Researchers: Society Struggles to Define Harassment

This week, independent investigators released a report that confirmed Sports Illustrated’s bombshell about widespread harassment in the Dallas Mavericks business office.

“It saddened me more than surprised me,” said Jim Quick, Professor of Leadership & Organizational Behavior in the Department of Management at The University of Texas at Arlington.

In 1998, Quick helped review three studies on sexual harassment for a report in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. In 2017, he and M. Ann McFadyen revisited the issue. Nearly 20 years later, little has changed. Harassment at work is still under-reported and is still a chronic health concern, say the researchers.

Quick says society struggles to define sexual harassment and understand what's often behind it.

“Sexual harassment is an abuse of power problem. So the regulation of power and the management of power is really at the heart of the sexual abuse problem,” said Quick. “It's not about sex.”

Quick says employers need to understand the psychology, establish surveillance systems to monitor people for signs of abuses of power.

That's in addition to establishing good reporting systems to send concerns to managers who can take action.

“It’s incumbent upon management all the way through an organization to communicate up about the problem,” explained Quick.

“In healthy organizations, these problems will occur in a small percentage of the time but they get surfaced, they get addressed and they will get resolved,” added Quick.

Over the last year, the #MeToo movement has shed more light on harassment, sex abuse and assault. Quick calls it a national catharsis that will ultimately help bring change.

“You can't solve a problem when its buried,” he said.

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