Just one sexual harassment claim can tarnish a company’s image, study says

Washington Post

July 3, 2018

By Jena McGregor

Even in the #MeToo era, with heightened sensitivity to sexual harassment claims and fears of damaging headlines, companies might take an allegation of sexual misconduct a little less seriously than they do a claim of financial fraud. A new study suggests – at least when it comes to their public image – maybe they should not.

In a working paper reported by the Harvard Business Review, researchers at UCLA and the University of Amsterdam found even a single allegation about sexual harassment can damage the way people view an employer. There does not need to be a Harvey Weinstein on the payroll, with multiple allegations in play, to have an effect.

Even after one alleged violation, said Serena Does, one of the paper’s co-authors, “people adjusted their perceptions of how fair the organization was to men and women in much broader terms,” she said. “What we show is that a single claim is enough to set that psychological process into gear. When people get cues like this, they adjust their perceptions of inequality.”

Across several experimental studies using participants from the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform, the researchers found participants saw organizations with a sexual harassment claim not only as less equitable than those in a control group, where no misconduct was reported, but as less equitable in those with other transgressions, such as those with financial misconduct allegations.

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