Optics v. Sexual Harassment at UC Berkeley

Kellie McElhaney, Institute for Business and Social Impact

Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, two faculty members at Berkeley-Haas argue that the UC Berkeley’s response to charges of sexual harassment are “inadequate” and “might make the problem worse.”

Kellie McElhaney, adjunct professor at our own Institute for Business and Social Impact, and Jo-Ellen Pozner, assistant professor of management organization, fault the university for appointing only two women and no men to lead change efforts.

McElhaney and Pozner agree that the two women have strong credentials for the job.  But they argue that, by naming only women and no men to the effort,  the university has succumbed to “optics’’  and “marginalized” sexual harassment as a problem that women should solve for themselves.

“Labeling intimidation via the sexual channel a woman’s problem is a very small step from blaming the victim,’’ they write, adding that “putting women in control in a purely symbolic way is unlikely to effect real change.”

Jo-Ellen Pozner, Assistant Professor of Managment Organization

Jo-Ellen Pozner, Assistant Professor of Managment Organization

“Emphasizing the role of women in providing perspective is important to the legitimacy of the process of change, but highlighting the role of men in understanding the issue — it’s importance, and the need for change — is critical to the outcome. Communications coming from women might be seen as harping;  instructions coming from men and women might be seen as more legitimate.”

“Research shows that women and minorities who are involved in conversations about diversity are seen as less competent and less effective than men involved in the same conversations,” they warn. “Given those findings, how likely is it that the men who are at risk of — or already engaged in — intimidation via the sexual channel will take seriously the recommendations of women asking them to fire their male colleagues?

“Labeling harassment a woman’s issue turns the tables in the most perverse of ways.”

Read the entire commentary here.

 

 

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