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Social Scientists Discuss Causes and Solutions of Workplace Harassment

Workplace harassment remains pervasive, hurting individuals and costing companies millions.

Earlier this month, social scientists gathered to discuss harassment and its causes at the first meeting of U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission’s Select Task Force on Workplace Harassment.

One of the largest factors is organizational climate, said Dr. Mindy Bergman, an associate professor of psychology at Texas A&M University, according to the EEOC.

“When an organization is more tolerant of harassing behavior, more harassing behavior occurs,” Dr. Bergman said, according to the EEOC report.

Studies have shown that strict management norms and a climate that’s intolerant of offensive behavior can inhibit harassment — “even by those with a propensity toward such conduct,” said Dr. Lilia Cortina, professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan.

Companies often respond by providing training, but it doesn’t always stop harassment, said Dr. Eden King, psychology professor at George Mason University, according to the EEOC.

Training done in-person is more effective than online training, research shows, according to the EEOC, and it’s especially helpful if it “lasts more than four hours and includes role-playing that puts the trainee in the place of a stigmatized co-worker” and is combined with specific goals set by a manager.

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