Exploring Organizational Development Intervention Around Sexual Harassment in Technical Firms

Exploring Organizational Development Intervention Around Sexual Harassment in Technical Firms

Cherise M. Cole (The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, USA), Darrell Norman Burrell (The Florida Institute of Technology, USA) and Delores Springs (Regent University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJHIoT.2020010103


Significant labor shortages in fields like information technology and information security has created a critical need to recruit, hire, develop, and retain more woman. The challenge remains how to make these technical organizations more welcoming and inclusive for women. Sexual harassment continues to be a significant problem in all workplaces. Research shows that harassment blossoms in careers and organizations where men dominate the majority of all management positions and women have such limited representation within the organization. This case study explores an actual organizational intervention in a technical organization.
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According to Chang (2018), many technical industries and careers in information technology that are male-dominated can be unwelcoming for women. Chang’s examination of the organizations of some tech industries in Silicon Valley, California, USA, brings to light a meaningful discussion around the absence of gender-inclusive organizational cultures during the emergence of the #MeToo moment. Chang’s (2018) work is driving a public dialogue around the nature and severity of sexual harassment towards women in technology and engineering.

Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted, nonconsensual sexual behavior that impacts the victim's life (Blum, 2019). It can be both verbal and nonverbal and includes unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors (2019). Harassment can take many forms, such as verbal acts of name-calling or written statements or actions that may be physically threatening (2019). The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides a clear explanation of what to report about acts of sexual harassment (Equal Employment Opportunity, 2019). According to the EEOC (2019), it is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person's sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be in a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person's sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

Quid pro quo and a hostile work environment are legal definitions of sexual harassment (Boyer, 2018). Quid pro quo refers to behaviors by a superior who promotes or demotes an employee contingent upon sexual favors in the workplace (2018).

This case study represents an information technology firm that has recently settled a series of sexual harassment cases and lawsuits, including one where several female employees were subjected to sexual comments and unwelcome touching by several male supervisory employees. Within several weeks of 3 women complaining about the harassment, termination of employment ignited without full disclosure of the elements of the situation to senior management and human resources. As a result of the fallout from the increased complaints and high female employee turnover, the organization has changed a significant amount of its leadership. It has brought in several management consultants to evaluate, diagnose, and make recommendations to improve the organizational culture. Especially since the training solutions recommended by human resources and the general counsel's office deemed ineffective, for this case study, TECH-Partners will be used as the fictitious name to protect the privacy of this organization to frame this intervention. TECH-Partners is a 750-employee information technology and engineering firm that specializes in information technology and engineering consulting. An exploration concerning the aspects of sexual harassment and organizational intervention within the organization went forth.

Relational aggression refers to harm within relationships as a result of harassment and manipulative behaviors (Blum, 2019). Relational aggression and sexual harassment are similar in how they negatively impact victims (2019). Relational aggression affects the relationship between the aggressor and the victim (2019). An aggressor intends to perpetuate a culture or environment to harm the victim by damaging the relationship (2019). Similarly, sexual harassment inflicts harm on the victim by forcing unwanted sexual advances, or by demeaning the victim (2019). The likelihood of victimization is influenced by prior exposure. The persistence of victimization is known as re-victimization (2019). This increased vulnerability may lead to other forms of victimization as well, such as being victimized by relational aggression and then again by sexual harassment (2019). Victimization that occurs through various forms is known as poly-victimization (2019).

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