From 2016 to 2018, American women experienced significantly lower levels of sexual harassment in the workplace, but increasing levels of gender harassment, according to new studies from CU Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.
The results, published in PLOS ONE this week, also found sexual harassment’s impact on women’s self-esteem and self-doubt declined over that time period. Interviews suggest knowing others experienced similar harassment helped women feel less ashamed and increased support among women.
“These studies suggest the increased attention around sexual harassment during the #MeToo era is making a difference,” said Stefanie K. Johnson, associate professor of organizational leadership and information analytics at the Leeds School of Business. “Fewer women are being sexually harassed and those who still face harassment know that this is not something unique to them—it is an issue that many women have faced.”
Study authors Johnson, Ksenia Keplinger, a research associate, along with doctoral candidates Jessica Kirk and Liza Barnes, surveyed more than 500 women in September 2016 and September 2018.
Sexual harassment was defined as overt unwanted sexual attention, including staring, leering and ogling or attempts to stroke or fondle. Gender harassment was defined as a coworker or supervisor making sexist remarks or displaying sexist material. The study also measured sexual coercion, including bribes or punishment related to sexual cooperation.
Interviews in the studies showed women believe their organizations are taking sexual harassment more seriously than they did in 2016. Women also reported feeling more empowered by seeing other women share their stories as a part of the #MeToo movement.
However, gender harassment—which the researchers found to be on the rise—can have similar negative repercussions for women. The paper suggests gender harassment is increasing as a backlash to anti-sexual harassment movements.
“We need to expand our focus on gender harassment and the ways that men and women can work together to improve workplace culture,” Johnson said. “The brave women who championed the #MeToo and #TimesUp Movements should know that their efforts are making a difference.”