“The cases of sexual harassment at Google shine a spotlight on a wider problem women face in the workplace.” Contributor Dr Dulini Fernando, Associate Professor – Warwick Business School.
My research on “How managers, co-workers and HR pressure women to stay silent about harassment” and “Navigating sexual visibility: a study of British women engineers” were recently published in Harvard Business Review, the journal Human Relations, and The Journal of Vocational Behaviour.
All the women I spoke to while researching sex-based harassment had suffered on some level, from sexist remarks to harassment during pregnancy and sexually motivated advances.
They all told someone at work, whether it was a manager, HR, or a more senior colleague. In each case they were persuaded to drop the issue and move on. One was told a colleague’s unwanted advances were “hardly a crime”.
It’s not that the organisation doesn’t do anything. They take the complaint on board and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but it’s done very discretely. It is kept quiet and played down in front of the victim because they don’t want to admit that the organisation or its procedures are to blame. They want to maintain the status quo.
That is why sexual and sex-based harassment keep on happening. It is not about how the perpetrator is punished. It’s the culture of silence that allows it to continue. It is far more common that women who start to voice their concerns are made to feel embarrassed or stupid, or they are warned that pursuing their concerns will harm their career, so they don’t tend to speak out.