Introduction of the Problem

 

 

Sexual harassment in the workplace is one of the most prevalent and pervasive problems in the professional world today. The phenomenon can be traced from the gradual increase in number of women entering the workforce. Today however, sexual harassment is a form of discriminatory act done on either of the sexes. The early feminists were the first to bring the problem into light, defining it, and gauging its frequency in almost all working environments. There are essentially two types of sexual harassment in the workplace, the quid pro quo and the hostile environment. Either way, these two are under the liability of the employers, as clearly stated in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act further prohibits retaliation on the part of the management. With the increase in rate of sexual harassment in the workplace over the decades, both the company heads and governments developed mechanism and policies to mitigate the event. Individuals are also empowered to fight back and to end the damaging work situation by exercising their statutory and federal rights. This  paper looks at the managerial leadership in the sexual harassment issue in the workplace, examines the effects on the victims and provides solutions to manage the issue.

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State of Current Research on the Subject

As the Female Mysticism of the 1960s crumbled, the succeeding decade witnessed a new movement that became an influential force in history: feminism. The 1970s was the so-called decade of liberation, wherein radical ideas including that of the liberal feminists led to consequent changes in the roles of men and women within the home and in the society. Since then, women are increasingly venturing into the workplace, a domain once formerly held by men. Because of this, employers are likewise adjusting to the new paradigm of a two-income-earning family, especially to the situation of having more women in their firms. Governments had also recognized this new phenomenon and aptly addressed the situation by creating policies that will ensure fair and safe working environments where both sexes may enjoy equal opportunities to succeed, to work to the best of their potentials and to be recognized for their contributions in their organization notwithstanding the issue of their gender.

One of the controversial concerns that went hand in hand with the growing number of women in the workplace is the problem of sexual harassment. Among the multitudinous misdemeanors or offenses committed against a person by virtue of his or her sex, sexual harassment is known to have the most adverse and long-lasting effect. Many victims were initially mum about it, suffering in silence and in shame with the belief that their case is unique. Yet as the feminists of the mid-1970s began to uncover the hushed sex-related abuses happening within the different fields of professions, the dam was eventually broken. Sexual harassment was exposed in broad daylight and countless victims voiced out their disturbing and often bitter accounts of harassment in their places of work. As abovementioned, governments and certain employers assumed responsibilities by creating policies that aims to put an end to sexual harassment at work. There have been significant improvements through time; nevertheless, sexual harassment remains a continuing past. Sherman, Bohlander and Snell (1996), authors of the book, Managing Human Resources, emphasized that people who work together are prone to develop sexual feelings for their colleagues since these feelings are a “part of group dynamics.” Hence, there is a need for an ongoing campaign to create optimal environments for personal and professional growth, and at the same time, to provide justice to those who have been sexually harassed in the workplace.

This essay is about the realities of sexual harassment in the workplace. The definition, types and prevalence of sexual harassment will be discussed followed by the means to counter and control its occurrence. The paper aims to provide a complete description of sexual harassment happening in the workplace then and now, and the possible courses of actions for the persons involved in the event. In essence, the objective of this paper is to produce a comprehensive research on all the matters that surround sexual harassment in the workplace.

Defining Sexual Harassment

“The unnamed should not be taken for the nonexistent.” This was a famous statement from Catherine Mackinnon, as she referred to the silent sufferings of the sexually harassed victims during her time as a feminist in the 1970s. Mackinnon is one of the forerunners to tackle sexual harassment, discussing it in her book Sexual Harassment of Working Women. Another pioneering feminist writer was Lin Farley who wrote the equally acclaimed Sexual Shakedown: The Sexual Harassment of Women on the Job (Gutek, 2001). Indeed, the first accounts were limited to journalistic reports and case studies, thus for intellectuals nowadays, these two were the first to break the silence by putting a name to a prevalent problem occurring in offices and working stations that time. These two women vehemently sought to define what sexual harassment is, present the gravity of the situation, and then secure a legal system and compensation for those involved and affected.

