Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

What Is Fair and to Whom? Fairness Evaluations of Socio-Sexual Behavior *

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

What Is Fair and to Whom? Fairness Evaluations of Socio-Sexual Behavior *

Article excerpt

With the numbers of women in the workforce continuing to rise (U.S. Department of Labor, 2003), there is now a greater likelihood of men and women working together, resulting in the increased sexualization of the workplace (Gutek et al., 1990). Sexual harassment (SH) has been defined as any "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" (EEOC, 1980: 219). While SH has been legally defined, socio-sexual behavior is broader in scope and refers to any activity of a sexual nature such as comments on an individual's appearance, sexual jokes, and asking a co-worker for a date (Gutek et al., 1990). As such, socio-sexual behavior is more ambiguous and often not severe or pervasive enough to be legally considered SH. However, it is important to note that these types of behaviors can rise to the level of SH. Additionally, socio-sexual behavior can have wide-ranging negative consequences because it affects those directly and indirectly involved in the incident (Bowes-Sperry and Powell, 1999). Given this, socio-sexual behavior has been described as an issue that managers need to address (e.g., Gutek et al., 1990). Finally, it has been suggested that research on socio-sexual behavior needs to be integrated with more mainstream Organizational Behavior theories (Lengnick-Hall, 1995).

To further our understanding of the impact of socio-sexual behavior at work, it has been proposed that how the incident is perceived, the response taken by the target, and the subsequent outcome of that response all need to be more thoroughly examined (Knapp et al., 1997). Consequently, the present study uses justice theory to examine whether observers of a socio-sexual incident perceive the response taken by the target and the subsequent outcome as procedurally fair to those directly (target and initiator) and indirectly (workgroup) involved. In the following sections, we review justice and socio-sexual research. Specifically, we examine the role of observers in both literatures and integrate them to offer hypotheses.

Justice Theory

Justice theory considers both the fairness of procedures used to reach a decision (procedural) and the fairness of the outcomes received (distributive). In addition, researchers have also investigated how individuals react to incidents, victims of injustice, and the criteria used to judge the processes and outcomes as fair. Fair procedures are important because they signal that employees are respected, trusted, and that decisions are made in a consistent, unbiased manner and, thus, that the organization is a desirable place to work (Lind and Tyler, 1988). For procedural justice evaluations, it has been consistently found that allowing the target to have input (voice) and or some control in the processes used to reach an outcome is extremely important (Lind and Tyler, 1988). In addition, the outcome associated with the decision has also been found to impact how processes are perceived (Ambrose et al., 1991). Here it has been argued that the actions of the target, who is accountable, and the situation in which the incident took place all influence fairness evaluations (Folger and Cropanzano, 2001). Further, researchers have found that both those directly (victims) and indirectly (observers) involved in an incident tend to use the same criteria to determine whether individuals are treated fairly (Tyler, 1990).

In the justice literature, it has been found that severe negative events can have ramifications that go beyond the target of the action (i.e., Brockner et al., 1994). In part, this is because individuals often have ties that transcend their working relationships, such that they care deeply about what happens to others (Jones, 1991). Further, because individuals are concerned about issues of (in)justice (Cropanzano et al., 2001), and in particular procedural justice, it has been found that perceptions of fairness are consistent predictors of organizational and work-related outcomes (Lind and Tyler, 1988). …

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