Home Features Women in Leadership Lasting damage: How sexual harassment slows women’s careers

Lasting damage: How sexual harassment slows women’s careers

Valerie Bolden-Barrett* says new research finds sexual harassment impairs women’s health, earnings and job choices over the life of their career.


Image: wildpixel

Sexual harassment has long-term consequences for working women, according to new research from the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

The research found that sexual misconduct impairs women’s physical and mental health, reduces their job choices, limits their career development opportunities and forces them to leave the workforce.

The report concluded that these negative results deflate women’s lifetime earnings and foster the gender and retirement wage gaps over time.

The report also addressed the barriers that keep people from reporting incidences of sexual harassment, which include the narrow standards about which employers are covered by existing laws, and nondisclosure agreements and mandatory arbitration that keep employees from speaking out and pursuing legal remedies.

AAUW called on employers and lawmakers to create a culture that doesn’t tolerate sexual harassment.

The report recommended that employers have a comprehensive harassment policy and create multiple complaint procedures, with multiple options.

Some thought the #MeToo movement would be a turning point in the fight against sexual harassment by encouraging targets and witnesses of misconduct and giving them the courage to speak out and workplaces to step up anti-harassment training and enforcement of policies.

But based on comments from women in various polls, employers’ responses to #MeToo have brought about little change.

As an example, 61 per cent of women in a recent Fairygodboss survey said the workplace either stayed the same or worsened.

In fact, survey results showed that sexual harassment claims increased over previous years, and among those who remained quiet, the reason for their inaction was due to the alleged harasser being a boss or other person of power.

Unless a boss is an alleged harasser, managers should be workers’ first line of defence against misconduct in the workplace.

But a study by pelotonRPM showed that managers aren’t prepared to handle complaints of discrimination, bias, harassment, bullying and other workplace problems.

Based on survey results, when managers receive complaints, they fail to follow up with questions to elicit more details.

Because sexual harassment isn’t always defined by blatant actions, some experts advise employers to focus on the more subtle actions of alleged perpetrators.

Speaking at the 2019 Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference, Jonathan Segal​, partner at Duane Morris, told participants to look at the less obvious, or grey, areas that can be ultimately tied to harassment.

“I don’t think enough attention is paid to the middle,” Segal said about these situations, which may be okay or not okay, depending on the situation.

“There are a number of areas in HR that we need to think about giving guidance to navigate the grey.”


Valerie Bolden-Barrett is a business writer and content specialist and contributor to HR Dive.

This article first appeared at www.hrdive.com/news