harassment, destroyed careers, and returns to human capital

One of the consequences of #metoo is the burst of media stories about victims of harassment and abuse. One such story is about the actress Anabelle Sciora, whose career was on the rise before she was allegedly assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. Friends describe her withdrawal and decline in Hollywood.

This story shares much in common with our reports of violence and abuse. One feature of the experience is that people often withdraw from their social or work world after assault. I am not an expert on violent crimes, but this seems to be a very understandable reaction.

This leads to the major question of this post. If harassment and violence are common occurrences in many workplaces and withdrawal is a common response, to what degree are women’s, and men’s to a lesser extent, careers destroyed by workplace harassment and violence? I have no idea what the answer would look like, but it could potentially be high. In a hypothetical situation, if, say, 10% of men in a workplace are constantly harassing people with impunity, it could very easily decimate the female workforce in that organization or profession. And considering that many institutions, like universities, have poor track records in limiting or responding to even very serious harassment, it is worth considering how workplace environments may lead to notable wage and attainment gaps.

This is a tough question, and I welcome comments that can help address it.

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Written by fabiorojas

December 11, 2017 at 5:01 am

Posted in fabio, gender, workplace

4 Responses

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  1. Yes. Virtually all women have been subjected to some degree of harassment and some women have suffered substantial harm from it. This is likely to be a substantial factor in career differences. Similar patterns hold for racial harassment and other forms of bullying and harassment as well, including persistent microaggressions. Many people respond by withdrawing. Others respond by staying in but being very anxious. Others respond by becoming aggressive or prickly or “oversensitive.” All of these responses hurt a marginalized person’s career. White men are tolerated when they are “difficult.” Women and minorities are punished.

    Liked by 1 person


    December 11, 2017 at 2:23 pm

  2. I have to say that I am shocked that this question is put forward as if there could be the slightest doubt that harassment in the workplace harms the victims’ careers. Harassment harms not only the careers but the entire lives of those who are subjected to it. Why would it be punishable by law, why would there be such an immense reaction to #metoo, if it didn’t literally destroy lives? It’s great that the recent #metoo movement has stimulated questions and awareness on these issues, but awareness couched in naiveté verges on insulting. And worse, it makes one wonder if even this will, in the end, change nothing.

    Liked by 2 people


    December 11, 2017 at 5:13 pm

  3. If I were to try to solve the question posed, i.e. “to what degree are women’s & men’s careers destroyed…” I would start by understanding the two industries in the headlines: Politics and the Entertainment/Media.

    The problem is that these two industries, from an outsider’s perspective, seem much different than a typical hierarchical business so it may be difficult to understand the impact of harassment on a career. In fact these two industries feel so different that it may be worthwhile understanding what factors are at play that allowed the issues to occur and how can broader society benefit from this understanding?

    The only other experiment I can think of would be to search all unsealed court records of harassment claims and following up with the victims to map career trajectory over time and compare that to non-harassed people with similar backgrounds as the victims. Hypothetically some subset of people should reach X-level of career attainment. If the proportion of the harassed population that reaches X is significantly different than the proportion of non-harassed then I would think we’d be somewhat closer to understanding the impact of harassment on career progression.



    December 11, 2017 at 8:32 pm

  4. Shouldn’t we reconsider the referral system that’s so prevalent in the high-ed system in the US? We personally know so well that some of the powerful profs are just total jerks (of course hush-hush). As long as they crunch out crap papers, get in grants, and don’t break the law, then they are well-covered. One trick they use often is to verbally harass students, but never leave any paper trail. Here I am not just talking about sexual, but also racial and ethnic. But we have to endure since all of our career depends on their reference letters/referral. Fabio, I think you should start a topic on the referral system.



    December 13, 2017 at 2:12 pm

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