Women in top roles face more sexual harassment: Study

London: Power in the workplace does not stop women’s exposure to sexual harassment. On the contrary, women with supervisory positions are harassed more than women employees, a new research has found.

“When we first started to study sexual harassment, we expected a higher exposure for women with less power in the workplace. Instead, we found the contrary,” said researcher Johanna Rickne from Stockholm University in Sweden.

“When you think about it, there are logical explanations: a supervisor is exposed to new groups of potential perpetrators. She can be harassed both from her subordinates and from higher-level management within the company,” Rickne added.

More harassment from these two groups is also what we saw when we asked the women who had harassed them, the researchers said.

By analysing the responses from three surveys, researchers at Stockholm University, together with fellow American and Japanese researchers, have studied the prevalence of sexual harassment across the organisational hierarchy.

The results come from five waves of the Swedish Work Environment Survey, a nationally representative dataset collected biannually by Statistics Sweden (1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2007) and with a total of 23,994 female respondents.

In the US and Japan, the research team collected new survey material during 2019.

The US sample included 1,573 employed female citizens, whereof 62 per cent had supervisory positions, while the Japanese sample included 1,573 respondents, of which 17 per cent of the women were in supervisory positions.

Apart from questions about sexual harassments, respondents were asked about perpetrators, how they reacted to the harassment, and what social and professional consequences followed the victimisation.

The study, published in the journal Daedalus, shows that women with supervisory positions experienced between 30 and 100 per cent more sexual harassment than other women employees.

This was true across the US, Japan, and Sweden, three countries with different gender norms and levels of gender equality in the labour market.

Comparing levels of leadership, exposure to harassment was greatest at lower levels of leadership, but remained substantial and similar to the level of harassment for the highest positions, the research said.

In all three countries, women with supervisory positions were subject to more harassment when their subordinates consisted of mostly men.

“Additional survey data from the US and Japan showed that harassment of supervisors was not only more common than for employees, but was also followed by more negative professional and social consequences,” said study researcher Olle Folke.

“This included getting a reputation of being a ‘trouble maker’ and missing out on promotions or training,” Folke added.

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