Catherine Mackinnon argued that sexual harassment in the workplace, legally speaking, is a form of sexual discrimination. It is a breach of Title VII of the United State’s Civil Rights Act of 1964; a position that was first put into application during the historic Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson case. Mackinnon herself acted as a co-counsel for plaintiff Mechelle Vinson against the Vice-President of Meritor Savings Bank. Title VII prohibits sexual discrimination in business establishments by virtue of a person’s race, color, religion, and national origin. With the winning of the case in favor of Vinson, the Supreme Court, for the first time, acknowledged the use of Title VII as a legal reference for sexual harassment in the workplace, making it a standard for analyzing analogous cases. The ruling is applicable to both public and private companies with employees of 15 or more. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC used the provisions under Title VII to establish the following guidelines to define which act may be regarded as sexual harassment (O’Shea & LaLonde, 1998):

Submission is made explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment;
Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for unemployment decisions affecting such individual;
Such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment
To summarize, EEOC’s legal definition of sexual harassment is, “Unwelcome verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects the working conditions or create a hostile work environment” (Equal Rights Advocate, 2006). From this elaboration of the Law, sexual harassment can be further differentiated into two types, the Quid Pro Quo and the Hostile Work Environment.

Quid Pro Quo

Quid Pro Quo is a legal term that means “something for something.” It is also called the Tangible Job Benefit type since the harassment, if it continues to go undetected or with impunity, directly determines the career path of the victim. Quid pro quo is sexual bribery and consists of “unwelcome advances” that are sexual in nature, or requests for sexual favors done in an explicit or implicit manner, threatening an individual in his or her work or promising a reward in exchange for the said favor. Favors may range from a simple date or after-office drinks to sexual intercourse and romantic affair. According to Tracy O’Shea and Jane LaLonde (1998), this type of harassment is the most blatant type, and is usually what comes to mind when people hear the word “sexual harassment.” Because of its downright brazenness, just a single event of quid pro quo will suffice for a solid sexual harassment complaint.

In quid pro quo, the perpetrator is somebody who is more powerful than the harassed. It may be an immediate supervisor or someone from higher managerial echelon. Hence, an individual’s submission or rejection may result in a corresponding “punishment” or reward as a term or condition for a sexually related conduct. A superior pressuring a subordinate by threatening to fire or demote him or her, or the latter’s failure to receive a promotion or salary raise, failure to be assigned to a desirable work shift, or bashing through negative employee appraisal as a result of rejecting a sexual offer all constitutes a quid pro quo harassment. Richard Barickman and Michele Paludi (1998), in their book Sexual Harassment; Work & Education, referred to this as the “introduction of sexist or sexual remark, request or requirement in the context of formal power differential.” There exists, therefore, an abuse of power to “intimidate, coerce or humiliate” someone because of that person’s membership to a particular sex.

Hostile Work Environment

Besides from the aforementioned abuse of power, sexual harassment is also a breach of trust due to the “sexualization of an instrumental relationship,” states Barickman and Paludi (1998). Hence, the second type of sexual harassment, the hostile work environment, involves the “introduction of sexual elements” into what is ideally a professional circumstance. In a hostile work environment, just like in quid pro quo, the victim may experience unwelcome sexual advances and sexual favors. The only difference is that the requests for sexual favors will not result to benefits or detriments in one’s work so as to directly affect the course of career success or failure. The ramifications are indirect, yet are destructive and costly all the same. An employee working under a hostile environment may experience physical and psychological stress, absenteeism, and rejection of a better schedule or position for fear of closer contact with the offender, and eventually, resignation from work. In this type, the individual offending the victim may not be someone of elevated position but one of equal standing such as a peer so that there is no institutional power differential.

