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Keywords:

  • sexual harassment;
  • local context;
  • organizational cultures;
  • collective coping

This research investigates women's experiences of sexual harassment in three different organizations in the same New Zealand town. Women working at the local meat-processing plant, a retail store and a local bank were interviewed about their personal experiences of sexual harassment. The interviews revealed that sexual harassment took different forms and was interpreted and responded to differently in each organization. Women at the meatworks were often socially isolated from other women and had few effective strategies for combating the verbal and physical harassment collectively perpetrated by male employees. In contrast, women at the store had a range of collective coping strategies which enabled them to regard harassment from fellow-workers and customers as an irritant rather than a serious threat. Women at the bank also had various collective coping strategies, but were more constrained by customer service norms in the organization. These findings are discussed in relation to three key themes; firstly, the influence of the local environment on organizational life; secondly, the effects of differing organizational structures and cultures on the expression and interpretation of sexual harassment and thirdly, the effectiveness of the various ‘communities of coping’ which women develop to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.