Why women in authority are often targeted for sexual harassment

On Behalf of | Sep 16, 2021 | Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Many people, including women, assume that the primary female victims of workplace sexual harassment are women in lower-tier jobs. Women who work in administrative or clerical positions, interns in an organization, and front-line workers in stores and other establishments are often the victims of men (and women) who outrank them in the company.

A study published last year, however, found that women in leadership roles dealt with more sexual harassment –- 30% to 100% more — than those in lower positions. Researchers at Stockholm University who surveyed over 27,000 women in the U.S., Japan and Sweden between 1999 and 2019 found what they called a “paradox of power” in all three countries.

What accounts for this “paradox of power?”

There are many reasons for it. Women in supervisory roles are sometimes harassed not just by those above them but also by their subordinates. Another reason could be some men’s anger that these women are not adhering to “traditional” gender roles. Women in male-dominated industries who have men reporting to them are most at risk of facing sexual harassment. 

While large numbers of women in leadership in this and earlier studies have reported being harassed, the Swedish researchers noted that they typically have more to lose (or at least think they do) if they report it than women in more junior positions. They may have worked long and hard to get where they are, including perhaps getting one or more advanced degrees. They don’t want to risk derailing their career by causing trouble or burning bridges with powerful people.

Workplace sexual harassment can happen to anyone of any age and gender in just about any position in an organization. Too many people believe that’s it’s just something they have to deal with to keep their job or get ahead. Unfortunately, that’s one reason it’s still so pervasive. By learning more about your right to a harassment-free workplace and your options for putting an end to the harassment, you’ll be better prepared to take action that can help yourself and others.