Professional Ramifications of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace effects women for years, if not their whole lifetime, after the incident. Beyond the initial embarrassment women feel their trauma manifests into long-term social, economic, and mental health problems. The most immediate effect sexual harassment has in the workplace is ostracism, especially after a woman steps forward with her account. Ostracism occurs when the survivor of harassment is not included in work functions ranging from group messages to training. When one is excluded from a group they experience lower levels of social acceptance. Without social acceptance, one of the bases of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, one experiences a plethora of additional psychological symptoms. This fear of exclusion is so powerful that many women would rather delay or not report their harassment to minimize the social backlash from fellow employees [8].

In order to combat feelings of isolation, Tarana Burke created Me Too so that women who experienced abuse could have a support system and to empathize with this struggle. Ultimately, the expansion of Me Too helped women step forward with their stories of harassment and reinforced the shared experience of feeling alone is unfortunately very common among women who faced harassment [8].

Economic hardship is directly tied in with ostracization. For many women, being omitted for company events and opportunities took a toll on their career advancement. This means that they were excluded from important training or not given opportunities to gain new clients or sales [8]. This isolation adds on to the already hostile work environment created by the harasser. As a result, 38% of women have expressed that they have left their job prematurely due to factors related to harassment and 37% felt that leaving their job hindered the professional advancement. When a woman leaves her job prematurely or alters the hours she works to avoid unpleasant behavior she loses out pay and the ability to gain wealth [9].

Anita Hill faced both economic and social hardships after speaking out against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Hill, who was a professor of law at The University of Oklahoma. Upon her return to the university, she faced backlash from students and faculty alike receiving racist letters and pleas for her resignation. Within her professional sphere, her peers started distancing themselves from her harming her career. Ultimately, she left her tenured post at University of Oklahoma and her home state to remove herself from the turmoil [8].

Experiencing sexual harassment leaves a lasting impact on mental health. Sexual harassment itself can be traumatizing. Some of the effects include anxiety, depression, burnout, low self-esteem, and lower life satisfaction. These effects can be dramatically increased depending on whether women report their harasser or not [10]. As mentioned earlier, women who report their harasser and face backlash from their peers see “lower feelings of belongingness” which ultimately affects mental health [8]. As a result, women who respond “confrontationally” to sexual harassment (reporting the perpetrator) experience higher levels of distress implying “direct action may result in further stress and health risks” [10]. These prolonged feelings of stress lead to lower satisfaction in the workplace that may influence a woman’s choice to leave her job entirely [9]. Sexual harassment has a variety of lasting effects that ultimately serve as a barrier to further professional progress for women. 


8.Brown, Stephanie E. V. and Jericka S. Battle. "Ostracizing Targets of Workplace Sexual Harassment before and After the #MeToo Movement." Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal 38, no. 1 (2019): 53-67. doi:

9.AAUW Report Documents the Long-Lasting Negative Impact of Workplace Sexual Harassment. Bartonsville: BruCon Publishing Company, 2020.

10.Van De Griend, Kristin,M., Deanne K. Messias, and Hilfinger. "Expanding the Conceptualization of Workplace Violence: Implications for Research, Policy, and Practice." Sex Roles 71, no. 1-2 (07, 2014): 33-42. doi:

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