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Published in: Journal of Business and Psychology 1/2022

11-01-2021 | Original Paper

An Approach–Avoidance Lens on Sexual Harassment: The Effects of Relative Attractiveness, Gender, Relationship Status, and Role

Authors: Sheli D. Sillito Walker, Bryan L. Bonner

Published in: Journal of Business and Psychology | Issue 1/2022

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Abstract

The approach–avoidance perspective provides a theoretical framework through which the dynamic nature of sexual harassment can be understood meaningfully in a workplace context. Rather than being purely threat or incentive, potentially harassing situations may contain elements of both, leading to approach and avoidance attitudes. Across two studies, we explore how three factors (relative attractiveness, gender, and relationship status) affect approach–avoidance attitudes in the target (study 1) and initiator (study 2), and how these attitudes affect (a) labeling the interaction as sexual harassment and (b) forecasts of filing a complaint. Results indicate that the three factors affect approach and avoidance attitudes for both targets and initiators, and that these attitudes mediate both the effect of labeling the interaction as sexual harassment and forecasts of filing a complaint. Implications for managers, human resources personnel, and other third parties who manage sexual harassment disputes are discussed.
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Footnotes
1
The data provided an opportunity to disentangle the effects of other attractiveness from self-attractiveness within relative attractiveness. To examine this, we ran two moderated moderation tests for single participants looking at other-attractiveness (X) moderated by self-attractiveness (W) and gender (Z) on approach attitudes (Y) in one test and avoidance attitudes (Y) in another test. Similarly, we ran two moderated moderation tests for married participants looking at other-attractiveness (X) moderated by self-attractiveness (W) and gender (Z) on approach attitudes (Y) in one test and avoidance attitudes (Y) in another test. Each of the four tests yielded non-significant main effects for other-attractiveness, but two of the tests yielded significant 2-way interactions involving other-attractiveness and self-attractiveness, and one test yielded a significant three-way interaction (involving other-attractiveness, self-attractiveness, and gender). The full results of the four moderated moderation tests as well as a response surface analyses are available in the supplemental materials. Findings supported the use of relative attractiveness as the appropriate metric to test our hypotheses.
 
2
In an alternative analysis, we used the bootstrapping method for estimating direct and indirect effects for a simple (unmoderated) parallel serial mediation with a multicategorical antecedent (PROCESS: Hayes, 2018a), controlling for gender and marital status. Relative attractiveness was entered as the predictor variable using the indicator coding approach with “the initiator higher in attractiveness” condition as the reference group (Hayes & Preacher, 2014) using Model 80 with 10,000 bootstrap samples. We found that relative attractiveness significantly affected approach attitudes when the initiator was higher than the participant in attractiveness compared with when he/she was matched in attractiveness (i.e., X1) (b = − 0.20, p = .019, 95% CI = − 0.36 to − 0.03) and compared with when the initiator was lower than the participant in attractiveness (i.e., X2) (b = − 0.29, p = .001, 95% CI = − 0.46 to − 0.12). At the same time, relative attractiveness significantly affected avoidance attitudes for X1 (b = 0.39, p = .001, 95% CI = 0.16 to 0.62), but not for X2 (b = 0.14, p = .222, 95% CI = − 0.08 to 0.36). Approach attitudes were negatively related to labeling the behavior as sexual harassment (b = − 0.36, p < .001, 95% CI = − 0.53 to − 0.19) and avoidance attitudes positively related to labeling the behavior as sexual harassment (b = .44, p < .001, 95% CI = 0.32 to 0.57). Finally, labeling the behavior as sexual harassment was positively related to forecasts of filing a formal complaint (b = .41, p < .001, 95% CI = 0.31 to 0.51). Thus, we found a significant indirect effect of relative attractiveness on forecasts of filing a complaint through approach attitudes then labeling the interaction as sexual harassment for X1 (effect = .03, 95% CI [0.00, 0.07]) and X2 (effect = .04, 95% CI [0.01, 0.09]). Simultaneously, we found a significant indirect effect through avoidance attitudes then labeling the interaction as sexual harassment for X2 (effect = 0.07, 95% CI [0.03, 0.13]), but not for X1 (effect = 0.03, 95% CI [− 0.02, 0.07]).
 
3
We also used the bootstrapping method for estimating direct and indirect effects for moderated serial mediation with a multicategorical antecedent (PROCESS: Hayes, 2018a) and ran separate models for single and married participants. Relative attractiveness was entered as the predictor variable using the indicator coding approach with “the initiator higher in attractiveness” condition as the reference group (Hayes & Preacher, 2014) with gender as the moderator using Model 86 with 10,000 bootstrap samples. Results are provided in the supplemental materials.
 
4
In an alternative analysis, we used the bootstrapping method for estimating direct and indirect effects for a simple (unmoderated) parallel serial mediation with a multicategorical antecedent (PROCESS: Hayes, 2018a), controlling for gender, and marital status. We used Model 80 with 10,000 bootstrap samples. We found that relative attractiveness did not significantly affect approach attitudes when the target was higher than the participant in attractiveness compared with when he/she was matched in attractiveness (i.e., X1), or compared with when the target was lower than the participant in attractiveness (i.e., X2) (all p > .05). At the same time, relative attractiveness did not significantly affect avoidance attitudes for X1, nor for X2 (all p > .05). However, approach attitudes were positively related to labeling the behavior as sexual harassment (b = 0.14, p = .001, 95% CI = 0.06 to 0.21), as were avoidance attitudes (b = 0.73, p < .001, 95% CI = 0.63 to 0.82). Finally, labeling the behavior as sexual harassment was positively related to forecasts of filing a formal complaint (b = 0.14, p = .035, 95% CI = 0.01 to 0.28). Thus, we found a significant indirect effect of relative attractiveness on forecasts of filing a complaint through approach attitudes then labeling the interaction as sexual harassment for X1 (effect = 0.00, 95% CI [− 0.01, 0.00]), and for X2 (effect = 0.00, 95% CI [0.00, 0.01]). Simultaneously, we did not find a significant indirect effect through avoidance attitudes then labeling the interaction as sexual harassment for X1 (effect = 0.00, 95% CI [− 0.02, 0.03]), nor for X2 (effect = − 0.02, 95% CI [− 0.05, 0.01]), offering support for Hypothesis 4c but not for Hypothesis 4d.
 
5
We also used the bootstrapping method for estimating direct and indirect effects for moderated serial mediation with a multicategorical antecedent (PROCESS: Hayes, 2018a) and ran separate models for single and married participants. Relative attractiveness was entered as the predictor variable using the indicator coding approach with “the target higher in attractiveness” condition as the reference group (Hayes & Preacher, 2014) with gender as the moderator using Model 86 with 10,000 bootstrap samples. Results are provided in the supplemental materials.
 
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Metadata
Title
An Approach–Avoidance Lens on Sexual Harassment: The Effects of Relative Attractiveness, Gender, Relationship Status, and Role
Authors
Sheli D. Sillito Walker
Bryan L. Bonner
Publication date
11-01-2021
Publisher
Springer US
Published in
Journal of Business and Psychology / Issue 1/2022
Print ISSN: 0889-3268
Electronic ISSN: 1573-353X
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-020-09729-w

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