporter, and I can speak out on your behalf.’”
And we cannot forget the most vulnerable workers. Most efforts around gender equity and reducing
sexual harassment in the workplace focus on full-time, salaried potential leaders. However, there is
evidence that the people at greatest risk for harassment are gig workers, those making minimum
wage (or server wages), and part-time or temp employees. People in these roles are often the most
powerless because they are not protected by EEOC laws. Creating a safer workplace means keeping
everyone in mind. Greater legislation to protect non-employees would be an obvious first step, but
until that happens gig workers and organizations can be proactive in putting anti-harassment
clauses in their contracts to increase worker protection. Gig workers can also use online platformsto
crowdsource information about which organizations are safe
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While our results point to the benefits of #MeToo in reducing sexual harassment over the last two
years, we need to ensure that we maintain these changes, that women and men provide support for
those who are harassed, and that vulnerable workers are not ignored. The goal of these efforts is
continued progress on workplace equity, and this goal benefits all employees.
Stefanie K. Johnson is an associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at University of Colorado’s
Leeds School of Business. Dr. Johnson studies the intersection of leadership and diversity, focusing on how unconscious
bias affects the evaluation of leaders, and strategies that leaders can use to mitigate bias. She has published over 40 journal
articles and book chapters in outlets such as Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, and
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.
Ksenia Keplinger is a Scholar-in-Residence at University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business. Her research
interests include diversity and inclusion, gender biases in the workplace, gig economy, and virtuous leadership. Ksenia
earned her BS in International Economics from the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russia and her
Ph.D. at Johannes Kepler University of Linz, Austria.
Jessica F. Kirk is an assistant professor of management at the Fogelman College of Business & Economics at the
University of Memphis. Her research interests include bias and stereotyping, diversity and inclusion, leadership, and
harassment in the context of traditional organizations and new ventures. Jessica earned her Ph.D. at the Leeds School of
Business at the University of Colorado.
Liza Barnes is a doctoral student in Organizational Behavior at Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado
Boulder. Her research interests sit at the intersection of identity management, organizational compassion, and positive
relationships at work.
Related Topics: Organizational Culture | Gender | Leadership
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... sexual coercion, unwanted sexual attention) have decreased, more subtle forms of sexual harassment (e.g. gender harassment) have actually increased (Johnson et al., 2019). Researchers attribute this to a backlash effect of the #MeToo Movement that takes the form of increased displays of hostility toward women. ...
... Contrary to this belief, research has consistently established that the most prevalent form of sexual harassment is neither sexual coercion nor unwanted sexual attention, but instead gender harassment (e.g. Fitzgerald et al., 1988;Johnson et al., 2019;McLaughlin et al., 2012 AQ : 5 ), defined as "sexual and sexist comments and jokes, and materials that alienate and demean victims based on sex rather than solicit sexual relations with them" (Berdahl, 2007a, p. 644). Additionally, research demonstrates that women in positions of power can be targets of sexual harassment (Berdahl, 2007b;McLaughlin et al., 2012) and that sexually harassing behavior is often performed in front of other men, in order for the harasser to gain power and status by demeaning women (Quinn, 2002). ...
Article
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to present a model that explores the relationship between inclusive leadership, inclusive climates and sexual harassment and other negative work-related outcomes, at the work unit and individual levels. Design/methodology/approach A conceptual model of inclusive work unit leadership, inclusive work unit climate and sexual harassment based on a review of the literature. Findings Leaders who behave more inclusively are expected to have work units and work unit members who experience more positive outcomes and fewer negative outcomes including sexual harassment and other forms of mistreatment. Leaders impact their work unit and work unit members' outcomes directly as well as indirectly through the more inclusive work unit climates they create. Research limitations/implications The sexual harassment literature has identified climate for sexual harassment as a key predictor of sexually harassing behavior and its attendant negative outcomes. A focus on a broader inclusive climate, and inclusive leadership, may provide a richer understanding of the conditions under which sexual harassment and other forms of mistreatment occur and can be mitigated. Practical implications This model can help identify strategies organizations can employ (e.g. inclusive leadership development programs) to combat sexual harassment. Social implications This model may improve understanding of the systemic, organizational causes of sexual harassment reducing sexual harassment victims' potential self-blame and helping policymakers craft more effective sexual harassment interventions. Originality/value The paper conceives of work climates that contribute to sexual harassment more broadly than generally has been the case in the sexual harassment literature to date. The model highlights the important role that leaders play in shaping inclusive climates. It also contributes to the nascent literature on inclusion and inclusive climates, which has paid relatively little attention to exclusion and mistreatment including sexual harassment that are likely to arise in less inclusive workplaces.
... The witnesses in our study may have been exposed to the "New Deal" for SHW, which influenced how they dealt with the phenomenon [75]. In 2016, prior to the #MeToo momentum, Johnson et al. [76] surveyed 250 professional women in the US about the prevalence of SHW and the impact on their work; they also interviewed 31 women in the US about their individual experiences. After #MeToo, they conducted a second survey of 263 women in September 2018 and reconnected with some of the previously surveyed women to find out if they had noticed any changes or changed their views. ...
