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Law Hum Behav. 2014 Feb;38(1):58-72. doi: 10.1037/lhb0000045. Epub 2013 Aug 5.

Sex-based harassment in employment: new insights into gender and context.

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Department of Psychology, University of Michigan.


Legal definitions of sex-based harassment have evolved over the decades; it is important that social science perspectives on this phenomenon evolve as well. This study seeks to refine our understanding of conditions in which sex-based harassment thrives, with empirical evidence from three organizations. Previous research has suggested that underrepresentation of one's gender in the employment context increases risk for sex-based harassment. This work has focused mainly on sexual-advance forms of harassment, mainly in the lives of women. Less is known about the gender harassment of women, or about any kind of harassment of men. Extending this scholarship, we analyzed survey data from women and men working in three diverse domains: academia (N = 847), the court system (N = 1,158), and the military (N = 19,960). Across all samples, the underrepresentation of women in a workgroup related to increased odds of women experiencing gender harassment, but not sexual-advance harassment. For men, the opposite pattern emerged: underrepresentation did not increase men's risk for either type of harassment, instead relating to decreased odds of harassment in some contexts. We interpret these results in light of theories of tokenism, gender stereotyping, and sex role spillover in organizations. Our findings support the recommendation that, to reduce harassment (whether it be illegal or legal, gender- or sexuality-based, targeted at women or men), organizations should strive for gender balance in every job at every level. For male-dominated contexts, this implies a need to recruit, retain, and integrate more women throughout the organizational hierarchy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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