Gender Identity, Reasonable Woman Standard, Leadership, and Sexual Harassment Prevention: Perspectives from an Indian Organization

By Vijayan Munusamy, Abinash Panda and Sangeeta Mathur.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In this study, we investigated how gender identity influences individual perceptions about the seriousness of workplace sexual harassment incidences and recommendations as to how leaders should act in such situations. We used a sample of 233 employees from a global software company in India. Sixty-five percent of the respondents were male and thirty-five percent were female. We used an instrument that was validated in the Indian context. Contrary to what the social identity theory and the notion of ‘reasonable woman standard’ would predict, we found that both male and female employees perceived sexual harassment incidences involving sexually suggestive remarks, offensive jokes and physical touch in the workplace as ‘serious.’ They also converged on the ranking of helpful and harmful leadership actions. However, they did differ in their intensity for two of the four most helpful leadership actions: respect and equality. Female employees rated actions involving respect and equality as significantly more helpful than the male employees; suggesting that women’s standard for respect and equality in the workplace is perhaps higher than men’s. These divergences suggest that leaders need to strive harder towards the ‘reasonable woman standard’ of respect and equality. As gender identity can ‘bind and blind’ one’s perception of respect and equality, leaders need to actively seek both men and women’s participation in the formulation of sexual harassment prevention policies. The findings also indicate that leaders should not avoid confronting sexual harassment incidences in the workplace (e.g. ‘do-nothing’ about them or ‘sweeping them under the carpet’). As many incidences of sexual harassment often go unreported; managers do not have the luxury of ‘doing nothing’ and instead have a higher responsibility to ‘do something’ and to ‘do everything possible’ towards cultivating the culture of respect and equality in the workplace.

Keywords: Sexual Harassment, Gender Identity, Reasonable Woman Standard, Respectful Person Standard, Leadership, Social Identity, Respect, Equality, India

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 7, Issue 5, pp.185-196. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 609.477KB).

Vijayan Munusamy

Senior Research Associate, Research and Innovation, Center for Creative Leadership, Singapore

Vijayan Munusamy is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Creative Leadership®-Asia. He started his career as a Mechanical Engineer in Malaysia and made his first “cultural crossing” after observing that many of the conflicts in the workplace and in society are due to cultural misunderstandings. Recognizing cultural education as a powerful tool to advance multicultural understanding, he founded a social enterprise to promote the sharing of children’s stories from different cultures in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The lessons he learned from this experience and the need to develop theoretical, methodological and experiential expertise in cross-cultural issues led him to make his second “cultural crossing” toward becoming a Degree Fellow at the East-West Center, Hawaii and a PhD student at The University of Hawaii. His recent publication includes a book chapter in “Teaching about Asian Pacific Islanders: Effective Activities, Strategies, and Assignments for Classrooms and Workshops (AltaMira Press, 2006). An Asian Development Bank scholar and a recipient of The Wall Street Journal Student Achievement Award, he has been recognized numerous times for his achievement in academic, work and community service.

Abinash Panda

Post Doctoral Research Fellow, Research and Training, Tata Management Training Center, Pune, India

Abinash Panda is a Post Doctoral Research Fellow with Tata Management Training Center. Prior to joining Tata Management Training Center, Pune, he was a faculty member with XLRI school of Management, in the area of Organizational Behaviour. He is a Fellow of Management Development Institute, Gurgaon, India. He is also a graduate of International University of Japan (IUJ) specializing in Comparative Business and Management. He has published around 25 papers in peer reviewed journals of international and national repute like International Journal of Indian Culture and Business Management, Asian Case Research Journal, Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, Vikalpa, Management Review, Global Business Review and so on.

Dr. Sangeeta Mathur

Senior Consultant, Research and Training, Tata Management Training Center, Pune, India

Sangeeta Mathur is a Senior Consultant at the Tata Management Training Centre (TMTC). Sangeeta holds a Doctorate in Human Development from Purdue University. After completion of her Ph.D., she worked as Assistant Professor at the University of Rochester, New York, U.S.A. She is actively involved in various Leadership research collaboration projects with TMTC and the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL), USA. The various projects include ‘Lessons of Experience’ (LOE), Factors of Executive Success and Derailment, and Bridging Cultural Boundaries.


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