Increasingly organizations are turning to bystander intervention as a way to stop sexual harassment in the workplace. However, often bystander intervention research fails to consider the role of discursive power in bystander behavior. Organizational members constitute one key form of bystander.
Research suggests that organizational members actually co-create the conditions that allow sexual harassment to embed within an organizational culture. The present study explores the ways in which a sexual harassment policy in a large government organization is the site of a discursive struggle between managers seeking to change the culture, and organizational members who often discursively maneuver to maintain the status quo. Specifically, while the organization used discursive closure processes in an attempt to fix meanings within the organizational policy, organizational members used metaphors of shading, crossing the line, and the family in order to maintain the status quo meanings that reinforced predatory sexual behavior in this organization. The implications will be discussed.
Debbie S. Dougherty is Professor of Communication at University of Missouri. Her research specializes in organizational communication.is known for her work on organizational communication and on sexual harassment; she has published, among others, in Human Relations and Management Communication Quarterly. She is the editor of the Journal of Applied Communications Research. More information is available on her website.