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Literature Review on Sexual Harassment on Women in the Workplace

 

 

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Abstract

Sexual harassment is common in today’s workplaces. It has been influenced by the feminist ideas of the 1970s. Following research, it is seen that this phenomenon mainly affects women. Similarly, it is the cause of many psychological disorders. An example is seen in psychosomatic symptoms that manifest in the victims. This article seeks to review literature and research carried out by Fitzgerald and her counterparts. Through the paper, it will be seen that women are the most common victims of sexual harassment, and this has grave effects on their wellbeing. Similarly, it outlines their behavioural and psychological perceptions of the phenomenon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature Review on Sexual Harassment on Women in the Workplace

Sexual harassment is described as any sexual activity that makes the victim feel uncomfortable as a result. It is identified as any uninvited behaviour that is inflicted on other workers based on their gender. Sexual harassment may occur both physically and mentally to the victim. This phenomenon has long existed in the work place, albeit to both genders. It has only been in the recent past that its nature has been explored by researchers. Women have been the most affected by sexual harassment in this environment. It is important to note that sexual harassment is not limited to males exercising dominance over submissive females. It may also involve individuals from the same sex. This phenomenon has many effects on the mental health of women, and the general quality of their lives. Louise Fitzgerald is an Emeritus Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies. Her work has focused on research concerning sexual harassment in the workplace, with a focus on the female gender. In that respect, she has published several journal articles concerning the same.

 

Fitzgerald, L.F. (1993). Sexual harassment: Violence against women in the workplace. American Psychologist, 48 (10).

In the article, Fitzgerald identifies that sexual harassment has been commonplace in various workplaces, mainly against members of the female gender. This has happened since females began soliciting work outside of their homes. The author argues that sexual harassment is aimed at maintaining or establishing power over lower level individuals in the work place. Individuals that hold positions of power are the common perpetrators of this phenomenon. In that respect, the gender dominance perspective is important in understanding harassment in this environment. According to Fitzgerald, sexual harassment is a means used by men in higher positions in the workplace to reinforce their privilege and maintain their dominance over females in workplaces and the larger society. In the United States, sexual harassment is defined as unwanted behaviour that invokes sexual favours in either visual or physical forms. The author states that in order to understand sexual harassment, it is important to understand the victim’s perceptions of this behaviour, as either uninvited or disturbing. The extent of harassment in workplaces has not been established through epidemiological studies. However, surveys of women engaged in employment have indicated that this one in two members of this gender has experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lives. This may be in either in an academic environment, or another place of work. Fitzgerald explains that sexual harassment mainly affects women when they work in professions dominated by male workers. For example, females working in jobs such as mining and auto repairs are more exposed to sexual harassment than balanced professions such as teaching. However, this phenomenon is not limited to blue collar jobs. Females are also affected in white collar professions such as law and surgery.

The precedence of sexual harassment on women, in their workplaces, has numerous negative consequences for them. This effects span from their private lives to their performance at work. They may be affected by psychosomatic illnesses. For example, the victims may exhibit anxiety and worry, headaches, loss of appetite and other symptoms. They may also report consequences such as loss of self-esteem and interference with their private lives. Fitzgerald explains that the severity of harassment has a correlation to the victim’s reaction.

The author’s views present an accurate representation of sexual harassment in workplaces. The emotional damage that accompanies women is usually severe, and culminates into physical symptoms. Women who have experienced abuse, especially sexual harassment, present the vast majority of females diagnosed with psychiatric problems. For example, the First World Report on Violence and Health, only 6% of women who have not encountered abuse are diagnosed with psychiatric ailments. Fitzgerald’s views are also proven by later research, which has also indicated a correlation between Post-traumatic stress disorder and sexual harassment in the workplaces. It is estimated that more than half of sexually harassed women may develop PTSD. In work places, women may associate their harassment to themselves, in what is known as self-blame. This results in further psychological consequences for them, similar to the author’s argument. For example, they may develop suicidal tendencies. This explains the high rates of psychiatric hospitalization among women sexually harassed in work places. Alongside the suicidal tendencies, the women may be affected by lower self-esteem. These psychological disorders often affect their performance at work. For example, their social withdrawal may reduce participation at work hence influencing the quality of their work (Fitzgerald, 1993).

