Stop Sexual Harassment

We know that sexual harassment is illegal and occurs when people are targets of unwanted sexual comments, sexual gestures, or sexual actions because of their actual or perceived gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation.  But it still occurs in the workplace even with all the media attention and punitive consequences.

Michael Farrell, director of the EEOC’s Miami District, has openly stated “Federal law is abundantly clear that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. Employers who ignore anti-discrimination laws should be on notice that they do so at their own peril.”

To really STOP Sexual Harassment, we need to venture beyond only compliance training and look at the psychology of why it happens. Shifts in work attitudes toward sexual harassment may ultimately be the most valuable tool in combating sexual harassment by creating a shared sense of responsibility and accountability.

The Psychology of Sexual Harassment

Increasingly it is understood that anyone can be a perpetrator and anyone a target or victim. But knowing something is wrong doesn’t always stop or prevent it from happening.  Often, we are self-absorbed, and we can change our values to justify behavior.  Meaning that a manager can use his or her power to benefit others but can also gain personally by his or her actions (or be perceived as such). Many believe they will not suffer any negative consequences, and some blame the victims for being too sensitive or misunderstanding their intention.

According to a recent study by the Harvard Business Review, 75 % of women do not report sexual harassment because of three main reasons:

  1. Fear of retaliation by harasser or organization
  2. Bystander effect
  3. Masculine culture that permits sexual harassment

Fear of retaliation by harasser or organization

  1. Studies show that sexual harassment can be trivialized or result in hostility and retaliation against the victim
  2. Many women feel it would be political suicide to make a formal complaint
  3. Many men feel they would be marginalized at work if they reported what they saw.

Bystander effect
When others are present, we are less likely to help a victim or speak about for two reasons:

  1. Diffusion of responsibility – others will intervene if they are present
  2. Social Influence – we observe others behavior to determine the correct behavior, so if no one is intervening than seems to be the correct behavior – status quo.

Masculine culture that permits sexual harassment

  1. Defined as a highly male dominated organization and/or highly masculine culture
  2. Some men use the subrogation of women to relate to other men and prove their masculinity while reinforcing women’s lower status
  3. Women may play along with sexual harassment so they are not further alienated from the high-status group “men”, and women may downplay sexual harassment to gain access to the “boy’s club”.

Effective Management Tips to Stop Sexual Harassment in the workplace
Share these tips  as part of your  ongoing training and your new hire orientation with every new employee who enters your department, whether a new hire or a transfer:

  1. First, managers should be preventers not enablers
  2. Make observers aware of the problem – let others know when they feel that conduct “crosses the line”
  3. Remind your staff that sexual advances are always inappropriate and encourage everyone to speak openly about behavior they personally find offensive
  4. Appeal to men to speak up and stop behavior – remember most cases of sexual harassment involve males harassing females.
  5. Look for behavior that could be construed as harassment
  6. Observe how employees interact with each other
  7. Deal immediately with any behavior that you feel comes too close to “crossing the line”
  8. Don’t allow a “permissive” culture or “workplace” environment  in which bad behavior is overlooked
  9. Be especially mindful in social activities in which alcohol is consumed.

Keep in mind that when it comes to harassment and discrimination, your actions, and how your actions are perceived, matter more than your intentions.

Contact HR Solutions for consultation and advice.