New research finds that a work culture that allows frequent sexist wisecracks, or an office environment where women are ignored, are both as damaging to women as single instances of sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention.
The findings come from an analysis of 88 independent studies of a combined 73,877 working women. The study appears in the journal The Psychology of Women Quarterly.
“Norms, leadership, or policies, that reduce intense harmful experiences may lead managers to believe that they have solved the problem of maltreatment of women in the workplace,” wrote the study authors Dr. Victor E. Sojo, Dr. Robert E. Wood and Anna E. Genat.
“However, the more frequent, less intense, and often unchallenged gender harassment, sexist discrimination, sexist organizational climate, and organizational tolerance for sexual harassment appeared at least as detrimental for women’s wellbeing. They should not be considered lesser forms of sexism.”
Researchers found the following associations:
- Sexism and gender harassment were just as harmful to working women’s individual health and work attitudes as common job stressors such as work overload and poor working conditions;
- When women are the targets of sexism and harassment in the workplace, they are more dissatisfied with supervisors than co-workers;
- There was a trend of a more negative effect of sexism and harassment in male-dominated workplaces, such as the armed forces and financial and legal services firms. However, the authors suggested this required further research.
Study authors believe covert and overt sexism are both damaging to women.
“Our results suggest that organizations should have zero tolerance for low intensity sexism, the same way they do for overt harassment. This will require teaching workers about the harmful nature of low intensity sexist events, not only for women, but also for the overall organizational climate.”