Wednesday, November 21

Sexual Harassment of ‘Uppity' Women:

A recent research study from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto finds that sexual harassment is a means of punishing women who blur gender distinctions.

Links: “The Sexual Harassment of Uppity Women,” by Jennifer L. Berdahl, University of Toronto, Journal of Applied Psychology, 2007, Vol. 92, No. 2, 425–437 (13 pages, PDF ); “The high price of gender blurring; 'Masculine' women more likely to be sexually harassed,” Jennifer Newman And Darryl Grigg, CanWest News Service, November 7, 2007.

Independent, assertive women with leadership qualities are often a company's top performers. That's the good news. The bad news, according to recent research, is women with these traits are more likely to be sexually harassed.

And of all the difficulties faced by women who take leadership positions or roles, sexual harassment -- sexual comments, unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion -- is the most distressing, taking a harder toll on morale than office gossip or snide comments.

That's because the personality traits of independence, assertiveness and leadership that are considered successful in the business world are often viewed as "masculine" characteristics.
Conversely, traits such as being warm, modest and deferential, are thought of as "feminine" and generally not associated with leadership and assertiveness -- traits commonly paired with success in people's minds.

A recent research study found that sexual harassment is motivated by a wish to punish women who blur gender distinctions. Women coming up through the ranks or entering a traditionally male work environment may threaten some men's sense of security and status. The dynamic is similar to harassment of minorities who threaten a majority group's dominant position in the workplace.

Jennifer Berdahl, at the Rot-man School of Management at the University of Toronto, found that women who behaved independently and assertively and spoke out were more likely to be sexually harassed than women who fit feminine ideals of deference, modesty and warmth. Ms. Berdahl noted this was especially true in male-dominated workplaces.

In her study of 238 employees representing manufacturing plants and community service centres, the researcher found that in male-dominated workplaces, women who are "masculine" -- highly assertive, independent and dominant, or "androgynous" and who balance assertion and independence with warmth and humility -- experienced more than twice as much harassment as women who tend to meet feminine ideals of deference, caregiving and modesty. As well, these masculine and androgynous women experienced eight times as much harassment as men.

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