Academic Minute Podcast

Samantha Dodson, University of British Columbia – The Morality of Himpathy for Sexual Harassers

Women in the workplace still fight an uphill battle to report sexual harassment.

Samantha Dodson, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia, explores why.

Dr. Samantha Dodson is a postdoctoral fellow in the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. Her research broadly focuses on how employees’ cognitions and emotions affect their interpersonal outcomes, with an emphasis on understanding the causes, consequences, and alleviation of women’s distress in organizations.

The Morality of Himpathy for Sexual Harassers

Notable progress has been made in addressing workplace sexual harassment following the #MeToo Movement. However, it is still common for men accused of misconduct to receive support and avoid repercussions. In contrast, women who make these complaints often experience severe retaliation. To understand why this happens, my colleagues and I researched how moral values bias peoples’ emotions and motivations to resolve injustice in favor of the accused rather than the accuser.

Building on the idea that people who highly value respect for authority, ingroup loyalty, and purity can view behavior that threatens the stability of groups and institutions as immoral, we theorize that sexual harassment allegations against men in positions of authority could be offensive to those who endorse these values. In a series of five studies, we found that individuals who highly value authority, loyalty, and purity are more likely to feel himpathy or sympathy toward men accused of sexual misconduct and anger toward their accusers. Himpathy is associated with less desire to punish the perpetrator and greater willingness to penalize the accusing victim. These moral concerns seem to flip the expected narrative on its head: the accused is construed as the victim, and his accuser is seen as the villain.

Our findings suggest that a small yet influential subset of employees is prone to more hostile moral reactions toward victims in support of perpetrators. The willingness of some to sympathize with the perpetrator potentially allows for misconduct to continue and helps explain why many who report sexual harassment experience backlash. Our experimental results suggest managers stay neutral or support the victim when allegations are made to prevent additional harm. We hope this work will lead to more equitable outcomes for victims who come forward and perpetrators when warranted.

Read More:
[Informs Pubs Online] – Moral Foundations, Himpathy, and Punishment Following Organizational Sexual Misconduct Allegations


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