It’s not always the abuser who pays for workplace sexual harassment – ​​The Irish Times

The #MeToo movement has made people much more aware of the problem of sexual harassment and workplace violence. Stories that make headlines are often about powerful men who have managed to avoid career repercussions for years. Today, economists are beginning to use real-world data to study everyday incidents of harassment and assault in ordinary workplaces that never make the headlines.

As with the rich and famous, they find that it’s not always the authors who pay the highest price.

A study by academics in Sweden combines anonymous responses from a Swedish government survey with employment data to study sexual harassment in the workplace. They found that about 13% of women and 4% of men reported being sexually harassed in the past 12 months. The more male-dominated the workplace, the more likely female workers were to have been harassed. Conversely, the more the workplace was dominated by women, the more likely male workers were to have been harassed.

The highest rates for women were in industrial jobs, while the highest rates for men were in service and sales jobs. Power dynamics seem to play a role here: both men and women reported more sexual harassment when their supervisor was of the opposite sex.

Women who reported being harassed were more likely to change workplaces with more female colleagues, where pay tended to be lower. Interestingly, male victims did not transition to more masculine environments where wages tend to be higher. Researchers conclude that sexual harassment helps perpetuate gender segregation in parts of the labor market by deterring people from working in places where they are gender minority.

What about the consequences for the authors? On this question, a new discussion paper offers some tentative answers. It links information from every police report in Finland between 2006 and 2019 to administrative records on employment, income and demographic characteristics.

Abi Adams-Prassl, professor of economics at Oxford, and his co-authors identified more than 5,000 cases of violence between colleagues sharing a workplace. The vast majority of perpetrators were men, while victims were evenly split between men and women.

After a gender incident, the gender composition of the workforce becomes markedly more masculine

As a result of a violent incident, perpetrators and victims have suffered reductions in income and employment. But there was a surprisingly different pattern depending on the sex of the victim. After a male-to-male incident, employment rates dropped by 10.6 percentage points for the average perpetrator and 4.2 percentage points for the victim over the next five years. But after an incident between men and women, employment rates only dropped by 5.2 percentage points for the perpetrator and 8.4 percentage points for the victim. (As for incidents where women were the perpetrators, Ms. Adams-Prassl said there were too few to analyze.)

As in the Swedish study, a power imbalance helps explain what is happening. The Finland study finds that when perpetrators are older in the workplace, they experience fewer career consequences. Researchers find that victims of gender-based violence are relatively young and earn little compared to their abusers. This is not the case for male-to-male violence, which tends to occur between people who are relatively equal in age and income.

The impact of these incidents also ripples through the rest of the workplace. After a male-to-female incident, the gender composition of the workforce becomes significantly more masculine (there is no change after a male-to-male incident). This is due to both more women leaving and fewer women joining.

Still, there seem to be ways to prevent these overflows from happening. Workplaces with more female managers (defined as an above-average proportion of women in the top 20% of employees) do not experience a decline in the proportion of women in the workplace after an incident.

They don’t protect victims’ careers better, but they seem to punish perpetrators more effectively, as they are more likely to suffer a job cut. The authors summarize: “Women managers do one important thing differently: fires”.

Much of this may seem intuitive, but having the hard data is important. The bad news is that harassment and violence between colleagues can have serious and unequal repercussions that extend far beyond the individuals involved. The good news is that we are at least beginning to calculate the magnitude of the cost and who is paying for it. — The Financial Times Limited

Maria D. Ervin