Industrial Psychiatry Journal

: 2011  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 21--24

Gender differences in perception of workplace sexual harassment among future professionals

Amitav Banerjee, Bhavana Sharma 
 Department of Community Medicine, MBBS Part III, D. Y. Patil Medical College, Pune, Maharashtra, India

Correspondence Address:
Amitav Banerjee
Department of Community Medicine, D. Y. Patil Medical College, Pune - 411 018, Maharashtra


Background: Indian society is in a stage of rapid social transition. As more women enter the workforce, stresses vis-à-vis the genders are to be expected in patriarchal society to which most of our population belongs. Earlier studies in Western societies have revealed gender differences in perception of what constitutes sexual harassment. Aim: Elicit gender differences, if any, in the workplace sexual harassment among future professionals. Settings and Design: A cross-sectional study among the students of professional colleges. Materials and Methods: A total of 200 students of both sexes were randomly selected from four professional colleges. Data collection was done on a structured questionnaire by interview. Statistical Analysis: Internal consistency of the questionnaire was tested by Crohnbach«SQ»s α coefficient. Associations between gender and perceptions were explored with Chi-square, Odds Ratio with 95% confidence interval, where applicable. Results: The differences in perception on what constitutes sexual harassment among the genders were statistically significant on many measures (P<0.01). Conclusions: Men and women differ in their awareness as to what constitute sexual harassment. Men were more lacking in awareness regarding sexual harassment.

How to cite this article:
Banerjee A, Sharma B. Gender differences in perception of workplace sexual harassment among future professionals.Ind Psychiatry J 2011;20:21-24

How to cite this URL:
Banerjee A, Sharma B. Gender differences in perception of workplace sexual harassment among future professionals. Ind Psychiatry J [serial online] 2011 [cited 2019 Jun 26 ];20:21-24
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Full Text

Sexual harassment at the workplace has been investigated mostly in developed countries barring a few exceptions. [1] Even in developed countries where sexual harassment in the workplace has been extensively studied, [2],[3],[4],[5] empirical research has not led to firm conclusions about its antecedents and consequences, both at the personal and organizational levels. [2] Studies have established that even mild sexual harassment such as crude comments or sexiest jokes over time can cause significant psychological distress. [3] One major problem in occupational sexual harassment is its perceptual nature. Men and women may differ in what they perceive to be sexual harassment. Powell [5] emphasized that the impact of gender needs to be studied, as his study indicated that men perceived fewer behaviors as sexual harassment.

Other investigators also concluded that women have broader definition of sexual harassment than men, have more negative attitudes, are less tolerant and consider teasing, looks, gestures, unnecessary physical contact and remarks to be sexual harassment. [6],[7],[8] They also perceive it as a more serious problem than men.

Indian society is in a stage of rapid social transition. Women are entering the workforce even in occupations which were erstwhile regarded as exclusively men's domain. Stresses vis-à-vis the genders are to be expected in patriarchal society to which most of our population belongs. The present study was undertaken to explore the gender differences in awareness of workplace sexual harassment among future professionals.

 Materials and Methods

Study site

The study was conducted in professional institutions in the industrial township of Pimpri-Chinchwad, Pune.

Study design

A cross-sectional study design was used.

Definition of sexual harassment

The Supreme Court of India in the Vishakha judgment in 1997 has defined sexual harassment at the workplace as any unwelcome sexually determined behavior such as physical contact, a demand or request for sexual favors, sexually colored remarks, showing pornography or any other physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature. If the respondent could tick all these options in the structured questionnaire as amounting to sexual harassment, it was considered as complete knowledge of the definition of sexual harassment.

Development of a rough scale

Based on the inputs from a pilot study, questions were framed to compile a scale (questionnaire) to measure awareness of sexual harassment at the workplace.

Validation of the scale and collection of data

The questionnaire as developed above was administered to a larger sample. Stratified random sample was drawn from four colleges in the study area imparting professional education (engineering, nursing, dental and medical). The sample size was 200 (50 final year students; 25 males and 25 females; selected by random sample, stratified for gender, from each college). Crohnbach α coefficient was used to measure the internal consistency of the scale. The scale was refined after pretesting. Crohnbach α was again ascertained on the refined scale. The Crohnbach α for the refined scale with 17 items was 0.7, indicating satisfactory internal consistency. The scale was used to collect data on awareness about workplace sexual harassment among the 200 study participants.