Another form of hostile environment is not “directed towards sexual access or gratification,” said Jan Crosthwaite and Graham Priest (2001). More likely, the harasser is merely reinforcing one’s presence over the victim, to make the latter feel vulnerable to one’s “sexual appraisal.”  Examples of conduct in a hostile environment are displaying of pornographic pictures or cartoons, cracking of lewd jokes and innuendos, catcalling, leering looks, unwelcome physical contact, whistling or howling, and offensive remarks about a person’s appearance or gender. These actions, in order to be an actionable sexual harassment case, must occur at a regular basis in the work environment and the resulting working atmosphere is one that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a victim to function in a professional and productive manner. The behavior of the co-worker taking part in the harassment, either intentional or not, is said to transform the working space into an “intimidating, offensive and hostile” environment and the victim of such conduct is not limited to the person under direct target, but can be any employee who is offended and whose work performance is affected by it (Barickman & Paludi, 1998).

Offenders of hostile work environment sexual harassment may include non-employees, such as company clients or vendors who are making unwanted advances towards an employee. Unlike quid pro quo, hostile environment is more ambiguous, thus will need considerable proofs of severity and pervasiveness before a strong legal claim can be established. These two kinds of harassments, however, can occur simultaneously especially that a hostile work environment is proven to generate an atmosphere where women are treated as sex objects and where blatant sexual harassment becomes encouraging (Sexual harassment, 2006).

Explaining Sexual Harassment

Why sexual harassment occurs can be accounted to several factors and explanations. One particular reason is the characteristic and historical background of the harasser. There are three different kinds of sexual harassers, according to Billie Dzeich and Linda Weiner (1990). There is the “predatory harasser” who takes pleasure in humiliating others, the “dominance harasser,” who considers it an ego booster to see others harassed, and the “territorial harasser” who is after keeping privileges in a job by bullying others (Dzeich & Weiner, 1990). The last one applies to the harassment of a female in a largely male environment, or vice versa, when peers prevent the person from rising through ranks because of his or her gender. From these classifications of harassers, it is plain evident that sexual harassment in the workplace is not about flirtation or unbridled desire, but more about power and domination.

Kathrin S. Zippel (2006), on the other hand, in her The Politics of Sexual Harassment: A Comparative Study of the United States, the European Union and Germany, asserted that sexual harassment “serves as a vivid example of heated struggles over sexuality, power, and gender equality… because it fuses the issues of violence against women, sexuality and workplace equality.” For this author, many nations in Europe still have “weak” policies against workplace sexual harassment because they treat such cases in a gender-neutral way. In Germany for instance, when three policewomen committed suicide because of chronic sexual harassments, the government described the event as “psychoterror at work” (Zippel, 2006). Sexual harassment, in the end, is an issue tied to the politics of a country, the citizens and the government’s point of view on gender equality at work, and most especially, the people’s perception on the identical needs of the two sexes to lead successful, healthy, and peaceful professional lives. How the state respects the dignity of its citizens regardless of gender ultimately translates to the kind of policies and legislative actions it enforces.

Effects on the Victim and the Organization

Sexual harassment has varying degree of effect on the aggrieved party. In some cases, the normal effect is annoyance, which, save from the occasional distraction, is a fairly mild and safe effect. In several cases however, the victim undergoes life-altering situations that affect her job, professional and personal relationships, and psychological stability (Sexual harassment, 2006). In cases of retaliation, the adverse effect can be more severe, as the complainant experiences alienation of peers, loss of credibility, shame due to the scrutiny of one’s private life, and eventual loss of work or source of income. Even more, the company can exercise its power in a negative way so that that person will not be rehired, or hired by subsidiary firms. The strain from the experience also causes friction in personal relationship and further isolation. One extreme case is that of Judith Coflin, who was incessantly victimized by her bosses and coworkers. Like the three German cops, she committed suicide. Her family received a total of six million dollars in punitive and compensatory damages (Sexual harassment, 2006).

