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ILR School awards funding for Inequality and Work projects

The New York City labor movement, sexual harassment, criminal records and other topics are among those being researched through the School of Industrial and Labor Relations’ 2019-20 Inequality and Work theme project.

Doctoral student Phoebe Strom, M.S. ’18, left, and Kate Ryan ’20 are researching sexual harassment in the workplace as their Inequality and Work theme project, with grant funding from the ILR School.

This is the third year that ILR students, staff and faculty and alumni have explored a theme through research projects, schoolwide workshops and other activities, including speaking events featuring alumni who are leaders in their industries. A total of 22 projects received funding this year.

“The school’s annual theme project has been an effective way to bring the ILR community together and to generate new research or synergies to more fully understand a topic that impacts work and workers alike,” said Kara Lombardi, assistant dean for student experience and well-being. 

“Our goal is to deepen our sense of community while motivating all to develop new research, policy and practice that will significantly impact work and the lives of workers,” she said.

Among the theme grant winners is doctoral student Phoebe Strom, M.S. ’18, who is using the award to further her research on sexual harassment in the workplace. Her project, “Drawing the Line: How Workplace Experiences Influence Individual Perceptions of Sexual Harassment,” grew out of an independent research project conducted around three years ago by Kate Ryan ’20.

“It was a time when sexual harassment was being given a lot of attention,” Ryan said. “I was wondering, ‘How can we fix this?’ A lot was happening at the workplace, but it was nontraditional workplaces because it was movie stars coming out.

“I was thinking,” she said, “if these really famous people are having these experiences and issues, it must be happening to the average worker.”

With the guidance of Strom and Ariel Avgar, associate professor of labor relations, law and history, Ryan created a survey using sexual harassment vignettes that featured a range of severity that would be used to further her work.

After the duo analyzed the results, Strom produced an initial paper, which she hopes to submit for publication at the end of the semester. In the paper, she concluded that workplace factors mattered in people’s perception of sexual harassment more than any other factor. 

Strom plans to use the grant to interview individuals about their experiences with workplace sexual harassment.

“The survey results can’t tell us the individual processes by which the workplace is affecting a person’s cognition around sexual harassment,” Strom said. “These interviews will allow us to see how the workplace is affecting a person’s definition of sexual harassment. By interviewing them, we can ask about their definition of sexual harassment, and see how they came up with it, and what in their workplace experiences has influenced it.”

More about all 22 Inequality and Work projects is available on the ILR website.

Julie Greco is a communications specialist with the ILR School.

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Rebecca Valli