Sexual harassment higher as women rise up career ladder

A new study from Sweden shows women managers face more sexual harassment than other women.

Woman sitting at office desk looks worried as if she is bullied


Women managers are more likely to be subjected to sexual harassment, according to a new study.

The study of the sexual harassment across the organisational hierarchy published by the Swedish Institute for Social Research shows that women with supervisory positions experienced between 30 and 100 per cent more sexual harassment than other women employees.

This was true across the United States, Japan and Sweden – the three countries studies, all of which have different gender norms and levels of gender equality in the labour market. Comparing levels of leadership, exposure to harassment was greatest at lower levels of leadership, but remained substantial and similar to the level of harassment for the highest positions, say the researchers.

“When we first started to study sexual harassment, we expected a higher exposure for women with less power in the workplace. Instead we found the contrary. When you think about it, there are logical explanations: a supervisor is exposed to new groups of potential perpetrators. She can be harassed both from her subordinates and from higher-level management within the company. More harassment from these two groups is also what we saw when we asked the women who had harassed them,” says Johanna Rickne, Professor of Economics at SOFI.

In all three countries, women with supervisory positions were subject to more harassment when their subordinates consisted of mostly men.

“Sexual harassment means that women’s career advancement comes at a higher cost than men’s, especially in male-dominated industries and firms. Additional survey data from the United States and Japan showed that harassment of supervisors was not only more common than for employees, but was also followed by more negative professional and social consequences. This included getting a reputation of being a ‘trouble maker’ and missing out on promotions or training,” says Olle Folke, affiliated researcher at SOFI and associate professor at Uppsala University.

Rickne added: “Before, a typical situation of sexual harassment was a male boss who molested a subordinate woman. Today we know that women can have any position in a workplace and still be exposed. Previous studies have also shown that it isn’t only the young women, who might be seen as attractive and feminine, that are being harassed – it is women of all ages.”


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