Mild Sexual Harassment Impacts Women's Experience of the Workplace

The American Psychological Association


Even relatively mild forms of sexual harassment such as crude comments or sexist jokes over time can cause significant psychological distress, say researchers in a new study.

"We found that women who experienced mild sexual harassment involving sexual remarks or sexist put-downs had lower psychological well-being and worse job attitudes compared with women who did not experience these behaviors," said psychologist Kimberly T. Schneider, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at El Paso, lead author of a study co-authored with Suzanne Swan, Ph.D., of Yale University and Louise F. Fitzgerald, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

According to the authors, "sexual harassment doesn't have to be particularly egregious to have negative consequences. Furthermore, although many women do not see themselves as victims of harassment, our study suggests that they are still more likely to experience negative psychological and job-related outcomes because of the behaviors they experienced."

The authors determined how harassment affected women in different employment settings by asking 447 private sector women and 300 female university employees how often they experienced sexist behavior, crude sexual jokes and unwanted sexual attention (touching, hugging, stroking or repeated pressure for dates). They also asked these women how often other types of sexual harassment occurred, such as demands for sexual favors following threats of job loss or promises of promotions.

Finally, the authors asked the women how satisfied they were with their work, their co-workers, supervisors and how often they called in sick, were late and isolated themselves at work. Women who experienced moderate to high frequencies, of relatively mild forms of sexual harassment such as sexist put-downs, reported less satisfaction with their jobs and more psychological stress compared with those who had not been harassed.

"The most important thing we learned from this study," said Dr. Schneider,"is that if it happens often enough, even women who have experienced relatively mild harassment have negative outcomes. A woman does not necessarily have to be sexually coerced for harassment to affect how she feels about her job. Because of this, we recommend that managers not dismiss claims of sexual harassment even if such harassment does not appear particularly serious to them. To the employees who are the targets of the such behavior, it is serious."


Article: "Job-Related and Psychological Effects of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Empirical Evidence From Two Organizations," by Kimberly T. Schneider, Ph.D., University of Texas at El Paso, Louise F. Fitzgerald, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Suzanne Swan, Ph.D., Yale University in Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 82, No. 3.

Dr. Kimberly T. Schneider, Ph.D., can be reached at (915) 747-5521



The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 151,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

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