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Sex-Based Discrimination

August 12 2010 - Gender harassment in the workplace has a negative impact on women’s physical and emotional health irrespective of whether it includes unwanted sexual attention - often considered an essential component. Defined as 'verbal and nonverbal behaviors that convey insulting, hostile and degrading attitudes to women' it also has an adverse effect on professional performance.

The authors of the research from the University of Michigan, published online in Law and Human Behavior suggest that existing U.S. legislation should be interpreted as including gender harassment as a serious form of sex-based discrimination in the workplace.

The researchers analysed survey data from women working in two male-dominated environments: the US military (9725 respondents) and federal legal practice (1425 respondents). They identified five types of harassment:

  • low victimisation (sexist behavior)
  • gender harassment (sexist and crude harassment)
  • gender harassment including unwanted sexual attention
  • moderate victimisation involving all types of harassment
  • high victimisation with frequent harassment.

Of those reporting gender harassment, 90 per cent came within one of the first two categories.

Compared to non-victims, gender-harassed women in both work environments reported negative personal and professional consequences. Victims in the military scored significantly less on all work attitudes and reported greater performance decline due to the impact on physical and emotional health. They also experienced lower overall psychological well-being and health satisfaction and were more likely to consider leaving their jobs. Gender-harassed attorneys reported lower satisfaction with professional relationships and higher levels of stress.

The researchers conclude that in addition to victims experiencing unwanted sexual advances in the workplace, gender-harassed women also face adverse consequences and this is currently neglected in legislation.

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