Photo by miriampastor, Flickr CC

The recent accusations of many prominent men in media, politics, and the music industry for sexual harassment and assault have many wondering what can be done to reduce sexual harassment in the workplace. According to sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev, the answer is simple: hire and promote more women. In an article published by the Harvard Business Review, Dobbin and Kalev review the working conditions that promote sexual misconduct, and emphasize the importance of a top-down approach to enact real change.

Harassment thrives in workplaces with male-dominated management where women are outnumbered among their peers. While the answer to this problem is hiring more women for these roles, the authors explain why this process is not so straightforward:

“…women tend to leave workplaces where sexual harassment is common and goes unaddressed; the fight can feel hopeless in an environment where gender bias runs rampant.”

Therefore it is necessary for organizations to take on the challenge of hiring and retaining women in leadership roles. Many grievance systems and anti-harassment trainings were first implemented in the 1970s, but appear to have been relatively ineffective — women who file complaints often face serious repercussions, including being demoted or facing continued harassment and other types of mistreatment from colleagues.  

Dobbin and Kalev argue that sexual harassment in the workplace should be handled in a way that the survivors of sexual harassment are not punished. They urge CEOs and other company leaders to speak out against sexual harassment and to rethink how they promote and retain female employees.

“[I]t’s critical that leaders start accepting some of the responsibility that the courts have allowed them to brush off for such a long time… After all, culture is shaped by behavior at the top. As long as men dominate in management, it’ll be up to them to make those changes.”