Article
Full-text available
Despite the numerous advances made in Italy over the years in the study of sexual harassment in the workplace (SHW), research has focused exclusively on victims, perpetrators, and their relationships, and not on the consequences that the experience of sexual harassment can produce in witnesses. The present study aims to address this gap by examining how the indirect experience of SHW, in conjunction with variables such as gender, age, self-efficacy, and coping strategies, affects the mental health status of witnesses of SHW. A sample of 724 employees completed a questionnaire that included a modified version of the Sexual Experience Questionnaire (SEQ), the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory (OLBI), the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ), the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS), and the Emotional Self-Efficacy Scale (RESE). Of the group, 321 participants reported witnessing sexual harassment in the workplace (28.2% of women and 16.2% of men). Results show that witnesses were younger than participants who described themselves as non-witnesses. Results also show that women and men who were witnesses were more likely to suffer the emotional and psychological consequences of the experience than non-witnesses. In addition, female witnesses expressed more positive emotions than men, which enabled them to manage their anxiety and emotional states when triggered in response to sexual harassment in the workplace. Finally, a significant association was found between perceptions of mental health and age, gender, experience with SHW, and self-efficacy strategies. The findings underscore the importance of sexual harassment intervention in the workplace, women and men who witness sexual harassment suffer vicarious experiences, psychological impact, exhaustion, disengagement, and negative feelings.
... global public attention to women victims of sexual harassment and helped expose perpetrators (Langone, 2021;Chawla et al., 2021; Coping with sexual harassment in Egypt Kachen et al., 2021). Indeed, the #MeToo movement put the issue of WSH in the spotlight with the uncovering of high-profile cases in the corporate and entertainment world and renewed interest in the need to raise awareness and seek solutions (Johnson et al., 2021;Langone, 2021;Clair et al., 2019). Spurred by the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment has taken precedence as an issue of concern at the international level by organizations like the International Labour Organization, United Nations Women, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and the European Union (Sen, 2021). ...
Article
Full-text available
Purpose To understand the position of female academics in public universities in Egypt, the authors of this paper aim to answer the question of what comes between victims breaking their silence about workplace sexual harassment (WSH). Design/methodology/approach A qualitative research method is employed, and semi-structured interviews were conducted with 40 female academics from four public universities selected from among 26 public institutions of higher education in Egypt. Thematic analysis was used to extract main ideas from the transcripts. Findings At the macro level in Egypt, stipulating an anti-harassment law and harsher penalties were found to be a motivator for female academics to speak up against WSH. At the meso organizational level, establishing anti-harassment units in universities is perceived as an effective mechanism for empowering female academics to respond to, expose and seek punitive action against WSH perpetrators. What was found to be a real challenge to reporting perpetrators is the assumption of some female academics that they will never be heard because of socio-cultural norms that hold university professors as honourable and impeccable. Another challenge is that female academics are poorly represented at both professorial levels and in senior administrative positions in Egyptian academic contexts. Sadly, challenges faced by women in academic contexts, such as WSH, are not being prioritized on the agenda of their universities. Although organizational behaviours and country-specific culture challenge female academics' proactive stance against WSH, new anti-harassment laws and university policies are changing this scenario. Originality/value This paper contributes by filling a gap in human resource (HR) management, higher education and public administration in which empirical studies of WSH in academic contexts have been limited so far.
... While these findings are important, they may not necessarily hold true for newer professionals in Academic Medicine, particularly subsequent to the #MeToo movement and recent responses from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) offering clarity on these abuses and their unacceptability [15]. There is some research, with a convenience sample of working women, which suggests that sexual harassment in the workplace has declined since the #MeToo movement [29]. However, studies on the topic with nationally representative samples indicate no change in prevalence of sexual harassment over the period of 2014 (pre-#MeToo) to 2018 and 2019 [30][31][32]. ...