According to statistics, sexual harassment charges cause companies millions. Sherman, Bohlander and Snell (1996) estimated that 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies experienced sexual harassment complaints, and more than one third of these companies had been officially sued. The financial losses connected to incidences of sexual harassment is approximately 86.7 million dollars per year, said the three authors, while the United States Merit Systems Protection Board’s research on public organizations put the number to over $267.3 million within the two years covered by the study. The accounted losses are due to absenteeism, turnover, loss of expertise, decreased productivity, lawyer’s fees, and backpays. A management’s failure to appropriately investigate a sexual harassment allegation can cause loss of loyalty and lowered morale among the workers, thereby increasing the possibility of higher turnover rates. It can also mar the company image among its clients, business partners, and prospect employees.

Solutions to the Problem

Crosthwaite and Priest (2001) remarked that sexual harassment exhibits “morally problematic features” such as “abuse of power, injustice, failure of respect…treating women as sex objects, causing distress or harming the victim and creating sexually discriminating work environment.” There are ways, however, for a victim to end the unpleasant treatment and experience. O’Shea and LaLonde (1998) stressed that the aggrieved employee must right away inform the harasser that his actions are not appreciated, or even more, unwelcome. Silence can be interpreted as acceptance. Concerning a hostile working environment, the offended party must likewise inform the management so that the latter can make the necessary changes. If the situation persists, the complainant can go through the company’s standard grievance procedure and file an official complaint to the management. This will lead to an internal investigation. The complainant, though, must have performed the needed measures, namely, writing down everything about the events, from the dates and time of occurrences to the venues and the witnesses. It will be helpful if he creates a paper trail to facilitate the processing of the complaint. He can also ask the help of the union where he is a member for a stronger backing. If all the measures within the company fails, the sexually harassed worker can seek legal counsel then go the nearest EEOC office or to any government agency that can help with the issue. Finally, he can file a lawsuit against the company (Equal Rights Advocate, 2006).

The company, on the other hand, in order to mitigate the damages caused by misbehaving supervisors or regular employees, must right away act on a sexual harassment complaint and conduct the standard investigations. It must do its best to protect the privacy and the rights of the complainant, while at the same time, giving the accused the benefit of the doubt until the investigations are completed. A sexual harassment complaint is a negative distraction among the workers, and so the management must remain neutral during the conduct of the investigation. The most important rule for an employer is to never ever retaliate against an employee voicing out a sexual harassment grievance. Retaliation is a considered violation of Title VII; a complainant has the right to sue the corporation had the management retaliated in any ways. Title VII states that employers must “take reasonable care to prevent sexual harassment, [and] take reasonable care to promptly correct sexual harassment that has occurred” (Equal Rights Advocate, 2006)

Lastly, prevention is still the best cure. It is imperative for a company, regardless of its size, to have a well-written set of anti-sexual harassment policy. This policy must be disseminated to the whole group, from the top-ranking officials to the smallest member of the organization. Equally important is the consistent implementation of the policy. Sherman, Bohlander and Snell (1996) underscored the basic components of an effective sexual harassment policy: it must be comprehensive and organization-wide, training sessions with supervisors regarding Title VII requirement must be held, a formal complaint procedure must be established, immediate action with sexual harassment complaints is a must, offenders must be disciplined at once and there must be a follow up on all cases to ensure successful resolution. Today, corporations have learned their lessons and are becoming more cautious. A DuPont Executive once explained that to be safe, “We tell people: It’s harassment when something starts bothering somebody” (Sherman, Bohlander & Snell, 1996).

Status of Sexual Harassment and Legislations in the World Today

The United Nations, during the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development, declared that women in all parts of the world are facing threats to their lives and well being due to their lack of power and influence. Moreover, it is the power relations in all aspect of society, “from the most personal to the highly public,” that allegedly hampers “women’s attainment of healthy and fulfilling live” (United Nations, 1994). Sexual harassment is one of the universal issues that the United Nations is trying to address by asking a global commitment amongst nations to develop policies that will help women, as the marginalized group, in their labor-related plights. The move for a global effort is only fitting for today’s situation, given the rising number of harassments, and not just among women but among men too.

