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Promotion offers women scant protection against sexual harassment

The results of a recent study suggest that women in New York and around the country who are employed as managers or supervisors may be even more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace than female employees with less authority. The study, which was based on surveys of workers in Japan, Sweden and the United States, was released by researchers from the University of Stockholm's Institute for Social Research. The findings were published online on Dec. 27 by the scientific journal Daedalus.

The study indicates that achieving a senior position in the workplace makes women between 30% and 100% more likely to experience sexual harassment of some sort. The odds increase when women have subordinates who are mostly male. American workers were asked if they had been the victim of sexual harassment within the previous 12 months and were then questioned about 23 types of inappropriate behavior. This is because previous research in this area has revealed that women often fail to recall less serious incidents when asked about workplace harassment.

The American managers and supervisors in the study reported experiencing sexual harassment between 50% and 100% more often than women with less power in the workplace. Results given by Japanese respondents were broadly similar. Female supervisors in Sweden reported fewer sexual harassment incidents. The researchers concluded that women may deal with more harassment after being promoted because the pool of potential perpetrators includes subordinates as well as upper management.

Supervisors, executives and managers may be more reluctant to complain about unfair treatment than other workers because they fear losing positions that they have worked hard for. Attorneys with experience in employment discrimination cases may seek to calm these fears by pointing out the severe penalties that employers can face for retaliating against victims. Attorneys may also remind employers of these sanctions during settlement discussions.

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