Sexual Harassment at the Workplace

Purpose of the study

The purpose of this study was to investigate the role played by individual factors (gender, age, previous sexual harassment experiences, age) and organizational factors (for example, policies of sexual harassment, gender ration, employer’s role) in influencing the attitudes that workers have towards sexual harassment perceptions. The study wished to either prove or disapprove three hypotheses. First, the authors argued that younger respondents have a higher tolerance level to sexual harassment attitudes. Secondly, the study held a theory that sexual harassment negativity is more prevalent amongst the men, in comparison with women. Nonetheless, the study maintained that variations between the two genders (male and female) would not be affected by work environment. Thirdly, the study wished to test the hypothesis that sexual harassment experience is quite high amongst women, young respondents, as well as workers in organisations that have a predominantly male workforce.

Literature review

It is not easy to build up a consistent definition of sexual harassment, given that there are varied types of behaviors that refer to this term. Repeated date requests, remarks that are sexual in nature, staring, whistles as well as sexual propositions constitute sexual harassment of the mild form. Even as researcher concur on the existence of sexual harassment cases that borders on the extreme, nevertheless it has not always been easy for them to define with clarity, the more ambiguous and milder types of sexual harassment. Furthermore, sexual harassment perceptions have been seen to differ across the gender divide, with women viewing an increasingly large number of behaviors as constituting sexual harassment, in comparison with their male counterparts. Nonetheless, researchers are still debating over the scope of the perceived gender differences.

Not much research has been carried out on age trends, as these impacts on the attitudes of individuals concerning the issue of sexual harassment. Even then, there are scholars who have found out that the level of tolerance towards sexual harassment appears to decrease with an increase in age. There is extensive documented research in literature that has sought to explore variations across the gender divide concerning the perceptions and attitudes of individuals towards sexual harassment. Accordingly, researchers have arrived at a conclusion that in general, the level of tolerance towards sexual harassment is higher amongst men, in comparison with women.

Women get easily flattered by sexual overtures, in comparison with men. At an individual level, sexual harassment by females is far more welcome than undesirable advances from males. Moreover, an increasingly higher number of women are likely to report cases of sexual harassment at the place of work, in comparison with men. Research indicates an association between on the one hand, sexual harassment perpetrators based on gender and on the other hand, the attitudes that such individuals have, regarding the issue of sexual harassment.

Description of experimental method

Subject selection: Selection of study participants was based on random sampling, whereby the respondents constituted 10 percent of the entire population of the organisation under study.

Instrument used: The study made use of a semi-structure research questionnaire for purposes of data collection.

Study design: The descriptive study design adopted by this research was aimed at assessing the perceptions and attitudes that workers hold regarding the issue of sexual harassment at the place of work, in Australia. Accordingly, a number of individual factors (for example, gender, gender role, age, as well as prior sexual harassment experiences) were evaluated.

This was with a view to helping the researchers predict the attitudes of workers regarding sexual harassment, along with their perceptions of the behaviors that they deemed as comprising sexual harassment.

Procedure: Based on the population of the organization, 10 percent of the entire workforce in the larger organization was selected randomly, and a questionnaire administered. The chosen participants then filled out the questionnaire anonymously. In this case, there was a questionnaire for managers, and another for the workers, and participants were required to choose the questionnaire based on their job status. The questionnaire completion took a total of 40 minutes. The study procedure for the second study was similar to that of the first.

Study results: The study revealed that compared to men, women were more likely to regard more behaviors as comprising sexual harassment. This revelation has also been noted by previous studies. Both gender role and masculinity individually predicted workers’ attitudes toward sexual harassment. Individually, masculinity and gender role were found to be predictors of the attitudes of workers on the issue of sexual harassment. The type of organization was also found to influence the perception and experiences regarding sexual harassment. The different forms of sexual harassment that the participants had encountered for the past 12 months did not differ significantly across the gender divide. On the other hand, the level of tolerance to sexual harassment was exceedingly more for the men, as opposed to the women. The correlation between the perceptions held by workers regarding sexual harassment, relative to their attitude on the same was found to be significant. The level of tolerance to sexual harassment increased with an increase in the ability of the participant to identify those vignettes that are perceived to add up to sexual harassment.


Just like with the participants form the white-collar firm, their counterparts from the blue-collar firm, the types of sexual harassment that the participants reported were mild in nature. The number of women likely to report sexual harassment was more when compared to that of men. Workers from both firms that exhibited low levels of tolerant towards sexual harassment were also less likely to report their experiences with sexual harassment. In general, sexual harassment amongst workers from the blue-collar firms was higher than that reported by participants from the white-collar firm. However, sexual behaviors did not differ from one organization to the other. Participants drawn from the first study (white-collar firm) had the perception that their firm had a low level of tolerance towards sexual harassment. In addition, they also exhibited low levels of tolerance to sexual harassment. Furthermore, they were seen to view more behaviors as constituting sexual harassment, when compared to participants drawn from study 2.


Organization factors that impacts on the in attitudes and perceptions of sexual harassment at the place of work varies from one organisation to the other. Nonetheless, the organisation factors that this study revealed bore a correlation with factors that have been discovered by previous studies. As the authors have noted, “If workers who tolerate sexual harassment perceive less behavior as sexual harassment, they may perpetrate sexual harassment without realizing the offensiveness or negative consequences of their behavior” (McCabe & Hardman, 2005, p.720). It is therefore important that organisation draws a clear line between what may be regarded as sexual harassment at the workplace, and behaviors that can be tolerated. This may be achieved by training procedures meant to create recognition to the employees on sexual harassment and hopefully, reduce incidents of its occurrence.


McCabe, M. P, & Hardman, L. (2005). Attitudes and Perceptions of Workers to Sexual Harassment. The Journal of Social Psychology, 145(6): 719–740

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