The promise and peril of sexual harassment programs

Frank Dobbin, Alexandra Kalev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two decades ago, the Supreme Court vetted the workplace harassment programs popular at the time: sexual harassment grievance procedures and training. However, harassment at work remains common. Do these programs reduce harassment? Program effects have been difficult to measure, but, because women frequently quit their jobs after being harassed, programs that reduce harassment should help firms retain current and aspiring women managers. Thus, effective programs should be followed by increases in women managers. We analyze data from 805 companies over 32 y to explore how new sexual harassment programs affect the representation of white, black, Hispanic, and Asian-American women in management. We find support for several propositions. First, sexual harassment grievance procedures, shown in surveys to incite retaliation without satisfying complainants, are followed by decreases in women managers. Second, training for managers, which encourages managers to look for signs of trouble and intervene, is followed by increases in women managers. Third, employee training, which proscribes specific behaviors and signals that male trainees are potential perpetrators, is followed by decreases in women managers. Two propositions specify how management composition moderates program effects. One, because women are more likely to believe harassment complaints and less likely to respond negatively to training, in firms with more women managers, programs work better. Two, in firms with more women managers, harassment programs may activate group threat and backlash against some groups of women. Positive and negative program effects are found in different sorts of workplaces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12255-12260
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number25
StatePublished - 18 Jun 2019


  • Exual harassment
  • Grievance procedure
  • Harassment training
  • Workforce diversity

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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