Article
Full-text available
Background Sexual harassment of women in academic medicine may impede advancement and productivity. This study analyzes the longitudinal effects of sexual harassment on academic advancement and productivity among women. Methods We undertook a longitudinal analysis to predict effects of sexual harassment reported in 1995 on career outcomes measured in 2012–13, among a sample of women in academic medicine (N = 1273) recruited from 24 U.S. medical schools. Measures included survey data from 1995 on sexual harassment (predictor), and 2012–2013 data on retention in academic medicine, rank, leadership positions, and refereed publications (outcomes), captured from surveys and public records. We used multivariable models to test effects of sexual harassment on study outcomes, adjusting for socio-demographics, employment-related variables, and gender discrimination. Findings In 1995, 54% of women reported any workplace sexual harassment, and 32% of women reported severe harassment (e.g., threats or coercive sexual advances) in the workplace. Multivariable regression models showed no significant effects of sexual harassment. However, severe sexual harassment was associated with higher odds of attaining full professorship by 2012–2013 (AOR: 1·70; 95% CI 1·03, 2·80; p = 0·04). Interpretation Contrary to our hypothesis, women reporting severe workplace harassment in 1995 were more rather than less likely to advance to full professor. Women seeking advancement may be more vulnerable to sexual harassment in academic medicine vis a vis greater exposure to those who abuse their position of authority. Funding NIvH R01GM088470; Doris Duke Foundation 2016D007145; BMGF OPP1163682
Chapter
This chapter analyses how professional, trade, business, and managerial publications covered #MeToo. Many such publications published reflective pieces and offered advice on the significance of #MeToo and appropriate responses to it. The chapter shows that commentators represented #MeToo as a problem of men’s conduct, specifically senior men sexualizing junior women colleagues. They problematized such conduct as impeding women from realizing their full productive potential to the detriment of their professions and organizations. In harmony with “womenomics” theory, commentators highlighted how sexual harassment harmed productivity and profits. Legal advisors cautioned that #MeToo encouraged women to complain about sexual harassment, thus managers should act to limit their organizations’ legal liability. Commentators argued that senior men should lead efforts to eliminate sexual harassment in their organizations as a matter of professional responsibility. Thus, discourse on #MeToo as a workplace issue emphasized men as both problem and solution. This signifies a new development in neoliberal sexual violence politics in that #MeToo discourse, in this context, problematizes some elite men and seeks to set new standards for masculine workplace conduct. However, this discourse also reproduces a toxic/good men binary that seeks to consolidate a new form of hegemonic masculinity.
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#MeToo has become a global phenomenon since 2017, when many famous women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment (SH) against many famous men. Our purpose here is to help managers of both sexes understand their role in the wake of the #MeToo movement. We reviewed recent research on SH and #MeToo from both academic and practitioner outlets to get a pulse on what is currently being written on these topics. We also studied data we collected on current attitudes and behaviors men and women are experiencing in the wake of #MeToo, as well as examined one of the newer forms of harassment, namely online SH. We use our data and research to explore actions managers can take to prevent SH and respond to it when it occurs. In doing so, we provide new insights for business practice that both managers and scholars need to be aware of, and act upon, in the wake #MeToo.
Article
Background: Gender parity in the workplace—and increased representation of women at work—may reduce workplace sexual harassment, but research on this is unclear. This study assessed the associations between gender parity at work and workplace sexual harassment. Methods: We analyzed data from an online sexual harassment survey conducted with a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults in 2018 ( N = 2,009; response rate 29%); current analyses were restricted to employed participants (women n = 610, men n = 690). Data on occupation and industry were each categorized as female-dominant (61%–100% female), male-dominant (0%–39% female), or at parity (40%–60% female). We used sex-stratified logistic regression models to assess associations between gender parity in industry and occupation and workplace sexual harassment. Findings: Our study of employed adults in the United States found that 42% women and 15% men had experienced workplace sexual harassment. Logistic regression analyses indicated that women employed in female-dominated industries (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 0.52; 95% confidence interval [CI] = [0.33, 0.81]) and men employed in male-dominated occupations (AOR = 0.55; 95% CI = [0.33, 0.91]) were less likely to have experienced workplace sexual harassment. Women in male-dominated occupations were more likely to report harassment or assault by a supervisor (AOR = 2.41, 95% CI = [1.00, 5.80]), and men in male-dominated occupations were less likely to report harassment or assault by a supervisor (AOR = 0.26, 95% CI = [0.08, 0.89]). Conclusion/Application to Practice: Women in female-dominated industries and men in male-dominated occupations, relative to those with workplace gender parity, are at lower risk for harassment. Women in male-dominated occupations are at greater risk for harassment from supervisors. Gender parity at work is not sufficient on its own to address workplace sexual harassment; normative changes are needed.
Article
Significant research has examined sexual harassment in male‐dominated occupations, but gender harassment – harassment that is not necessarily sexual in nature but is targeted at individuals, or women as a group, because of their sex or gender – has received relatively less attention. Drawing on in‐depth, semi‐structured interviews, we analyze the lived experience of gender harassment among women working as pilots and automotive tradespeople in Australia. We find that women in these occupations face a daily barrage of belittling jokes and demeaning comments from colleagues, managers, and customers and such behaviors are retribution for encroaching on traditionally male occupational domains. Although women found these behaviors humiliating, intimidating, and offensive, they lacked a comprehensive vocabulary to define or condemn them. This paper contributes to an emerging literature arguing that gender harassment needs to be more clearly problematized, organizationally and legally, as a form of sex‐based harassment constituting unlawful sex discrimination.
Johnson is an associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at University of Colorado's
  • K Stefanie
Stefanie K. Johnson is an associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at University of Colorado's