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Minority women face "double jeopardy" of racial and sexual harassment in the workplace


Policy-makers, human resources personnel need to be aware of gender/ethnicity vulnerabilities

by Jenny Hall

Mar 21/06, New research at the University of Toronto is the first to empirically document that women who are visible minorities face a double dose of harassment in the workplace – based both on sex and ethnicity.

Professor Jennifer Berdahl of the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management and Celia Moore, a PhD student, tested the “double jeopardy hypothesis” by surveying workers at three male-dominated manufacturing plants and three female-dominated social service organizations.

“If you add up their sexual and ethnic harassment,” says Berdahl, “minority women are harassed more than others.” The researchers were interested in two theories of harassment: additive, which predicts that minority women face harassment that is the sum of their status as women and as minorities, and multiplicative, which suggests that sex and race are not independent categories and predicts that minority women would face compounded harassment. The researchers found that their data supported the additive theory, though Berdahl suspects that further research using a larger sample might lend point to the multiplicative theory as more accurate.

The study, published in the March issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology, was also the first to examine the prevalence of “not-man-enough” harassment among women. Says Berdahl, “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.” Berdahl and Moore found that there were no sex differences in the experience of this sort of harassment — that is, it happened to women as much as to men. Both men and women of colour, however, were disproportionately targeted, suggesting 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,” says Berdahl. She hopes that policy-makers and human resources professionals will pay heed to the propensity for minority women to be particularly vulnerable to harassment in the workplace.


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