Women’s typically more vulnerable economic position limits their freedom to complain about workplace conditions, including episodes of sexual harassment. One important reason is the fear of losing a much needed job. Burrell and Hearn (1989) state that women’s lack of organizational power coupled with their need for work exacerbates the likelihood of harassment. Without these factors, they state, acts of harassment would be made more difficult.
The vulnerability of many women workers is exemplified in the story of a mother of four who was working at a steel company, earning 25,000 dollars a year. A male colleague several times over the years flirted with her. She at the time was married. Later, the woman was promoted and the man became her direct supervisor. In the meantime, she had divorced and was supporting her family on one income. She stated her supervisor knew about her vulnerable position and took advantage of it. She reported he harassed her during several months and eventually fired her because she refused to consent to his advances (“Award in Bay Sexual Harassment Case,” 1985). This woman’s dependence on her job, her subsequent dependence on the man, and the abuse of power provided the opportunity for sexual harassment to occur.
Even if they do not fear being fired, women may fear that a complaint will make it difficult if not impossible for them to continue to perform their jobs because of retribution from others within the organization. Instead of being rewarded for their courage, complainants may be labeled as whistle blowers and punished (Koss, 1990). When complainants suffer from retribution, double victimization has occurred. A woman who steps out of her role by reporting harassment is violating both her subordinate role as an employee, an organizational status, and her subordinate role as a woman, a gender-based status. Data from several surveys indicate women who were harassed complained of different forms of retribution, such as psychological abuse by members of the organization, public ridicule, denial of promotions, shunning by coworkers, and the loss of social support by colleagues (Koss, 1990).