Rising burden of gender-based violence at workplace in the digital era: a systematic review and meta-analysis

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About the project

Gender-based violence (GBV) disproportionately affects young women and girls, Indigenous women and girls, newcomer women to Canada, women living with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ individuals. A systematic review was carried out to find evidence from a global perspective, and the obtained data were then appraised and synthesized to inform the creation of rigorous policies, best practices and effective interventions to address GBV in the workplace. The objectives of this systematic review are i) to qualitatively identify the prevalence and experience of GBV in digital work environments and ii) to evaluate the efficacy of current workplace policies, interventions or tools to protect against GBV in the workplace.

To address our research question about the burden of violence and harassment in digital workplaces, the employment trajectories and policies to prevent GBV, a comprehensive search was undertaken using a systematic approach following the PRISMA guidelines after registration with PROSPERO (CRD42023399684). A literature search was conducted in PubMed, OVID, Scopus, Web of Science and CIHHAL databases using the search terms related to “gender,” “GBV,” “workplace,” and “telework”. All peer-reviewed articles published between 2013–2023 in English involve working participants aged 18-65 from all genders (including LGBTQ+). Three authors independently searched and screened studies for eligibility based on the inclusion criteria, screening of titles and abstracts, and concluded by assessing the full texts of the 77 articles. A meta-analysis was conducted to extract the evidence from the articles representing healthcare, academia, industry and skilled trades.

Key findings

  • Of the total 1290 studies identified after removing duplicates, we had 148 studies that were eligible for full-text screening, of which 77 studies were included in this study.
  • Of the 77 studies included in the final review, 65 reported outcomes from an in-person workplace, and 12 reported outcomes from a digital work environment.
  • Our review included various epidemiological studies from the global South and global North covering in-person and online/ hybrid work settings. Most of the articles are cross-sectional studies (44), followed by mixed methods (9), review (7), qualitative (4), cohort (4), meta-analyses (2), and experimental (1) studies.
  • As the focus of the study was specifically on healthcare, academia and industry settings, our search results included articles on workers in healthcare (43), academia (16), skilled trades (6), industry (5), and mixed populations (7). Through this, it is feasible to perform systematic reviews and meta-analyses for these target sectors and add new knowledge to the existing evidence.
  • The forms of bullying included in studies were workplace bullying (e.g., physical and verbal abuse, abusive supervision, and sexist abuse), sexual and physical harassment, gender-based harassment, physical violence, and sexual and gender discrimination and microaggression. Studies looked at these behaviours between co-workers and supervisors. In healthcare settings, studies also reported these behaviours between employees and patients.
  • Across various sectors we studied in this review (healthcare, education, industry and skill trades), women report greater exposure to gender harassment and bullying in the workplace. Moreover, a reported relationship exists between gender-based workplace issues, stress/mental health, and job satisfaction, which is an interesting finding. The intensity and frequency of gender-based workplace issues seem to be associated with one’s job position in an organization.
  • Various policy recommendations were suggested from numerous studies covering different workplace settings to safeguard employees and prevent GBV at the workplace. Our review highlights that employer policies around GBV are related to creating more opportunities for women, addressing interpersonal sexism, and promoting a greater sense of belonging in the workplace.
  • By examining GBV in the education, healthcare, and industry sectors, this systematic review provides some evidence-based strategies and informs policymakers about how GBV takes root in our workplaces and study.

Policy implications

  • Based on our research, there is a need to raise workplace/public awareness towards more subtle forms of harassment to deter its practice and to increase early disclosure by the victims/bystanders.
  • The knowledge and implementation gaps may be addressed by greater transparency in managing claims and investigations of GBV in the workplace. Further measures could include developing standard protocols/guidelines to identify, disclose, report, and intervene for subtle/less visible harassment (e.g., sexist jokes, displaying sexual images, making inappropriate comments about female competency) in the online and in-person workplace by all levels of employees.
  • As workplace cyberbullying increases, there should be actionable plans to create policies and tools that raise awareness regarding GBV in digital and online work environments.
  • There is a need to create structural changes in the workplace. This includes addressing pay inequities and the lack of diversity in leadership roles, thereby promoting a culture of respect.
  • Employers must conduct regular sensitization workshops, webinars and training to discuss workplace GBV and ensure all victims' safety and protection. There must be zero tolerance for all forms of GBV in in-person and online workplaces.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Behdin Nowrouzi-Kia, OT Reg. (Ont), PhD, FRSA, Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, University of Toronto: behdin.nowrouzi.kia@utoronto.ca

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