Frequent sexist wisecracks, comments and office cultures where women are ignored are just as damaging to women as single instances of sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention, according to a new study.
Researchers found that sexism and gender harassment were just as harmful to working women’s individual health and work attitudes as common job stressors such as work overload and poor working conditions.
Norms, leadership or policies that reduce intense harmful experiences may lead managers to believe that they have solved the problem of maltreatment of women in the workplace.
“However, the more frequent, less intense and often unchallenged gender harassment, sexist discrimination, sexist organisational climate and organisational tolerance for sexual harassment appeared at least as detrimental for women’s wellbeing,” explained study authors Dr Victor E Sojo, Dr Robert E Wood and Anna E Genat.
“They should not be considered lesser forms of sexism,” the team stressed in a paper appeared in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly.
Through an analysis of 88 independent studies of a combined 73,877 working women, the researchers found that women are the targets of sexism and harassment in the workplace, they are more dissatisfied with supervisors than co-workers.
There was a trend of a more negative effect of sexism and harassment in male-dominated workplaces, such as the armed forces and financial and legal services firms.
The results suggest that organisations should have zero tolerance for low intensity sexism, the same way they do for overt harassment.
“This will require teaching workers about the harmful nature of low intensity sexist events, not only for women, but also for the overall organizational climate,” the authors noted.