Perceptions of Legitimacy: The Sex of the Legal Messenger and Reactions to Sexual Harassment Training

Sexual harassment training has varying effects on men’s perceptions of women’s competence, status, and likability—depending on whether the training is led by a woman or a man.

FindingsMethodology

Sexual harassment is considered a form of gender discrimination, prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Policies against sexual harassment aim to create more equal environments for women and men, and have been highly effective in reducing the incidence of sexual harassment in the workplace. As with other civil rights issues, however, legal and even material changes do not necessarily point to ideological or social change. It remains unclear whether, or how, sexual harassment policies affect broader views of gender equality. In this study, the authors look at the effectiveness of sexual harassment training, by examining the relationship between the trainer’s gender and the impact of sexual harassment training on participants’ beliefs about gender. The authors showed male participants a slideshow on university sexual harassment policy, narrated by either a female or a male voice. They compared the influence of female and male narrators on men’s ratings of women’s competence, status, and likability, as well as men’s unconscious beliefs about gender roles.

Findings

When a woman led sexual harassment training, male participants described women and men as more equal overall, but unconsciously associated women and men with more stereotypical roles. When a man led sexual harassment training, male participants described women as more likable, with no other significant change in explicit or implicit beliefs about gender.

  • Implicit beliefs
    • Men who viewed the female-narrated sexual harassment training slideshow expressed stronger unconscious beliefs of traditional gender roles (such as associating women with families and men with careers) than those in the male-narrated training or in either female-led or male-led control groups.
  • Explicit beliefs with female trainer
    • Men who viewed the female-narrated sexual harassment training slideshow expressed more egalitarian beliefs about gender roles on 7-point rating scales.
    • While men were always rated as more competent and more powerful than women, the gap was significantly smaller if men viewed the female-narrated training than if men were in the female-led control group (competence: -0.13- vs. 0.94-point difference; power: 0.37- versus 1.67-point difference).
    • However, the training also led to participants in the female-narrated training to rate men as less likable than participants in the female-led control group (1.10- vs. -0.43-point difference).
  • Explicit beliefs with male trainer:
    • Men who viewed the male-narrated sexual harassment training slideshow showed no significant changes on 7-point rating scales of women’s competence and power but rated women as more likable than those in the female-narrated training or in either female-led or male-led control groups (scores of 6.03 vs. 5.32, 5.21, or 5.38, respectively).

The positive impact of female trainers on views of women’s competence and status suggests that female leadership in sexual harassment policy can help to shift workplace norms. However, because female trainers also activated stereotypes about gender roles, policy training should be combined with other initiatives combating stereotypes, such as increased non-hierarchical collaboration between women and men. Finally, while a male trainer had no effect on beliefs about gender equality, the positive impact of a male trainer on women’s likability suggests that male leadership in sexual harassment policy can help to increase support from men.

Methodology

The study recruited 83 male first-year undergraduate students. The authors posited that this group would provide a conservative estimate of intervention effects, due to more gender-equal attitudes and exposure, compared to an older employee population.

In a 2x2 design, participants were randomly assigned to either the policy condition or the control group, and further to either female or male messenger(s). Those in the policy condition initially watched a four-minute recorded sexual harassment training slideshow with voiceover narration, either voiced by a female narrator and shown by a female experimenter, or voiced by a male narrator and shown by a male experimenter. The control group did not watch a presentation, and was led by either a female or a male experimenter.

All participants completed three tasks: an Implicit Association Test (IAT) on stereotypes associating gender with career versus family roles to measure implicit beliefs about gender; a filler task simulating goal-oriented collaboration with an opposite-sex partner over a computer network; and a questionnaire for women and men on competence, status, and considerateness (or likability) to measure their explicit beliefs about gender, with competence and status ratings as measures of gender equality, and considerateness ratings as a measure of potential backlash.


MLA: Tinkler, Justine, Skylar Gremillion, and Kira Arthurs. “Perceptions of Legitimacy: The Sex of the Legal Messenger and Reactions to Sexual Harassment Training.” Law & Social Inquiry, vol. 40, no. 1, 2015, pp. 152-174.
APA: Tinkler, J., Gremillion, S., & Arthurs, K. (2015). Perceptions of legitimacy: The sex of the legal messenger and reactions to sexual harassment training. Law & Social Inquiry, 40(1), 152-174.
Chicago: Tinkler, Justine, Skylar Gremillion, and Kira Arthurs. “Perceptions of Legitimacy: The Sex of the Legal Messenger and Reactions to Sexual Harassment Training.” Law & Social Inquiry 40, no. 1 (2015): 152-174.