Prevention of Sexual Harassment in the Work Place

Introduction

Sexual harassment in the work place is the issue that bothers numbers of scholars and ordinary people who face this problem every day at their jobs. There are key terms and notions that are considered in the topic of sexual harassment in the work place. They include such phenomena as harassment as such which means the offensive, sexually oriented, activities directed at persons in their wok placed.

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Discrimination is also the useful notion for understanding sexual harassment as well as offensive behavior which is often referred to by those studying the issues of sexual harassment in the work place or experiencing it. Drawing from these terms it becomes evident that sexual harassment in the work place is a globally important issue. The whole world should pay close attention to finding its solutions as sexual harassment in the work place undermines the fundamentals of the human society. Accordingly, the key players in this issue include all social classes as employees are usually discriminated in the work place, while employers as a rule are responsible for this.

There is a view that sexual harassment happens only to people whose moral values are distorted but the practice proves that sexual harassment is a social, not just moral, issue. The examples of Bill Clinton in the USA and Joschka Fischer in Germany manifest the necessity of preventing sexual harassment in the work place. Thus, creating an effective company policy can prevent sexual harassment and discrimination of employees in the work place.

Burning Social Issue

The discussion of the sexual harassment in the work place cannot be started until the very notion of this phenomenon is comprehended and understood. Thus, Nelson (2008) defines sexual harassment in the work place as the “unwanted imposition of sexual requirement in the context of a relationship of unequal power” (p. 160). Drawing from this definition sexual harassment can be considered as the process of discrimination that takes place in the work place, it is unwanted and imposed by power, or enforced. It is carried out by the powerful people towards their subordinates and ordinary employees.

However according to Strickland (1995) sexual harassment is not such a gender-neutral phenomenon as many think, while the vast majority of people who experience harassment in the work place are women (Strickland, 1995): “In 1980 the US Merit Systems Protection Board found that four out of ten women in a 10, 648 sample had been sexually harassed during the previous 24 months” (p. 493). This is a rather serious figure, because even in the 1980s when the emancipation of women was not so strong as today, the percentage of women sexually harassed in the work place amounted almost to 50%.

Needless to say, nowadays this percentage grows as women participate more actively in social life and have wider employment opportunities (Wasti, 2002): “Evidence from the United States suggests that sexual harassment is the most widespread form of violence against women” (p. 394). Women are the most often victims to sexual harassment in the work place, and as the scholarly evidence suggests that issue is serious, considerable measures are demanded to fight it.

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This is especially significant in the light of the fact that irrespective of generalizing definitions of sexual harassment, the latter occurs mostly to women (Nelson, 2008): “The majority of victims reporting instances of sexual harassment are women, and the vast majority of reported aggressors are men” (p. 160). Thus, sexual harassment in the work place transforms from a gender-neutral to a rather important issue of gender discrimination and harassment of women in the majority of cases. Men act as harassers in the bulk of cases, which actually transforms the issue into a gender-marked one.

Women suffer most of all from the sexual harassment in the work place. Moreover, the first officially recorded case filed on the complaint of sexual harassment was related to the conflict between a woman and her boss in the work place (Strickland, 1995): “In the first sexual harassment case, Barnes vs. Train (1974), the plaintiff claimed that she was fired because she refused to participate in an “after-hours” affair with her boss” (p. 495).

This shows that the history of sex harassment is rather long and its origins are connected with harassment of women, not men. The first case in history of sexual harassment exemplified the most often occurring pattern of sexual harassment, i. e. harassment of the employee by her boss. Currently, the situation has not changed much (Osman, 2007): “It is estimated that women have approximately a 40%-50% chance of encountering unwanted sexual attention in the workplace” (p. 340). Accordingly, the half of the women employed in public and private enterprises undergo the risk of being sexually harassed by either their bosses or colleagues (mostly males ones).

This is a serious issue because more and more women take up careers in the modern society. Consequences of sexual harassment are also considerable (Strickland, 1995): “Sexual harassment in the workplace has an emotional and possibly physical impact on its victims.

Often worker morale and productivity decline while absenteeism increases” (p. 495). Sexual harassment is thus harmful for the person’s physical and psychological health, and affects the productivity of his or her work considerably. Moreover, Wasti (2002) states that “Most evidence in the United States suggests that few victims ever file formal sexual harassment complaints or even informally discuss harassment with organizational authorities, largely because of fears of individual or organizational retaliation” (p. 395). Thus, rather small number of victims responds or report about sexual harassment because of either social prejudice or fear of revenge from the harassers. Accordingly, it is needed to see the causes of such behaviors of sexual harassment victims.

