Dr. Debbie Dougherty // Women's History Month

Dr. Debbie Dougherty, professor of communication at the University of Missouri-Columbia gives a lecture for women’s history month concerning when sexual harassment becomes predatory. Dougherty has also been published in the Harvard Business Review.

As part of Women’s History Month, Debbie Dougherty came to Northwest to discuss sexual harassment in the workplace.

Dougherty, a faculty member from Missouri State University, has researched sexual harassment and assault for roughly 20 years.

In a presentation titled “Sexual Harassment is the Anaerobic Bacteria of the Workplace,” Dougherty discussed the consequences of sexual harassment — both for the targets of harassment and for companies the incident occurs in. Gender-based stereotypes and how to avoid and stop sexual harassment as it happens were discussed, as well.

“Sexual harassment is way more complicated than people think,” Dougherty said. “It’s one of those problems that can’t be solved simply.”

During the presentation, Dougherty asked students to look over a list of characteristics and label them as fitting men in general, women in general or the student, themselves. She explained about half of those characteristics were generally seen as masculine, and the other half considered feminine.

She went on to explain that these stereotypes were more intricate than they appear. Women see other women as feminine and other men as masculine, but often times view themselves as a “unique individual,” giving themselves more masculine traits. Men follow a similar pattern, though they also view themselves with more masculine traits.

Public accounting junior Stormie Buchanan was impressed with this take on both men’s and women’s mindsets.

“The whole presentation was very informational,” Buchanan said. “Most presentations like this that I’ve seen only target one side, men or women. This one covered both.”

Toward the end of the presentation, Dougherty explained sexual harassment was like anaerobic bacteria, which can only be killed with oxygen. The “oxygen” in this case was to talk about sexual harassment and to break down the stereotypes fueling it.

Junior Kolton Gennings said.“The presentation was very powerful, very impactful. This information helps when it comes to educating future students.”

Allison Conner, an elementary education junior, was also impressed.

“It was really cool,” Conner said. “I never thought about sexual harassment in the workplace.”

Dougherty was happy to get the chance to pass this knowledge on, citing the #MeToo movement as a big influence.

“I’ve been doing the research on this topic for about 20  years, and it was all mostly ignored until the Me Too movement,” Dougherty said. “I’ve spent the last three years working with the National Park Service, training them on how to handle sexual harassment. Now I also have three other events this month that I’ll be speaking at.”

While the issue of sexual harassment cannot be pinned down to one simple issue, Dougherty said if there is one thing she hopes students take away from her presentation, it’s sexual harassment’s destructive ways.

“It’s a destructive phenomenon that destroys and has no real function,” Dougherty said. “If I had to pick one single thing, that would be it: sexual harassment is destructive.”

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