Harassment hurts, but so does everyday sexism

Frequent sexist wisecracks, comments and office cultures where women are commonly undervalued and ignored are just as damaging to women as single instances of sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention, according to our latest study, published in Psychology of Women Quarterly.

“Norms, leadership, or policies, that reduce intense harmful experiences may lead managers to believe that they have solved the problem of maltreatment of women in the workplace,” wrote Dr. Victor E. SojoProfessor Robert E. Wood and PhD Candidate Anna E. Genat. “However, the more frequent, less intense, and often unchallenged gender harassment, sexist discrimination, sexist organizational climate and organizational tolerance for sexual harassment appeared at least as detrimental for women’s wellbeing. They should not be considered lesser forms of sexism.”

The analysis of eighty-eight independent studies, which included a combined 73,877 working women, found that:

  • Sexism and gender harassment were just as harmful to working women’s individual health and work attitudes as common job stressors such as work overload and poor working conditions.
  • When women are the targets of sexism and harassment in the workplace, they are more dissatisfied with supervisors and co-workers than with their work tasks.
  • There was a trend of a more negative effect of sexism and harassment in male-dominated workplaces, such as the armed forces and financial and legal services firms. However, the authors suggested this required further research.

The results of the study recommend that “organizations should have zero tolerance for low intensity sexism, the same way they do for overt harassment. This will require teaching workers about the harmful nature of low intensity sexist events, not only for women, but also for the overall organizational climate. Supervisors are specially compelled to champion any effort in this area, given their position of power and responsibility to set the standards of appropriate behaviour at work.”

Find out more by reading the full article, “Harmful Workplace Experiences and Women’s Occupational Wellbeing: A Meta-Analysis,” available here.

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Source: http://pwq.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/08/21/0361684315599346.abstract