 

Fitzgerald, L.F., & Swan, S. (1995). Why didn’t she just report him? The psychological and legal inclinations of women’s responses to sexual harassment. Journal of Social Issues, 51, 1, 117-138.

Various studies in Behavioral Science have indicated the outcomes and consequences of sexual harassment to the victims, in the context work places. Most of the research has been carried out in the context of the assertiveness paradigm. An example is research by Fitzgerald (1993), which indicated that sexual harassment takes place in work places as a form of exerting dominance over submissive women. Subsequently, women are affected by physical and mental harm. Most of the consequences are manifested through psychosomatic symptoms related to stress. In this article, the authors explore the psychological aspects of women’s responses to sexual harassment, in the legal context.

Fitzgerald and Swan (1995) explain that most women are unwilling to report sexual harassment cases due to several factors. Firstly, research has highlighted that direct confrontations concerning harassment results in a worse position for them, than the case earlier. If they choose passive measures, they may retain a good position and alleviate some of the effects. This finding holds great relevance to fields such as law, which are heavily dependent on personal reputations. Women in such careers risk harming their careers if they damage their relationship with the current employer. The burden of non-consent also plays a critical role in the mental processes of affected women. This clause, as stipulated in law, acts as a psychological determinant. As a result, victims end up responding inappropriately, resulting into problematical cases.

Legal proceedings may be considered as one of the steps towards healing by female victims of sexual harassment. From Fitzgerald and Swan’s (1995) research, it is seen that various psychological constraints may prevent the victims from speaking out against the perpetrators. The study provides insights on how psychiatrists may assist victims in healing, through explaining their predicaments. In order to assist the victims, clinicians may explore the social implications that victims may face. This will assist the victims in breaking the psychological barriers that prevent the healing process. The psychiatrists, they offer them with guidelines and treatment concerning how these barriers may be broken. For example, the victims may be granted regular therapy sessions that are focused on what may happen if they speak out against harassment at their work places.

 

Fitzgerald, L.F., Drasgow, F., Hulin, C.L., Gelfand, J.J., & Magley, V.J. (1997). Antecedents and consequences of sexual harassment in organizations: A test of an integrated model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82 (4), 578-589

Studies concerned with sexual harassment of women in organisational settings have focused on the frequency of such cases. Subsequently, research questions on issues such as why the incidents took place have been modelled on the frequency findings. However, conceptual models concerned with identification of antecedents and consequences of harassment have not been extensively used in research. These conceptual models can be explored using administration of empirical tests to the victims. Fitzgerald et al. (1997) developed an empirical measure for sexual harassment in private companies in the United States. It is identified as the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ). The SEQ assists in measuring three aspects. The first relates to the behavioural categories of gender harassment. The second aspect relates to unwanted sexual attention and the third is sexual coercion. The questionnaire also assesses these aspects in the context of how they were perfomed. The first is whether crude words were used in the incident. For example, the perpetrators may use words that infiltrate the mental processes of victims, by appealing to prior experiences or their personalities and nature. Other actions that are assessed are the conveyance of hostile acts and gestures to the victims.  For example, the victim may report consecutive hand gestures done by the perpetrator. These acts and gestures typically represent misogynistic attitudes that are inherent in the work place perpetrators. The unwanted sexual attention correlates to a hostile work environment. Women may be psychologically affected by the attention thus limited productivity in their work. They may feel stressed and engage themselves in limited social activity at the premises. Acts of sexual coercion are recognised as quid pro qui harassment in organisations.

Through the SEQ metric, the psychological toll of sexual harassment can be clearly established in the victims. It explores the anguish that victims may experience, such as the feeling of incompetence in their lives and duties. In their research, they used a sample of women working at a large utility company. The sample’s jobs mostly entailed those dominated by male workers. Through the metric, various outcomes were explored, in the context of the victims’ lives. For example, observations of issues such as depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction at work and withdrawal from social interactions at work were observed in the sample. In their research, Fitzgerald et al. (1997) demonstrate the outcomes of frequent and severe sexual harassment. For instance, they highlight that depression, anxiety and psychosomatic symptoms affect women following sexual harassment at their respective work places. In effect, predictions based on the SEQ model were proven true. The climate within the organisation and the question of gender played a prominent role in incidents of sexual harassment that were recorded by the sample.

