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Minority Women Subjected to Double Harassment

March 22 2006 - Minority women are facing a 'double jeopardy' of harassment in the workplace, according to new research from the University of Toronto.

The study, by Professor Jennifer Berdahl of the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management and Celia Moore, a PhD candidate, is claimed to be the first to empirically document the cumulative effect of racial and sexual harrassment. They tested the "double jeopardy hypothesis", that women who are visible minorities face a double dose of harassment in the workplace, based on both sex and ethnicity.

Berdahl and Moore surveyed workers at three male-dominated manufacturing plants and three female-dominated social service organizations.

"If you add up their sexual and ethnic harassment," said Professor Berdahl, "minority women are harassed more than others." The researchers focused on two theories of harassment:

  • Additive - predicting that minority women face harassment that is the sum of their status as women and as minorities, and
  • Multiplicative - suggesting that sex and race are not independent categories and, therefore, predicting that minority women face compounded harassment.

Berdahl and Moore found that their data supported the additive theory, but Berdahl suspects that further research using a larger sample may favour the multiplicative theory.

Published in the March issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology, the study was also the first to examine the prevalence of "not-man-enough" harassment among women. Jennifer Berdahl said:

"Not-man-enough harassment is shorthand for making somebody feel like they're not tough enough, calling them a wimp, telling them they're too sensitive. It's been conceptualized as something that happens to men, primarily from other men."

The researchers did not find any sex differences in the experience of this sort of harassment - it happened to women as much as to men. However, both men and women of colour were more likely to be targeted. This suggests that ethnicity plays a role in this type of sexual harassment.

"Right now our prototype of a sexual harassment victim is a white woman and our prototype of a victim of racism in the workplace is a black man," said Professor Berdahl. She expressed the hope that policy-makers and HR professionals will pay heed to the propensity for minority women to be particularly vulnerable to harassment in the workplace.

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