April 6, 2004

Study Shows Drinks On the Job Increase Gender Harassment

Print More

When you think of the dangers of being drunk on the job, you might think of a construction worker accidentally swinging a wrecking ball into the wrong building, or a pilot landing a plane nose first.

But a new study at Cornell shows that drinking during the workday has another danger — gender harassment. According to the study, an increase in the consumption of alcohol in and around the workplace also increases the risk of harassment of women by male co-workers.

Entitled “Harassing Under the Influence: Male Drinking Norms and Behaviors and the Gender Harassment of Female Coworkers,” the study was conducted by the R. Brinkley Smithers Institute for Alcohol-Related Workplace Studies at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

The research paper was co-authored by Smithers Institute Director Samuel Bacharach, Peter A. Bamberger Ph.D. ’90, and Valerie M. McKinney Ph.D. ’99.

Gender harassment, as described by the authors’ press release, is “a form of sexual harassment that involves offensive or degrading remarks and actions, usually directed at women by men.”

To determine the relationship between alcohol and gender harassment, researchers surveyed 1,353 industrial and service workers. The results found a more than two-fold increase in the incidence of gender harassment experienced by women for every additional alcoholic drink consumed by men in their work units during or around working hours.

“It’s a researcher’s responsibility to make a clear and potent statement,” Bacharach said of his findings. Though he was “unsurprised” at his findings and was “surprised at anyone who’s surprised,” he did feel that the findings were important because “a reaffirmation of what we know is good social science.”

Others did not find his results as inconsequential.

“It isn’t obvious in the literature that gender harassment is exacerbated by alcohol,” said Francine Moccio, director of the Institute for Women in Work at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

“American society is very much a drinking culture, and this study shed light on one of its effects,” Moccio said.

Though gender harassment involves no solicitation of sexual favors, court rulings have deemed it illegal in the workplace environment. According to the decision in Berry v. Delta Airlines, a gender harassment case tried in 2001, illegal activity occurs when “members of one sex are exposed to disadvantageous terms or conditions of employment to which members of the other sex are not exposed.”

An example of alcohol’s impact on the problem of gender harassment is also visible in the recent claims against the U.S. Air Force Academy. According to the New York Times, Air Force Secretary James G. Roche announced that a review of rape cases at air bases in the Pacific “found that more than half of the reported rapes in the Pacific involved alcohol.”

Drinking on the job — and the ensuing lawsuits, fines and replacement of victim employees — destroy productivity and create rifts between colleagues, according to the study.

Susannah Pollack ’07, responding to the study, agreed.

“I guess a glass of wine during a business lunch or a beer with coworkers as you work late really isn’t a good idea.”

Archived article by Erica Fink
Sun Staff Writer