There's a Policy for That: A Comparison of the Organizational Culture of Workplaces Reporting Incidents of Sexual Harassment

By Hertzog, Jodie L.; Wright, David et al. | Behavior and Social Issues, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

There's a Policy for That: A Comparison of the Organizational Culture of Workplaces Reporting Incidents of Sexual Harassment


Hertzog, Jodie L., Wright, David, Beat, Debra, Behavior and Social Issues


ABSTRACT: It has been more than 25 years since the Equal Employment Opportunity Council first published guidelines on sexual harassment. In response, many companies developed policies and procedures for dealing with harassment in their workplaces. The impact of sexual harassment policies on changing workplace culture has been met with mixed findings. The current study investigates the environmental differences or organizational cultures of companies holding formal sexual harassment policies using organizational level data (2002 National Organization Survey). Logistic regressions compared organizations with and without formal complaints on organizational structure, worker power, and interpersonal climate variables. Findings indicated the importance of negative interpersonal climate variables (threatening, bullying, and incivility) in differentiating companies who experience formal complaints of sexual harassment from those that do not.

KEYWORDS: sexual harassment; policy; organizational culture

It has been more than 25 years since the Equal Employment Opportunity Council (EEOC) first published guidelines on sexual harassment. These guidelines have been instrumental in clarifying the behaviors constituting the two forms of sexual harassment under Title VII, namely, quid pro quo (occurring between a superior and a subordinate where sexual favors are demanded in exchange for promotions, reviews, or continued retention) and hostile environment (where nonverbal, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature interferes with an individual's work performance and creates an intimidating, offensive, or hostile work environment) (Bell et al. 2002; EEOC 1990; Welsh 1999). The guidelines also advise organizations to take action by developing explicit policies and procedures for addressing sexual harassment in the workplace, a necessary step in avoiding legal liability (Clardy, 2003; Daniel, 2003; EEOC, 1990, Sherwyn and Tracey, 1998). Considering sexual harassment lawsuits can cost companies tens of thousands to millions of dollars per case (EEOC, 2006), many organizations have taken the EEOC's advice to heart. Empirical findings are mixed, however, as to whether having a policy is enough to deter incidents of sexual harassment in and of itself (Bergman, Langhout, Palmieri, Cortina, & Fitzgerald, 2002; Bond, 1995; Gruber, 1998; Pierce, Rosen, & Hiller, 1997; Reese & Lindenberg, 2004). As behavior analysts are well aware, "behavior is a function of interactions between a person and that person's environment" (Brethower, 2002). Building upon existing research, the current study compares the environmental culture of companies holding formal sexual harassment policies in order to explore what organizational-level factors may contribute to the occurrence of formal incidents of sexual harassment.

While definitions of organizational culture vary, Denison's (1996) theoretical review proposes that "culture refers to the deep structure of organizations, which is rooted in the values, beliefs, and assumptions held by organizational members" (p. 624). Taking this definition one step further, Bumstead and Boyce (2005), suggested that a behavioral operationalization of organizational culture should include "the interaction between environmental variables, organizational practices, and the consequences of those practices" (p. 45). Over the years, sexual harassment researchers have given increasing attention to organizational culture through their investigation of the structural risk factors, or contingency-specifying stimuli (Myers, 1995; Signal & Taylor, 2008), related to the experience of sexual harassment. Such research may help contextualize the findings that despite a nine-fold increase in the sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC from the late 1980s thru 2003 (EEOC 2004), most targets of sexual harassment do not file any formal charges (Bell et al. 2002; Peirce et al. 1997; Welsh 1999). The next section of this paper will briefly review some of the organizational dynamics that have been identified as potential risk factors for sexual harassment. …

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