Through the literature, it is seen that numerous factors lead to incidents of sexual harassment on women. However, most researchers have explored the frequency paradigm. In that respect, Fitzgerald et al. present a good alternative to conventional research, with interesting results. The use of the SEQ metrics is important to further research in the field. It allows the capture, analysis and presentation of data that meets the real world. The qualitative nature of this approach is of greater importance to psychology than the frequency based methods of the past. This is attributable to the field’s concern with non-quantifiable aspects of the victim’s life. The research has allowed further exploration of antecedents of sexual harassment in work places. For example, it explores the organizational climate as a precursor to such incidents. Similarly, it highlights the influence of the job gender paradigm on harassment cases in organisations. In effect, the SEQ method used in the study proves prior research on the field, which has been focused on the feminist paradigm of psychological power, such as that of Collinson and Collinson (1996). Similarly, it has opened up the doors for further exploration, as seen in Kearney (2004) and Jones (2008).

 

Fitzgerald, L.F., Swan, S., & Magley, V.J. (1997). But was it really sexual harassment? Legal, behavioral, and psychological definitions of the workplace victimization of women. In W.O’Donohue (Ed), Sexual harassment theory, research, and treatment. Allyn and Bacon

In the article, the authors explore the perceptions of sexual harassment in workplaces, in the legal, behavioural and psychological paradigms. In effect, they capture the definitions that have been upheld in past years. They all correlated to undesirable sexual behaviour that is viewed by the victim as offensive and threatening to their well-being in that environment. This meaning has been further broken down into three dimensions. The first is gender harassment, as seen through behaviour that evokes degrading attitudes such as verbal insult. The second is seen through unwanted sexual attention. The final correlates to sexual coercion, which may be observed in the form of threats that are typically violent. These issues are considered serious by victims and other concerned parties. They inflict psychological harm and influence the behaviour of the victims. For example, the affected women may have their self-worth affected by the incidents. However, most women may not label their experiences as sexual harassment, unless cued to do so. This may be attributed to the psychological definitions that exist in women, which are characterised by the theme of power. The research by Fitzgerald et al. (1997) indicates the behavioural definitions of sexual harassment on women, in work environments. It emerges that women label their experiences in a rather complex manner. Their perception of harassment typically involves subtle references to power.  However, they are unwilling to mention harassment, unless prompted. This information may be useful to psychologists attempting to understand perception of sexual harassment to women. Similarly, it may assist clinicians in identifying cases of sexually harassment on female victims.

Through the articles, it is seen that sexual harassment is considered undesired by the victims, who are typically women. This phenomenon is attributable to demonstrations of power by the existing workers in the environment. It is mainly influenced by the gender balance at the work place, and the organisation’s environment. Women usually face psychological constraints as they try to report such instances. The use of SEQ metrics is highly beneficial in the analysis of such cases. In summary, the articles and research carried out by Fitzgerald presents interesting insights to both clinicians and psychologists. They introduce new methods and knowledge on the subject, and have cleared hurdles to research in the field.

References

Fitzgerald, L.F. (1993). Sexual harassment: Violence against women in the workplace. American Psychologist, 48 (10).

Fitzgerald, L.F., & Swan, S. (1995). Why didn’t she just report him? The psychological and legal inclinations of women’s responses to sexual harassment. Journal of Social Issues, 51, 1, 117-138.

Fitzgerald, L.F., Drasgow, F., Hulin, C.L., Gelfand, J.J., & Magley, V.J. (1997). Antecedents and consequences of sexual harassment in organizations: A test of an integrated model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82 (4), 578-589

Fitzgerald, L.F., Swan, S., & Magley, V.J. (1997). But was it really sexual harassment? Legal, behavioral, and psychological definitions of the workplace victimization of women. In W.O’Donohue (Ed), Sexual harassment theory, research, and treatment. Allyn and Bacon

 

 

 

 

 

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