University Students' Perceptions of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A View Through Rose-Colored Lenses

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Equal Opportunities International






Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to assess whether a gap exists in student perceptions of sexual harassment in the workplace as compared to the realities. Over 20 years following the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the US Supreme Court recognized sexual harassment as a cause of action under Title VII. However, despite the developing law and public awareness of the same, sexual harassment persists in today's workplace, and its presence and effects continue to be underestimated by relevant stakeholders, including university students.

Design/Methodology/Approach: College students (n = 1,373) provide perceptions on sexual harassment of self, sexual harassment of others, potential career impact of sexual harassment on self, and demographic information. Descriptive statistics are used to evaluate research questions, while t‐tests determine if differences exist by race and/or gender.

Findings: The paper's findings suggest that the majority of respondents believe sexual harassment is not a serious risk in the modern workplace, especially in relation to its impact on their own careers.

Practical Implications: College students (and potentially members of the workforce) need ongoing training and education in order to minimize discrimination or harassment. This misalignment between perception and reality poses the risk of negative consequences to both business organizations as well as to individual employees and raises the issue of how education may be used to minimize these consequences.

Originality/Value: This paper provides college students with a definition of sexual harassment, then inquires as to whether or not they believe it happens (to them or others), and if so, would it affect their careers. The findings suggest the rose colored lenses may adversely impact their ability to see realities of the workplace.