Contrary to popular assumptions, women are not more likely to be sexually harassed when they are the minority or majority in a work group. Instead, researchers found that sexual harassment happened to women most often when their work group had a similar number of men and women. Researchers at three U.S. universities studied 110 work groups and found that women in equally matched gender groups were more likely to experience taunting, patronizing, and predatory behaviors. Work groups that were predominantly female were subjected to fewer extreme cases of sexual harassment, but women in these groups were more likely to be targeted with patronizing behaviors. More than one third of the workgroups did not have any incidents of sexual harassment.
Randy Hodson, co-author of the study and professor of sociology at The Ohio State University, said the logic behind the finding is simple: Sexual harassment occurs where there is more opportunity. “There is a lot more opportunity in these groups because you have a lot of men who have contact on a regular basis with a lot of women, and that’s going to create more opportunities for sexual harassment,” he said. “When women are less represented or when they're mainly working with other women, there is simply not as much opportunity.”
The reserachers also found that the characteristics of a person’s job also influenced the likelihood and type of harassment. For example, while increased job security helped protect women against the worst forms of sexual harassment, those who had more autonomy were more likely to be the victim of every type of sexual harassment. More power in some organizations led to women being taunted, but it also opened the door to more serious forms of sexual harassment, like solicitation, threats, and forced sexual contact.
Hodson said most organizational policies are designed to protect workers from extreme forms of sexual harassment, like sexual solicitation, forced sexual contact, and threats. But some policies fail to clearly define expectations and punishments for less severe forms of sexual harassment. To protect yourself and your workers, be sure your practice’s sexual harassment policy (you do have one, right?) discusses all aspects of the matter.