Response to Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment has a wide range of causes that lead to its appearance in the work place. These causes are numerous (Nelson, 2008), “however, the causes of sexual harassment are complex and hard to identify, and sexual harassment remains prevalent in modern society” (p. 161). The results of the scholarly work are not very bright and this allows sexual harassment to develop nowadays. Scholars do not know exact causes of the issue and it makes the task of fighting it harder (Stockdale, 1998): “Despite over 2 decades of public awareness and research attention, sexual harassment continues to pose threats to individuals’ and organizations’ health and wellbeing” (p. 521).

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Indeed, researchers spent over 20 years studying sexual harassment but achieved not much. The results obtained by scholars single out social, cultural, psychological, and pure biological causes of sexual harassment in the workplace, but sexual harassment still remains a serious threat to the society (Nelson, 2008): “…one effect of the breakdown of the sexual division of labor is the expansion of opportunities for sexual conflict in the workplace” (p. 162).

Thus, emancipation of women and their greater participation in social life is viewed by Nelson (2008) as the factor that irritates males. Their superiority in work has been undermined and it makes them commit violent harassing actions in the work place. Developing this view, scholars have added culture and psychology to the list of factors provoking sexual harassment. Nelson (2008), as well as Brown (2006) cited in Nelson’s article, argue “that sexual harassment is rooted in socio-cultural causes, as well as biological and psychological causes” (p. 163). Accordingly, sexual harassment has a complex set of causes; so do the ways in which people respond to it. Sexual harassment is viewed by Nelson (2008) as the socio-cultural issue that concerns every single person.

People who have faced sexual harassment in their work places experience serious shock and their physical and mental health is hurt. The ways people choose to respond to sexually offensive actions are predetermined by the effects that sexual harassment makes on them (Stockdale, 1998): “A review of survey research…revealed that about 10% of women who experience sexual harassment leave their jobs either because they quit out of frustration, or they were fired, transferred, or reassigned” (p. 522). Thus, harassment causes frustration, which according to Stockdale (1998) makes women leave their jobs or even stop building careers at all.

Although only 10% of women respond to harassment in this way, it is a serious issue anyway (Stockdale, 1998):“…more serious consequences are more likely to occur to people who experience threatening, ongoing deliberate forms of harassment compared to less severe forms” (p. 522). People that experience harassment more often or whose harassers resort to more violence are naturally more affected by the harassment and have to fight its consequences for longer periods of time.

The cultural factors and national belonging of the harassed person also influences his/her response to the harassment (Wasti, 2002): “Factors such as fear of blame and damage to personal, family, and professional reputations may further suppress reporting among more traditional women” (p. 395). Cultural belonging and upbringing affect the ways in which people, mainly women, choose not to report the cases of sexual harassment that happened to them.

For instance, Hispanic women are taught to stand extramarital relations of their husbands and, according to Wasti (2002) take harassment as something natural: “Because of these asymmetrical sexual norms, Hispanic women may be more likely to accept men’s sexual aggressiveness as normal, and thus consider such behavior less worthy of reporting” (p. 395). Upbringing makes Hispanic women think that sexual power of males is normal and is not worth reporting or protesting.

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Women are taught that men are stronger and it is their right to demand sexual relations. They are taught that it is natural, and even when they go beyond Hispanic communities they carry this idea into their work place. This makes the task of prevention of sexual harassment in the work place more complicated as more points should be considered in the companies’ policies.

Effective Companies’ Policies to Prevent Sexual Harassment

The above discussed issue of sexual harassment in the work place can be fought by companies. The companies in which sexual harassment can be observed need to implement effective policies against the harassment. The most effective one, according to Osman (2007) can be the special class in which the company’s employees will be taught how to treat their colleagues tolerantly and how to physically and mentally resist violence and harassment (Osman, 2007): “Physical resistance, in the form of pushing the harasser’s hand away, is one potentially effective response that generally strengthens perceptions of harassment, but saying “stop” should be sufficient for most individuals” (p. 345).

Potential victims, especially women should be aware of the ways to resist harassment. They should be taught that pushing the harasser away and expressing verbal protest might increase their chances of avoiding harassment. It is also important that anti-harassment policy of the company should be communicated clearly to the employees (Stockdale, 1998): “The policy should be verbally communicated to the new workers, and one of the working assignments should be to review the policy” (p. 534).

The Hispanic people should receive information in Spanish, the Chinese people in their native language, etc. Clear focus of employees on the possible anti-harassment steps can help them resist violence in the work place (Osman, 2007): “To prevent sexual harassment, this may be useful for women to know, given that many women do not offer direct resistance to unwanted sexual attention in the workplace” (p. 345). If women as the most often targets of sexual harassers receive enough information, understand it in their native language and can properly use it, the cases of harassment will be fewer.

