Edited by Suzy Fox and Terri R. Lituchy
Chapter 8: Observing Sexual Harassment at Work: A Gendered Extension of a Gendered Construct
Tara C. Reich and M. Sandy Hershcovis Sexual harassment may be the most pervasive form of discrimination (Spitzberg, 1999) and has emerged as an important topic in the organizational literature over the past three decades. In this chapter, we consider how sexual harassment influences the perceptions and responses of those who witness it (hereafter “observers”). This chapter will proceed as follows. First, we briefly review the sexual harassment literature, focusing primarily on the gendered way this construct has been conceptualized and measured. We then explore how observers perceive and respond to witnessed incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace. Finally, we extend the current observer literature to consider how observers’ pre-existing relationship with the harasser and the victim may shape their perceptions of and responses to witnessed harassment, paying particular attention to the role of gender diversity in the harasser–victim–observer triad. In the academic literature, the construct of “sexual harassment” is defined in terms of its three components: (1) gender harassment (i.e., behaviors that are generally not intended to promote sexual cooperation, but that convey both sexist and sexual hostility), (2) unwanted sexual attention (both verbal and non-verbal forms), and (3) sexual coercion (i.e., attempts to elicit sexual cooperation in exchange for job-related outcomes) (Gelfand et al., 1995; Willness et al., 2007). Gelfand et al. (1995) argue that these three factors “are necessary and sufficient to classify any particular incident of sexual harassment … [and that they] constitute the irreducible minimum of the construct as it is currently understood...
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