Sexually harassed women choose flight over fight

New U. of Haifa study finds many women would rather quit than try to change an abusive work environment.

sexual harrassment 88 (photo credit: )
sexual harrassment 88
(photo credit: )
A new study by researchers at the University of Haifa has found that women employed in the public sector tend to quit their jobs as a result of sexual harassment in the workplace. Prof. Eran Vigoda-Gadot, the author of the study, said he found the conclusion "worrying." "The major mechanism is not to fight, but [to] quit," he said. "Unless you fight this phenomenon, you can't beat it." According to researchers, women tended to quit not because they felt powerful and in control, but rather because they felt weak. "There is a tendency to think that it is the stronger woman, who believes in her capabilities, who will choose to leave a place of work in which she experienced sexual harassment because she believes in her abilities and the possibility of finding another job. "But the study's findings showed that a worker who leaves an organization following sexual harassment does so out of inability to bring about a positive solution to the situation and not as an act based on strength and power," researchers concluded. Gadot and research student Chana Levi surveyed 192 Israeli women working in the public sector. According to Gadot, most of the women surveyed were either administrators or social workers. The study found the level of reported sexual harassment was low, with 67% of the participants never or rarely having experienced it. One third of the participants said they had experienced a medium to high amount of gender harassment in the workplace. The study defines sexual harassment as offensive, sexually suggestive comments (gender harassment), repeated harassment intended to lead to sexual relations, and actual sexual coercion. Gadot said that although the definition could be debated, for him it was black and white. "If it walks like a cat, talks like a cat and looks like a cat, then it's a cat," he said. Researchers also looked at how the internal politics of an organization affected women's belief in their own ability to change the situation. In organizations where internal politics played a greater role in the decision-making process, female employees reported more instances of sexual harassment. The study found that in more egalitarian organizations, women tended to fight for fair and just treatment. Gadot said that according to his findings, employees in the public sector have less trust in the organizations they work for than in past. "People see the overall system as less fair," he said. Employment in the public sector had always been considered very safe, he said, but "opinions are changing, and the public sector is no longer perceived as fair and just." After a female employee had experienced sexual harassment, researchers found that the deciding factor in whether she stayed at her job or not was the woman's level of confidence in her abilities. If the harassed woman believed that she could change the situation, she was more likely to stay on. The study called on organizations in the public sector to make the process of reporting sexual harassment easier, therefore making it more likely female employees would come forward to report such incidents. Gadot said that although he believed it was important for women to report sexual harassment, he understood the possible side effects. "We encourage women to report sexual harassment, but we understand that as a result they are putting themselves in a situation in which they could be blackmailed," he said.