Statistical analysis

Descriptive statistics were expressed with help of percentages for nominal scale and with mean and SD for quantitative scale. For inferential statistics, analysis was carried out to explore associations between level of awareness of sexual harassment and gender. Chi-square and Odds Ratio with 95% confidence intervals (CI) were employed where applicable.

The statistical software packages used for data entry and analysis were SPSS 15, and EPI INFO 2002.

Ethical issues

Ethical approval for the study was obtained from the institutional ethics committee. Informed consent to participate in the study was also taken from each participant.


Description of the study subjects

Professional course

All the subjects were final year students pursuing four professional courses, i.e. medical, dental, nursing and engineering. There was more or less equal representation of the four professions [Table 1].{Table 1}

Age profile of the study participants

The mean age of the study population was 21.21 years with standard deviation (SD) of 1.69 years. The minimum age was 19 years and the maximum was 28 years. Both the median and mode were 21 years.

Gender and awareness of meaning of sexual harassment

Interestingly, more women were aware of the different behaviors which can constitute sexual harassment compared to men. This difference was statistically significant [Table 2].{Table 2}

Response to the question of whether women are responsible for their own harassment

The response to this is shown in [Table 3]. The difference in perception is obvious besides being statistically significant; more men tended to think that women are responsible for their harassment.{Table 3}

Gender wise response to the question of whether women enjoy eve teasing

As for the earlier question, more men tended to think so, compared to female respondents as shown in [Table 4]. These differences were again statistically significant (P<0.001).{Table 4}

Gender difference on opinion regarding women's dresses

This is given in [Table 5]. Men had more conservative views on how a woman should dress compared to women. They were of the opinion that some women dress in a manner which attracts attention which leads to sexual harassment.{Table 5}

Gender difference on interpretation of a woman's response

Gender difference was also seen in interpreting a woman's negative response. More men compared to women tended to think that when a woman says "no"' she means "yes". This difference in perception is shown in [Table 6].{Table 6}

Gender wise response to whether women doing work which were traditionally done by men should expect some harassment?

Perception differences gender wise on this aspect are shown in [Table 7]. Male respondents expected harassment of women at the workplace in such situations more than female respondents. The difference was significant statistically (P=0.003).{Table 7}

Personal experience of sexual harassment in the past

Female subjects were definitely more likely to have faced sexual harassment. However, 8% of the male respondents also reported personal experience of some form of sexual harassment in the past as shown in [Table 8].{Table 8}


The results of the study should be viewed against the following social context.

Indian society is passing through a period of rapid social transition. Traditionally, it is a patriarchal society with unequal gender equations. It is a matter of shame for us that in some parts of the country there is still honor killing of young women who try to assert themselves regarding important decisions concerning their lives. The male:female ratio in some parts of the country hints at female feticides. The state continues desperately to prevent these social pathologies. Against the background of these traditional views, fast pace of globalization is bringing rapid changes in the attitudes of the younger generation, particularly women who are now seeking equal opportunities in education and employment and are being more assertive.

It is a matter of concern that only 33.5% of the respondents could completely define what constitutes sexual harassment at the workplace. An important finding is that more women (43%) fully defined what constitutes sexual harassment compared to males (24%). This may be because men and women differ in what they perceive as sexual harassment. Other workers have reported similar trends. [9],[10],[11],[12]

The perceptions and views of male respondents on workplace sexual harassment differed significantly from those of female respondents across a large number of issues. Women had more complete awareness of what constitutes sexual harassment. Compared to female participants, male respondents tended to think more frequently that in many cases women themselves are to some extent responsible for their harassment at the workplace, for example, by dressing to attract attention, taking jobs which were traditionally a man's domain and so on.

These different perceptions of men and women can be due to the communication gap and much misunderstanding at the workplace. Due to more tolerant perceptions, men may unknowingly commit acts which construe sexual harassment. Therefore, there is need to create awareness in future professionals, particularly among men, regarding the full definition of sexual harassment. There is also need to inculcate the values of gender equality in a rapidly changing world order perhaps from the school level. Such a healthy social environment where women do not feel any inhibition or fear of sexual harassment at the workplace would enable them to work to their full potential, contributing enormously to society. Such attitudinal changes are urgently indicated since more and more women are entering the workplace in a rapidly changing global scenario.


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