In 1970, women constitute only one-third of the total workforce. Three decades later, almost fifty percent of the working individuals are women. More or less half of these women have experienced sexual harassment at least once in their career lives. The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board found out that 42 percent of the women respondents in their 1981 survey experienced sexual harassment on the job (Gutek, 2001). A similar survey was conducted in 1987 and the results were the same as that of 1981. Barbara Gutek’s study yielded almost similar numbers. The data revealed that though some are fortunate to encounter sexual harassment just once in their working life, others report of repeated incidents, of long duration and of “sizable practical impact.” 33 percent of the women heard unwanted sexual remarks, 28 percent leering looks, and 26 percent felt unwelcome touching. On the severe side, 15 percent were pressured for dates, 9 percent for sexual favors, 9 percent received persistent letters and phone calls, and 1 percent experienced actual or attempted rape or sexual assault (Barickman & Paludi, 1998).

Majority of the states in the United States at present have statutory laws outlawing sexual harassment and/or sexual discrimination. In many cases, statutory laws offer a more detailed mechanism for protecting the victims than federal laws. The United States, although a frontrunner in sexual harassment litigations, is not alone in this fight. Most European and Asian nations also have their own versions of anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws. In Denmark, for instance, physical touching is banned but women are expected to deal with sexual harassments themselves by slapping the harasser. Israel has its Sexual Harassment Law, where in Pakistan, it is Code of Conduct for Gender Justice in the workplace. Russia has a law in its Criminal Code, Russian federation that forbids sexual interactions within office positions while the United Kingdom included in its Discrimination Act of 1975 a sexual harassment law in the workplace (Sexual harassment, 2006).

The above examples are just some of the national legislations that show how governments nip sexual harassment in its bud. Unlike in the 1970s, women today, and increasingly men too, are becoming freer to vent out their grievances in the workplace in proper avenues that hear sexual harassment complaints. Companies and governments alike must constantly adjust to the societal paradigm shifts caused by the changing needs and outlooks of the society. Thus, with the recognition of the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace and its irreversible damage on the affected parties, corresponding solution models were formulated, and various modes of actions were suggested. What determines the success of these, or the ultimate eradication of sexual harassment in the work place, is continuous vigilance and of course, authoritative and vigorous implementation of the policies which were painstakingly fought for in the past decades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Barickman, R.B. & Paludi, M.A. (1998). Sexual Harassment; Work & Education: A Resource    Manual for Prevention. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

Crosthwaite, J. & Priest, G. (2001). The Definition of Sexual Harssment. In L.LeMoncheck &   J.P. Sterba (Ed.), Sexual Harassment: Issues and Answers. United Kingdom: Oxford            University Press.

Dzeich, B.W. & Weiner, L. (1990). The Lecherous Professor: Sexual Harassment on Campus.   Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

Equal Rights Advocate. (2006). What Is Sexual Harassment? Retrieved Feb. 14, 2007 at:

http://www.equalrights.org/publications/kyr/sexhar.pdf

Gutek, B. A. (2001). Understanding Sexual Harassment at Work. In L.LeMoncheck & J.P.       Sterba (Ed.), Sexual Harassment: Issues and Answers. United Kingdom: Oxford          University Press.

O’Shea, T. & LaLonde, J. (1998). Sexual Harassment: A Practical Guide to the Law, Your         Rights and Your Options for Taking Action. Fifth Avenue, New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Sexual harassment. (2006, September 5). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved          Retrieved Feb. 14, 2007 at: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/

index.php?title=Sexual_harassment&oldid=73951891

Sherman, A., Bohlander, G. & Snell, S. (1996). Managing Human Resources. Cincinnati, Ohio:            South-Western College Publishing.

United Nations. (1994). Proceedings of the International Conference on Population and             Development. Retrieved Feb. 14, 2007 at: http://www.un.org/popin/icpd2.htm

Zippel, K. (2006). The Politics of Sexual Harassment: A Comparative Study of the United States,           the European Union and Germany. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.