Research Political Sciences

The Double Penalty of Women Harassed at Work

, by Fabio Todesco
They are not only victims of abuse but are often forced to quit their jobs in order to avoid them, Caroline Coly states. In environments where sexist comments are tolerated, women are 40 times more likely to be assaulted

In every single year, 12% of women fall victims to toxic behaviors at work, including sexist comments, sexual or physical harassment, or violence, with sexual harassment and violence involved in41% of these episodes. To make things worse, this translates into a double penalty for women, as they are not only more likely to endure toxic behaviors but are also forced to quit their jobs in order to avoid them, according to a paper based on French data, co-authored by Caroline Coly, Postdoc Researcher at Bocconi's AXA Research Lab on Gender Equality.

In their paper, published in the Dondena Working Paper Series, Caroline Coly, Cyprien Batut (Chaire Travail PSE, Direction Generale du Trésor), and Sarah Schneider-Strawczynski (Paris School of Economics) use a representative survey of about 11,500 employed French women to assess the prevalence of toxic behaviors and to investigate what may affect the likelihood of being harassed in the workplace.

They not only find that women frequently suffer from a variety of toxic behaviors but also that environments in which apparently minor misbehavior such as jokes about women are tolerated turn out to be more at risk for major episodes. The women who report often hearing derogatory remarks or jokes about women are 15 times more likely to report having obscene remarks made to them, 130 times more likely to report being made sexual propositions, and 40 times more likely to report having been physically or sexually assaulted than those who never hear such remarks.

Women appear to be more at-risk in some specific sectors, such as in the accommodation and catering industries and the risk of harassment is correlated with lower hourly wages. Women who report toxic behaviors are also more likely to work in companies with higher male representation and higher male executive or CEO representation.

Coly and her co-authors also use the onset of the #MeToo movement as an exogenous shock on social norms regarding violence against women in the workplace. In 2017, the #MeToo movement exposed the existence of a culture of abuse in the workplace for women. Starting with several actresses accusing the film producer Harvey Weinstein of rape and sexual harassment in work-related contexts, the #MeToo movement took off worldwide as women shared their experiences of sexual violence in their daily and working life.

In terms of worker flows, the #MeToo resulted in an increase in the relative exit probability of women in high-risk establishments. This suggests that #MeToo increased awareness among women in toxic work environments and, at least in the short term, that their working conditions did not improve sufficiently to prevent them from leaving in higher numbers.

"By durably changing norms of what is acceptable in the workplace for women, the #MeToo movement, at least in the short term, may have increased the double penalty," Caroline Coly concludes. "This social movement did not appear to have altered the norms surrounding the culture of abuse that predominates in some workplaces, at least at the medium-run. This demonstrates, however, that a social movement can still contribute to raising awareness and pushing women out of toxic situations where they would have remained for longer without it."

Cyprien Batut , Caroline Coly , Sarah Schneider-Strawczynski. "It's a man's world: culture of abuse, #MeToo and worker flows." Dondena Working Paper No 149.