Is there a Don Draper in your office?

Posted on March 21, 2012

New research from Queen’s School of Business reveals that nearly 6 out of ten working Canadians are exposed to workplace harassment – and the culprits are often women

KINGSTON, ON, March 21, 2012 – The celebrated series Mad Men, which portrays the 1960s world of advertising, is about to enter into its much anticipated fifth season. And while protagonist Don Draper’s offside behaviour towards women in the office is widely regarded as an approach of days gone by, a recent Leger Marketing poll commissioned by Queen’s School of Business reveals that workplace harassment is still very much a part of the modern day office environment with 57 per cent of working Canadians having experienced or witnessed workplace harassment.

But what does harassment look like in today’s workplace? Queen’s School of Business professor and expert in organizational behavior, Jana Raver says inappropriate ‘love taps’ and coerced office affairs, like those portrayed on the popular show, aren’t the only acts constituting today’s harassment behaviours; harassment can take a variety of insidious forms that are sometimes difficult to identify.

“While we no longer smoke and drink in the office like the characters from Mad Men, Don Draper’s style of workplace harassment is still alive and well in 2012,” says Dr. Jana Raver, Associate Professor at Queen’s School of Business. “Many offenders rationalize their actions as harmless, but this isn’t a TV show that ends in 60 minutes — it’s real life, and a single incident of harassment can cause long-lasting suffering for the victim.”

She says gender dynamics play a role, but not strictly in the male versus female way that many of us may think.

While men are disproportionately identified as the culprits with half of the harassment inflicted solely by them, according to Jana, today’s office bully might very well be “Dawn Draper.” When women experience harassment (personally or witness to it), they are twice as likely as men to report that it came from another woman (30 per cent vs. 15 per cent of men).

The study also found that women are more likely to reveal they have personally experienced harassment (33 per cent vs. 26 per cent of men).

“Today’s workplace bully can be male or female, but while men tend to bully both women and men equally, female bullies tend to disproportionately choose other female colleagues as targets,” says Raver. “And contrary to stereotypes of bullies preying on the weak for power, most targets of bullying in the office — regardless of gender — tend to be the average and above-average performers.”