The JGM BitBlog: Workplace gender harassment of expatriates is not just “someone else’s problem”.

Journal of Global Mobility

William Obenauer, The University of Maine, Maine, USA
Shafagh Rezaei, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, USA

The prevalence of workplace gender harassment has been well-established, and expatriates have not been immune to this problem. In recent years, however, two significant global events have had the potential to influence how expatriates experience workplace gender harassment. The #MeToo movement shined a light on global problems of quid pro quo harassment. As a result, we may have expected the #MeToo movement to cause a reduction in overall incidents of workplace gender harassment. Conversely, the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with increased incidents of aggression toward females, which may suggest the environment was primed for an increase in workplace gender harassment. These events raised the question, how does the knowledge we have on workplace gender harassment of expatriates apply to today’s workplace?
Understanding workplace gender harassment is important to managers because, in addition to the ethical implications of harassment in the workplace, harassment has been linked to workplace outcomes such as increased frustration and decreased job satisfaction. As recently as 2018, research on workplace gender harassment of expatriates reported that females experienced higher levels of previous harassment than males and that females’ experiences of workplace harassment were greatest in host countries whose societal structures included considerable gender-based differences in power and treatment (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Nigeria), also known as high levels of institutional discrimination. These types of findings may create the impression that workplace gender harassment of expatriates is a contextual issue that requires less attention in host countries with lower levels of institutional discrimination (e.g., Ireland, Germany, Canada). Consequently,  managers in host countries with lower levels of institutional discrimination could view workplace gender harassment as “someone else’s problem because it doesn’t happen here.” Such perceptions could hinder efforts to eradicate gender harassment from the workplace.
We sought to better understand how workplace gender harassment emerged in a post-#MeToo, post-pandemic world. The current research investigated this by replicating Bader and colleagues’ influential JGM paper on workplace gender harassment of expatriates in a larger and more diverse sample. We surveyed 391 expatriates working in 79 different host countries. The findings were somewhat surprising. Consistent with prior research, we found that males experienced lower levels of workplace gender harassment than other expatriates, but we were unable to find evidence that a host country’s cultural norms (e.g., level of institutional discrimination) influenced this relationship. In fact, despite the observation that the average levels of host country institutional discrimination were lower in the current research than they were in the target study, the average reported experiences of workplace gender harassment were almost identical across studies. In other words, findings from the current research indicated that the relationship between expatriate gender and experienced harassment was just as strong in countries with low levels of institutional discrimination as it was in countries with high levels of institutional discrimination. Furthermore, we were unable to detect evidence that differences in #MeToo trending or COVID-19 cases influenced reports of workplace gender harassment. 
Therefore, based on the insights from this research, it seems reasonable to argue that the workplace gender harassment of expatriates is, in fact, “everyone’s problem.” Recognizing this is an important step toward correcting the problem.

To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication: 
Obenauer, W. and Rezaei, S. (2023), "#MeToo, Covid-19 and the new workplace: re-examining institutional discrimination's impact on workplace harassment of expatriates following two exogenous shocks", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 411-436.