See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil: Theorizing network silence around sexual harassment

Sandy Hershcovis*, Ivana Vranjes, Jennifer Berdahl, Lilia Cortina

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

#MeToo has inspired the voices of millions of people (mostly women) to speak up about sexual harassment at work. The high-profile cases that reignited this movement have revealed that sexual harassment is and has been shrouded in silence, sometimes for decades. In the face of sexual harassment, managers, witnesses and targets often remain silent, wittingly or unwittingly protecting perpetrators and allowing harassment to persist. In this integrated conceptual review, we introduce the concept of network silence around sexual harassment, and theorize that social network compositions and belief systems can promote network silence. Specifically, network composition (harasser and male centrality) and belief systems (harassment myths and valorizing masculinity) combine to instill network silence around sexual harassment. Moreover, such belief systems elevate harassers and men to central positions within networks, who in turn may promote problematic belief systems, creating a mutually reinforcing dynamic. We theorize that network silence contributes to the persistence of sexual harassment due to the lack of consequences for perpetrators and support for victims, which further reinforces silence. Collectively, this process generates a culture of sexual harassment. We identify ways that organizations can employ an understanding of social networks to intervene in the social forces that give rise to silence surrounding sexual harassment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021

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