Sexually Harassed Women Leave Workplace Out of Weakness

by February 13, 2009

Sexually Harassed Women Leave WorkplaceWomen who have been through sexual harassment at the workplace tend to leave the organization. This was revealed by a study that was carried out at the University of Haifa. “It is a matter of having no other outlet and not an act of control and power,” the researchers stated.

The study, which was carried out by research student Chana Levi and Prof. Eran Vigoda-Gadot, surveyed 192 women who work in the public sector in Israel. The purpose of the study was to observe whether women who had been sexually harassed would tend to leave their place of work, develop behaviors of work neglect, or attempt to change the situation by means of taking particular action. The study also observed how much internal politics in an organization and the level of the employee’s belief in her own ability to change things (self-capability) affect the behavioral patterns of sexually harassed women.

The good news that the study reports is that the level of reported sexual harassment was rather low. The workers were asked to rank harassment experiences on a scale of 1-5 (where 1 is experiencing no sexual harassment at all and 5 is constant harassment), harassment being defined as offensive sexually suggestive comments (gender harassment), repeated harassment intended to lead to sexual relations, and actual sexual coercion. According to the study, the level of sexual harassment was 1.38. That said, a third of the women reported having experienced gender harassment at medium or high frequency (66.69% of the women reported that they never experienced gender harassment or rarely experienced it); 89.85% of the women never experienced repeated attempts at sexual relations or seldom experienced it; 95.37% of the workers never or seldom experienced sexual blackmail.

The research also revealed that in the organizations where the female employees reported more internal politics (i.e., where decisions are made based on personal and not business interests) there are also more cases of sexual harassment.

The second stage of the study examined behavioral patterns of women who had experienced sexual harassment. It revealed that harassed women tend to leave their jobs. The factor that can lead women to staying at their places of work despite sexual harassment is their level of self-capability: the more a woman believes in her own power to change the present reality the more she will prefer not to leave her workplace. The level of organizational politics also affects behavioral patterns: the more an organization is considered egalitarian, fair, and just, the more sexually harassed women preferred to put up a fight within the organization; and vice versa: in organizations that are more political the women who experienced sexual harassment did not make attempts at altering the situation from within.

According to the researchers, these conclusions indicate that organizations that wish to combat the phenomenon of sexual harassment ought to set clear policies that minimize uncertainty and the risks that confront a female worker who wishes to make a complaint.

“There is a tendency to think that it is the stronger woman who believes in her capabilities who will choose to leave a place of work in which she experienced sexual harassment because she believes in her abilities and the possibility of finding another job. But the study’s findings showed that a worker who leaves an organization following sexual harassment does so out of inability to bring about a positive solution to the situation and not as an act based on strength and power,” the researchers concluded.

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