Even female bosses face sexual harassment

Being the boss doesn't even safeguard women.
Being the boss doesn't even safeguard women.

When most people think of sexual harassment of females on the job, they assume it's happening to lower-level staffers. But surprisingly, women supervisors actually encounter more of it than other female workers, a new study finds.

Researchers examined workplace sexual harassment in the United States, Japan and Sweden. They found that female supervisors experienced between 30% and 100% more sexual harassment than other women employees.

Logical explanations

That was true in all three countries, even though there are different gender norms and levels of gender equality in their workforces.

"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," said Johanna Rickne, a professor of economics at the Swedish Institute for Social Research at Stockholm University.

Harassment of female bosses was higher among those at lower levels of leadership, but it was still substantial and similar to levels for those in top positions.

"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," Rickne said in a university news release.

Reputation of being a 'troublemaker'

In all three countries, female supervisors were subject to more harassment when most of their subordinates were men.

"Sexual harassment means that women's career advancement comes at a higher cost than men's, especially in male-dominated industries and firms," said Olle Folke, an affiliated researcher at the institute.

"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 'troublemaker' and missing out on promotions or training," he said.

The findings were published in the journal Daedalus.

Image credit: iStock

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