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People who want power are more likely to engage in sexual harassment than those who actually have power, according to new research

October 26, 2022, 12:01 PM UTC
Harvey Weinstein in New York City, October 1998.
Catherine McGann—Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Brittney Griner loses her appeal in a Russian court; female bodybuilders allege widespread sexual misconduct in the sport; and it’s not power that causes sexual harassment. Have a lovely Wednesday.

Power trip Harvey Weinstein, whose criminal trial is underway in Los Angeles this week, embodies the stereotype of a sexual misconduct perpetrator: a man in a position of power who wields that power over others.

But according to new research from Vanderbilt University, sexual harassment in the workplace is less likely to come from a figure like Weinstein and more likely to come from those who aspire to emulate his onetime professional stature. The desire for power, rather than power itself, is associated with sexually harassing behaviors.

“Power doesn’t cause sexual harassment,” says Jessica Kennedy, an associate professor of management at Vanderbilt and a coauthor of the paper published last month in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. “Even though you see cases that look like a lot of high-power men [are] doing this…it’s the desire for power.”

These findings are gendered; women in lower power roles with “desire for power” were less likely to engage in harassing behaviors. The researchers conducted six studies in which participants answered questions about their self-perception, sense of power, ambivalent sexism, and flirting styles and participated in various workplace scenarios.

Someone with a “desire for power” is likely to exhibit other characteristics like narcissism and a desire to control people and compete with others for that control, Kennedy says.

The authors’ findings also shed light on the role an organization’s culture can play in encouraging sexual harassment. Cutthroat workplaces can foster a desire for power. That ambition, not for professional success but power for power’s sake, is not as present in less competitive environments.

Kennedy says the lesson for women, especially those in male-dominated fields, is to pay close attention to organizational culture—not just gender diversity stats.

For men worried that women will misinterpret well-intentioned words or actions, Kennedy says she hopes the research clarifies why that is a nonissue. (She points to ex–New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his insistence, when accused of harassment, that he was only flirting.) “Harassment isn’t just sexual attraction gone wrong,” she says. “It’s really about having the wrong motives when you relate to people.”

Emma Hinchliffe
emma.hinchliffe@fortune.com
@_emmahinchliffe

Editor’s Note: Over the past few months, you’ve seen Paige McGlauflin’s name in the Broadsheet. A new leadership reporter for Fortune, Paige has become a crucial part of the Broadsheet team. From now on, you can expect to see her name in your inbox at least once a week. Welcome (officially), Paige!

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ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

Upheld sentence On Tuesday, a Russian appeals court upheld WNBA star Brittney Griner’s nine-year sentence on drug smuggling charges. Griner’s best hope for freedom now rests on prisoner swap negotiations. New York Times

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Return to sender A letter from progressive Democrats encouraging President Joe Biden to couple aid to Ukraine with a “proactive diplomatic push” to end hostilities with Russia has spurred backlash from fellow Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Progressive Caucus, took responsibility for the now-withdrawn letter, claiming it was written months before and “released by staff without vetting.” Axios

Built on exclusion LoveShackFancy, a women’s wear brand founded by Rebecca Hessel Cohen, has attracted a devoted fan base for its vintage-inspired, frilly clothes. But former employees allege the company lacks diversity. The brand maintains it has worked to increase diversity. Business Insider

MOVERS AND SHAKERS The Washington Post hired Kathy Baird as chief communications officer. Pamela Pavkov, former partner at Jasper Ridge Partners, joined the alternative assets management firm TPG as a partner and head of TPG Next. Former Instagram executive Saana Rapakko Hunt was appointed president of the Mom Project, a platform connecting mothers with economic opportunities. Shelley Goode, formerly of the KIPP Foundation, joined Girl Scouts of the USA as chief development officer. Precision medicine company Tempus hired Kate Sasser as chief scientific officer.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Bodybuilding’s ugly side Multiple female bodybuilders allege officials at two of bodybuilding’s top federations sexually exploited female bodybuilders for decades. Former bodybuilders say they were pressured to pose nude for photos, and refusing to comply resulted in lost financial opportunities. Washington Post

Legal action A Missouri woman is suing L’Oréal over claims that its straightener products put women at an increased risk for uterine cancer. The lawsuit comes just days after the Journal of the National Cancer Institute released its findings on a link between the products and uterine cancer. CNN

Tragic loss Neema Roshania Patel, a founding editor of The Lily, the Washington Post’s women-focused news site, died of gastric cancer on Monday. She was 35. Washington Post

Making space Aurora James, founder of lifestyle and accessories brand Brother Vellies, founded the Fifteen Percent Pledge in 2020, asking companies to dedicate 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned brands. Over 29 companies have signed on to date, including Sephora and Macy’s, and James’s nonprofit recently brought in over $1 million at its inaugural fundraising gala. Glamour

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The most critical abortion provider in America is an activist-doctor who lives in Amsterdam Glamour

PARTING WORDS

“We play better than most of the men that are in our industry. There’s a lot of men that we can run circles around.”

Este Haim, bassist for the band Haim alongside her two sisters

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