How senior women could do more to protect junior targets

by Feb 14, 2018

There is a generational divide on sexual harassment

Could senior women step up and be more pro-active to protect junior targets?

It is clear that there is a massive generational gap when we discuss sexual harassment with women over 50. Certainly my mother and her peers are in different places compared to women of my own age. But there is no doubt that senior women could do more to combat sexual harassment and protect junior targets within organizations who are more vulnerable.

Protect junior targets

The older generation seems to be split into three:

  • Those that find sexual harassment as offensive then as it is now. They see the holding of men accountable a real step forward. They are supportive of the women who tell their stories and want to protect junior targets. My own mother recounts how she experienced inappropriate workplace behavior when she was in her mid 20s and reported it to HR. She was asked what she had done to invite the advances. It became difficult for her and she left. She understands how many women struggled to deal with it because it was so deeply embedded in the culture of the time and many were afraid of losing their jobs or other repercussions. Just like it is today.
  • Suck it up and get on with it like we had to. Sexism and sexual harassment was part of the fabric of their everyday life and they had to turn a blind eye and ignore it. In so doing they became complicit. This fueled the tolerance of a “boys will be boys” culture which was prevalent for them. They became, knowingly or unwittingly, part of the open-secret culture that exists in many organizations. These women were at times complicit and allowed junior targets to be lined up for predatory men such as we have seen with Harvey Weinstein and other sexual harassment scandals of recent months. Some enablers were women in positions of influence and authority.
  • Some older women are tolerant of mild sexual harassment. Wolf whistling seems to be the big divide. 40% of a recent YouGov research of women over 55 suggested that it would be flattering to be wolf whistled at in the street. Some celebrities have even come out suggesting that any complaints from our generation are alienating men. Catherine Deneuve the French movie star has led a backlash against the #MeToo movement.

YouGov Research

Junior targets

Make sure you send out an impactful professional statement. Sign up for our FREE Executive Presence Self-Assessment.

Generational divides make a difference

There are even differences between younger generations. My generation (older Gen Y) tend to view behaviors such as winking, comments on our appearance, placing hands on non-sexual body parts (arms, shoulders, lower back) more leniently, while younger women were likelier to find them inappropriate.

The reason why these generational divides are so important is that although women of all ages experience sexism, the outright sexual harassment tends to be reserved for younger women which is where the real issue lies. For women of a certain age they are quite often in positions of seniority in our organizations and are removed from the problem areas by their seniority and age. These female junior targets are young, inexperienced and highly vulnerable. This is hardly surprising.

For many, abuse has even occurred before the workplace. In the U.S.:

  • One in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.
  • 82% of all victims under 18 are female.
  • Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.

Senior women need to do more to protect junior targets

But the fact is, regardless of their personal view, women in senior roles need to be more active to protect junior targets . They need to:

  1. Be vocal and visibly advocate for a policy of zero tolerance.
  2. Engage with junior women to find out what is going on for them in their areas of work and if sexual harassment exists in their organizations. Many are oblivious. My short straw poll indicated that to be correct. Some have heard innuendo and don’t “get involved with gossip.” Well now is the time to use words involving smoke and fire. They need to get out from behind their desks and talk to women at lower levels to find out what is going on for them. This is one area where women’s networks can be useful.
  3. Encourage safe places and platforms to support and enable targets to come forward.
  4. Insist on their male colleagues being held to account. To protect them means they can go on and repeat their behaviour elsewhere. This was very evident with the Oxfam scandal. The penalties were not strict enough and there were repeat offences.
  5. Intervene if necessary to protect any female targets that have come to them for support.

 If you are in a senior role but don’t feel comfortable confronting these issues, contact 3Plus for Leadership and Executive Coaching.

If you feel passionate about gender balance and topical issues impacting women in the workplace 3Plus would be delighted to publish your work. Don't wait - send it in

Found that interesting?
Learn more about our services

Individual services

Make your dreams a reality with a professional evaluation of your career to date.

Corporate services

The evidence is in. More women in your company can deliver 35% greater financial returns. (Catalyst)

Upcoming events


Read Dorothy Dalton's latest Interview with Go Solo: Building Inclusive Work Places 

📢New Programme available with 3Plus International

“If you have a brain you have a bias” and nowhere is this more apparent than in our hiring processes.

The ‘How to Mitigate Bias in the Recruitment Process’ programme is designed to convey the serious nature of bias in the recruitment process with a focus on gender bias and the way it impacts both businesses and organisations, but in a way that is thought-provoking and engaging.



Full programme details HERE

Dates for the Diary

Check out our exciting portfolio of offerings to support your business in upskilling and competence building for your teams, to address the unprecedented challenges women face in this new totally digital world.


best job search


3Plus Online Learning Programs 





Download and listen free podcasts

Related articles

The hidden commitments that hold us back

The hidden commitments that hold us back

Ever found you have set yourself goals but can’t seem to achieve them? One way to identify your personal hidden commitments is to reflect on your actions and look at the behaviours which hold you back.

read more
How to manage a small team inclusively

How to manage a small team inclusively

Learn to manage a small team inclusively. D & I are not the preserve of large conglomerates and can be challenging in smaller environments. Read on if you run a small business or team.

read more