The Workplace Impact of Sexual Harassment and Assault on Women

The Workplace Impact of Sexual Harassment and Assault on Women: Research Findings

In the past year, Dr. Patricia Arredondo has posted several blogs on the topics of Gender Microaggressions at Work: The Visible and Invisible (July 2018) Bullying in the Workplace (August 2018) and Historic Pervasiveness of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (November 2017). These blogs describe the microinsults that occur and the sense of disrespect experienced by the targets of bullying, sexual harassment, and “everyday microaggressions”. This month’s blog builds on contemporary sociocultural realities that affect individuals in the workplace.

Inspired by the #MeToo movement, many women around the world have found the courage to speak out about their experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Recently, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, psychologist and university professor, alleged that Justice Brett Cavanaugh sexually assaulted her while the two were in high school. While Cavanaugh went on to receive a lifetime appointment to the United States’ highest court, Dr. Ford has received numerous death threats and has been forced to leave her home for her own safety. Her experience as a professional and private citizen serves to highlight the disruption to both the lives and careers of working women who are sexually harassed or assaulted. Yet until recently, few researchers have examined the impact of harassment and assault on women’s careers. Writing for the Huffington Post, Emily Peck notes that “It’s not hard to find examples of how harassment disrupts women’s careers. Plenty of women have left who could have one day led” (2018).

Effects of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault on Women

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently published (2018) a Consensus Study Report on the consequences of the sexual harassment of women in the academic sciences, engineering, and medicine. In it, the authors note that, “the impact of sexual harassment extends across lines of industry, occupation, race, and social class.” Their research demonstrates that sexual harassment negatively impacts an individual’s physical and mental health and is associated with decreases in job satisfaction, organizational commitment, productivity, and performance.

In 2014, the RAND Military Workplace Study found that, of the active-duty women surveyed who had reported workplace sexual assaults, approximately 62 percent experienced professional or social retaliatory action. Simply stated, though reporting policies may be in place, it is not safe for women in the military to file a complaint.

A 2018 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reports that:  

  • Midlife women who had been victims of sexual assault were almost three times more likely to have symptoms of major depression and two times more likely to suffer from anxiety than women who had not been sexually assaulted.
  • Midlife women who had been sexually harassed were two times more likely to have untreated blood pressure than those who had been sexually harassed.
  • Both categories of women were twice as likely to have trouble sleeping than those who had not been sexually harassed or assaulted. (Thurston, et al., 2018).

The results of these studies quantify what women have known for many years: that sexual harassment and assault can negatively affect mental and physical health, as well as derail a promising career.

Creating a Safer Workplace

The key findings of a study by the Center for Talent Innovation (2018), conducted in the wake of the #MeToo movement, suggest that employers can help change this narrative. The authors suggest that companies:

  • Enforce a zero-tolerance policy for workplace harassment and assault
  • Be more transparent in their handling of incident reports and responses
  • Improve sexual misconduct and gender discrimination training
  • Periodically conduct workplace climate surveys

The Arredondo Advisory Group can help managers create a safer, more supportive workplace for your employees through employee training and policy advising. Write to us confidentially at



Center for Talent Innovation (2018). Key Findings – What #MeToo Means for Corporate America.[retrieved October 12, 2018).

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2018). Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and

Medicine. First Edition. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 2018.

National Defense Research Institute (2014). Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment in the U.S. Military: Top-Line Estimates for Active-Duty Service Members from the 2014 RAND Military Workplace Study. RAND Corporation, 2014.

Peck, Emily. “Everyone Missed a Key Reason There Are So Few Women Leaders.”  Huffington Post October 2, 2018. (accessed October 12, 2018).

Thurston, R., et al. (2018). Association of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault With Midlife Women’s Mental and Physical Health. JAMA Intern Med. Published online October 3, 2018.

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