Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Obviously, it is a very natural thing for men and women to be attracted to each other in sexual ways. Men, more than women, have been historically known to be far more aggressive in their advances toward women sexually and it varies from each woman as to how these aggressive advances make them feel. Advances such as whistling, bottom pinching and glaring are the types of things some men do to women in an attempt to show they are sexually attracted to them. These types of advances can be attempted just about anywhere; the beach, the mall, in night clubs, walking down the street, or even in their place of employment. Where should the line be drawn as to where these advancements are appropriate and what can a woman do to protect herself from feeling uncomfortable while trying to make a living? Women experiencing this type of treatment is a real problem in the workplace today and has been for many years. It has become to be known as sexual harassment and was given a widely used definition by Michael Rubenstein as ‘unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or conduct based on sex which is offensive to the recipient’(Collier 3). However, the term often has a very unclear definition in the legal since. Harassment is only harassment if it is felt to be so by the recipient(3). With that said, there is a very large range as to what could be felt as sexual harassment and that creates a great concern for men in the workplace and a need to be extremely careful as to what is said, the way you look, as well as what and where fellow employees are touched. A small, innocent touch on the shoulder could be seen as harassment just as a crude sexual pinch on the bottom by some women. Because of that, sexual harassment, rightfully so, is approached as a serious concern in the workplace and many precautions are being taken in an effort to stop sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment in itself is not new, women have been harassed at work ever since they have worked alongside men. In 1840, women working in the mines were described in a Royal Commission investigation as being constantly pressured for sexual favors by men. The actual term of sexual harassment is relatively new. A women’s movement in the 1970’s brought the term to the United States and it became widely known in the United Kingdom in the 1980’s(2). As time has continued to move and women began to fill up the workforce, the issue has become a bigger problem. Obviously, since there are more women and men working together, there are going to be more cases of sexual harassment.
Since sexual harassment, as an act, has been going on for centuries, there is no conclusive evidence as to what studies pinpointed the problem as to when and where it began. However, many studies have been conducted since sexual harassment has become more of a problem and these studies deal with the definition from different people as well as the extreme cases of what was actually said and done. Many case studies are being conducted in order to obtain a true since of what is being said and they provide information to the workforce as to the extremes of some cases. Barbara Gutek, in her book Sex and the Workplace, provided a series of sexually harassing experiences from women as well as mutually entered social-sexual experiences that occurred in the workplace. Studies such as these are often conducted in order to bring awareness to the workforce and many of the reported cases are documented as well.
Since the issue of sexual harassment has become such a major problem in the workforce, thousands of companies are taking steps in the direction of awareness as well as prevention. There are many reasons companies are spending millions of dollars on this issue and they all know it is money well spent. Research has shown many techniques to be very affective in deterring sexual harassment in the workplace. As stated in Ellen J. Wagner’s Sexual Harassment in the workplace, a well-drafted, carefully thought-out policy on sexual harassment can be valued to an organization in at least three major ways. First, it is very useful as an employee relations tool, meaning the policy statement clearly indicates the employer’s concern for the well-being of its employees at work, and its commitment to providing a work environment free of harassment or of inappropriate behavior and language that may make employees uncomfortable. Second, the statement could be used as basic education for both managers and employees on the subject of sexual harassment and can provide clear guidelines for workplace behavior by defining sexual harassment. This also could significantly reduce the chances of harassment occurring, especially inadvertently. Third, the policy could be used as a way of minimizing legal liability to the organization in hostile-environment sexual harassment cases. Not only is this kind of policy statement evidence of an organization’s good-faith effort to provide a work environment free of harassment but, it provides a major offensive weapon in employer efforts to demonstrate that all reasonable steps were taken and that they were effective(Wagner 109-110). Also, supervisor and employee training on the issue of sexual harassment is a step that is taken by many companies in attempt to prevent sexual harassment from happening in their company. These training workshops include the definition of sexual harassment from both legal and practical viewpoints, the types of sexual harassment, the implications for employer and personal liability, and what each person is expected to do in his or her own area to prevent sexual harassment from occurring, whether in terms of personal behavior, co-worker relationships, or visitor conduct(123). Also, some theories are in the making in attempt to prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the workplace. “Walking the floors” is a theory stated in Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and has proven to be effective for many companies. This method requires the supervisor to simply walk through the halls of the office building to listen and look for displays of sexual nature in offices, as well as any exchanges where the content is displayed in a sexual or harassing nature.
Sexual attraction between men and women is created by nature and there is nothing that is going to stop this attraction. However, harassment is far more extreme than attraction and there are places and times when sexual advances are inappropriate. The workforce is definitely one of these places and unfortunately sexual harassment is always going to be a problem with men and women in the workforce. I think the fact that many different methods and research is taking place in an effort to prevent sexual harassment from happening is definitely a step in the right direction. Some of the methods, such as training and education programs, are more effective than others and I think that new and improved programs should always be implemented because many people find ways around the system. In order to learn more about sexual harassment and prevent fraud, detailed reports should continue to be kept for every case filed and each one should be investigated thoroughly. There are some women who will file false sexual harassment charges against someone for personal reasons. If this does happen, the male usually never comes out on the good end and the women remains employed at the company. Complete investigations will attempt this from happening and will assure that justice be kept in the workforce as well. Again, sexual harassment is always going to be a part of our world, but the companies that research and address the problem properly will remain on top while those who ignore it will loose more than they can imagine.