The recent media attention surrounding Fox News and accusations of sexual harassment are high-profile examples of the everyday experiences that many victims of sexual harassment face in the workplace. An article in the New York Times explores research on the factors that discourage people from reporting harassment, citing work from University of Illinois sociologist Anna-Maria Marshall and others.
Sexual harassment often goes under-reported, especially in male-dominated settings with rigid hierarchies like the military and large corporate companies. Sometimes victims are uncertain of what qualifies as illegal harassment — one meta-analysis by Remus Ilies and colleagues found that reports doubled when asked about specific behaviors rather than just using the term “sexual harassment.” Many women also fear retaliation for pursuing formal action, or at the very least disbelief or inaction from their employers. These fears appear to be well placed, however, and one study found that two-thirds of workers reported retaliation from their employers after reporting mistreatment.
While many startup companies do not have human resource departments to handle sexual harassment issues, Marshall’s research demonstrates that even organizations with official harassment policies and procedures create hurdles that keep legal action from being taken. Marshall finds that policies on paper are much different in practice, and that managers often interpret policies to protect the interests of their organization, and not the employee. Marshall explains,
“Companies put [policies and procedures] into place as mini litigation defense centers … The way employers deal with it is to prepare to show a court or jury that they did everything they could, rather than to protect women in the workplace.”