Finally, to avoid any misunderstandings in the working team regarding the harassment prevention the classes of resistance should be carried out in the native languages of the workers (Stockdale, 1998): “In order to prevent miscommunication and misunderstanding, the policy should be communicated on the native language of the worker” (p. 534). Native language is important for the employees to understand how they can resist harassment and to feel comfortable while studying this. Native language allows people to have more freedom of communication and more opportunities to communicate any questions or problems they have. The employees, as potential harassers and victims, must adopt the principles of resistance and apply them properly in everyday work.

However, the gender basis of the sexual harassment should also be considered by any company. Thus, Stein (1999) states that medical services are important part of anti-harassment policies: “…medical practice may take into consideration the developing office policies and regulations for decreasing the risk and maximizing job satisfaction” (p.438). Thus, medical services offered might not only prevent harassment but fight its consequences.

If harassment victims display low productivity and job satisfaction, it is medicine that can help them restore confidence and strength. According to Stockdale (1998), companies should consider the psychological influence of harassment not only upon women, but men as well: “Although gender differences in SH [sexual harassment] experiences and its consequences are widely documented, it is unknown whether women experience more severe consequences than men given the same level of pervasiveness of SH experiences” (p. 525).

In other words, Stockdale (1998) argues that men might experience serious psychological trauma after sexual harassment; there is no guarantee that their trauma are milder than women’s, so companies should not be biased and consider the needs of both sexes in protecting them from harassment. Furthermore, the necessity for the medical-based policies to be simple and understandable for employees is also obvious (Stein, 1999): “Such policies need not be complex or cumbersome, but rather a simple statement of appropriate conduct” (p.438).

Stein (1999) stresses the importance of clear communication of anti-harassment principles, and argues that the simpler these policies are, the more employees would implement them properly and beneficially. Finally, Osman (2007) states that “Future research, therefore, should consider that perceptions of harassing behavior may depend in part upon the interaction between the severity of aggression and the degree or type of response” (p. 345).

Accordingly, the current stage of development of sexual harassment study is not enough to solve this issue in the work place. It is necessary to study the nature of harassment, its causes, response ways, and relation of degree of sereneness to the effect made. Only the combination of the comprehensive approach to the sexual harassment issue, medical basis of the policy and further research on the topic can provide an effective policy to prevent harassment.

Conclusions

Thus, after consideration of all the aforesaid facts it is obvious that sexual harassment in the work place is the issue that bothers numbers of scholars and ordinary people. They face this problem every day. Sexual harassment in the work place has its causes as well as the factors that predetermine the ways in which people respond to harassment. Finally, it is possible for companies to prevent sexual harassment in the work place by creating effective policies.

They should combine understanding of the issue with scientific approach and will be non-biased according to the gender principle. After the consideration of the facts and ideas of various scholars it can be stated that sexual harassment is not moral but rather a social issue as. With the expansion of women into the social life and with the greater employment opportunities for them sexual harassment becomes the concern of the larger and larger amount of people.

However, men are also touched by the problem of sexual harassment. So, any effective policy for prevention of sexual harassment cannot be complete without special services or means of protection offered to men as well. The causes of sexual harassment range from the social and cultural points to psychological and biological ones. Accordingly, only the comprehensive understanding of the nature of sexual harassment will allow creating the effective and properly working prevention policy. This policy should include special training classes of tolerant treatment and harassment resistance, medical services to prevent or fight the consequences of harassment, and further research. All this will allow the society to solve the issue of sexual harassment in the work place completely.

References

Nelson, J. (2008). “Out of bounds”. Essence publishing, 38(12), 160-163.

Osman, S. L. (2007) “Predicting Perceptions of Sexual Harassment Based on Type of Resistance and Belief in Token Resistance” Journal of Sex Research. Vol. 44, No, 4. 340-346.

Stein, L. W. (1999). Sexual Harassment in America A Documentary History. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 415-456.

Stockdale, M S. (1998) “The Direct and Moderating Influences of Sexual-Harassment Pervasiveness, Coping Strategies, and Gender on Work-Related Outcomes” Psychology of Women Quarterly, 22 (1998), 521-535.

Strickland, R. A. (1995) “Sexual Harassment: A Legal Perspective for Public Administrators” Public Personnel Management, Volume 24 No. 4, 278-298.

Wasti, S. A. (2002) “Coping in Context: Sociocultural Determinants of Responses to Sexual Harassment” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 83, No. 2, 394–405.

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