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Photo of Michelle Cohen Levy

Being the boss is no barrier to sexual harassment

On Behalf of | Feb 25, 2023 | Firm News |

When you think of sexual harassment in the workplace, what’s the first image to come to mind? If you think of a young, female secretary being chased around the desk by an older male boss, you’re not alone. That’s the stereotypical image, because it pits someone with power (the boss) against someone without (the secretary).

That kind of imagery is deceptive, however. The reality is that women bosses are actually more likely to experience sexual harassment on the job than women in subordinate positions.

Harassment is 30% to 100% more common when you’re one of the bosses

A study that looked at sexual harassment in the United States, Sweden and Japan discovered that women in leadership roles face strikingly similar problems. Climbing higher up the corporate ladder doesn’t decrease the problem of sexual harassment – it increases it.

Why would this be so? There are several different reasons that could be in play. First, it’s important to remember that sexual harassment is about power. Women moving into leadership roles may be perceived as a threat by some of their male counterparts, especially in male-dominated fields. They may retaliate through sexual harassment in order to assert a sense of power over the situation.

In addition, a woman in a leadership role may experience harassment from their male subordinates because the men either believe she didn’t earn her position fairly or they simply want to show her that she isn’t “out of reach.”

Finally, women in supervisory roles are often shamed or scared into silence, when they’re harassed, which makes them vulnerable targets. They may feel (or know) that admitting to sexual harassment will make them seem weak or unable to handle their subordinates (and, thus, their job).

When you’re a woman in the workforce, it’s hard not to be conscious of how common sexual harassment can be. If you’ve been victimized by unwanted advancements or other hostile sexual behavior by someone at work, find out more about your legal options.