The Workplace Culture In Congress Fuels Sexual Harassment

The wave of sexual harassment allegations that has rippled throughout industries — implicating Hollywood producers and stars, chefs, Olympic coaches and officials, journalists, state legislators and comedians — is now hitting Congress with a vengeance.

Even earlier than information of accusations towards Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Al Franken, a feminine member of Congress spoke out about her personal experience with harassment. Rep. Jackie Speier of California, a Democrat, stated that Congress “has been a breeding floor for a hostile work setting for a lot too lengthy.”

Speier is correct to level to office setting as a key predictor for harassment; analysis reveals that Congress has most of the substances for a piece setting the place sexual harassment is tolerated and even inspired.

Louise Fitzgerald, an emeritus professor on the University of Illinois-Chicago who developed a widely used model for measuring sexual harassment within the office, stated that there are two major environment conditions that point out harassment could also be prevalent: the “gender context” and the organizational tradition.

To measure the gender context, or steadiness, “We have a look at the ratio of males to girls within the group and the variety of girls able of management,” Fitzgerald stated. Male-dominated organizations with fewer girls total — or few girls in management roles — are likelier to allow an setting the place sexual harassment can flourish, though a gender-balanced or majority-female office isn’t assured to be freed from sexual harassment both. A 2008 study discovered that ladies are much less more likely to expertise sure sorts of harassment (resembling sexually oriented jokes, overly private communications, sexual solicitation or compelled sexual contact) in workplaces the place they’re within the majority, however they nonetheless skilled harassment within the type of sexist however nonsexual feedback.

Research has proven that that is true even when there are girls in outstanding positions of energy. Heather McLaughlin, an assistant professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University, was a co-author of a 2012 study that discovered that feminine supervisors have been likelier than feminine non-supervisors to say they’d skilled harassment. McLaughlin chalked this as much as harassment as an “equalizer.” “It’s a method of undermining a robust lady’s credibility,” she stated. “Instead of your boss, she’s just a few lady on an influence journey.”

Congress doesn’t rating properly for gender context: Only about 20 percent of members of Congress are women, and though nearly half of congressional staffers are feminine, analyses have shown that ladies are way more more likely to maintain lower-ranking roles as workplace managers or constituent representatives than to function chiefs of workers or legislative administrators.

“The energy disparities in Congress are huge,” stated Debra Katz, an legal professional who makes a speciality of sexual harassment and has represented congressional aides. She pointed to a 2016 report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that highlights the issue of “celebrity harassers,” i.e. workers who’re particularly highly effective or invaluable to a corporation and subsequently consider they’re above the foundations. “Members of Congress are by definition superstars,” she stated. “And many consider the foundations don’t apply to them.”

On organizational tradition, the opposite main indicator of a office the place sexual harassment is tolerated or inspired, Congress does poorly too. In specific, there’s the issue of what occurs after an incident happens. An absence of clear and clear procedures for reporting sexual harassment coupled with the assumption that harassers is not going to be punished, or that workers who report harassment will face skilled repercussions make for a detrimental organizational tradition, in response to Fitzgerald.

Currently in Congress, after an incident however earlier than submitting a grievance, victims are required to bear two months of counseling and “mediation,” then wait an extra 30 days earlier than submitting their grievance. The size of the method, and the method itself, have been criticized, and lawmakers resembling Speier try to alter each. The convoluted process for investigating misconduct, Fitzgerald stated, can create the impression that harassment claims aren’t taken severely.

Congress has a variety of different markers that might contribute to a hostile organizational tradition, too. A younger workforce is a danger issue, in response to the EEOC report — and a transparent crimson flag for Congress, the place 42 percent of staffers are between the ages of 21 and 24. Another drawback in Congress is that the workforce is basically decentralized: Each congressional workplace is its personal fiefdom with little accountability for members or their senior aides.

Then there’s the worry of retaliation. The competitors for positions on Capitol Hill makes workers particularly afraid to lose their jobs. “It’s not like you’ll be able to stroll down the road and get one other job with a senator,” Katz stated. “People who work in Congress appropriately understand that making these accusations can fully derail their careers.”

All of those environmental elements matter — not just for whether or not sexual harassment is tolerated, but in addition for the way victims get well after experiencing harassment and for the wellbeing of workers within the setting as an entire. According to Fitzgerald’s research, victims are much less affected by detrimental skilled and psychological results associated to harassment in the event that they really feel happy with the reporting course of, in comparison with victims in hostile workplaces. Watching co-workers expertise sexual harassment can also have a dangerous affect on workers, even when they’re not victims themselves.

“It’s like secondhand smoke,” Fitzgerald stated. “A office setting that encourages harassment hurts everybody.”

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