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Professor Jane O’Reilly will research third parties’ reactions to sexual harassment in the workplace. Past studies on sexual harassment in organizations have understandably focused on the role of perpetrators, victims and the management, with the role third parties receiving comparatively much less attention. However, because victims of sexual harassment do not use the formal organizational channels in place to address and prevent their mistreatment, research that can provide a better understanding of why some third parties help when they witness or learn about sexual harassment has the potential to make an important contribution to the literature.

The earlier research on third parties has also either used artificial and hypothetical scenario-based studies to measure intentions or has looked at why third parties condemn the victims of this form of mistreatment, rather than help. This study will expand the literature by measuring actual behaviour and testing why third parties support the target, using surveys of employees and supervisors. O’Reilly, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour, will draw from the moral perspective of third party reactions to assess how third parties’ moral characteristics interact with their attitudes towards gender and sexism, and with organizational features (climate towards sexual behaviour, procedural justice mechanisms) to produce constructive third party responses.

The project received a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). From a practical perspective, this research will inform organizations about how they can use third parties to constructively address sexual harassments. Among other takeaways, O’Reilly plans to incorporate the research into her teaching, including an advanced undergraduate course in Occupational Health and Safety which includes a unit on sexual harassment.

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