Doctoral Dissertation
University of Oregon



Alec M. Smidt

Defended & Completed June 2019
PhD to be granted 2020 after clinical internship

Advisor Freyd, Jennifer J.

Dissertation Abstract

Workplace sexual harassment is associated with negative psychological and physical outcomes. Recent research suggests that harmful institutional responses to reports of wrongdoing– called institutional betrayal – are associated with additional psychological and physical harm. It has been theorized that supportive responses and an institutional climate characterized by transparency and proactiveness – called institutional courage – may buffer against these negative effects.

The current study examined the association of institutional betrayal and institutional courage with employee workplace outcomes and psychological and physical health. Adults who were employed full-time for at least six months were recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform. Data were analyzed using 805 participants who completed online survey instruments and an experiment. We used existing survey instruments, developed the Institutional Courage Questionnaire-Climate to assess institutional courage at the climate level, and developed the Institutional Courage Questionnaire-Specific to assess individual experiences of institutional courage within the context of workplace sexual harassment. We also replicated and extended of Gündemir, Does, and Shih’s (2018) experiment by 1) examining two new conditions with specific types of institutional courage and 2) examining trust in management.

The primary findings of this research were:
(1)  Institutional courage at the climate level was associated with better employee workplace outcomes, including job satisfaction and organizational commitment.
(2)  Of participants who experienced workplace sexual harassment, nearly 55% also experienced institutional betrayal and 76% also experienced institutional courage. Institutional betrayal was associated with decreased job satisfaction and organizational commitment and increased somatic symptoms.  Institutional courage was associated with the reverse. Furthermore, institutional courage appears to attenuate negative outcomes. 
(3)  Institutions appear to benefit reputationally from responses to workplace sexual harassment that are characterized by institutional courage, including reductions in perceived gender bias and increases in trust in management compared to responses characterized by institutional betrayal.

Overall, our results suggest that institutional courage is important at multiple levels in organizations – both at the climate level and following workplace sexual harassment.  These results are in line with previous research on institutional betrayal, may inform policies and procedures related to workplace sexual harassment, and provide a starting point for research on institutional courage.


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