More than two decades since professor Anita Hill provided groundbreaking testimony alleging misconduct against her former boss and Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, sexual harassment is still an issue. Find out what factors influence sexual harassment in the workplace, and discover what you can do if faced with the issue.
Abuse of Power
Sexual harassment often results when a superior exerts his power over a subordinate. The harasser might demand sexual favors from another employee in exchange for a promotion or threaten to demote or even fire the worker if the unwanted advances are rejected.
Fear of Retaliation
Employees who allow sexual harassment to continue often fear retaliation if they report the behavior. Some workers would rather leave their jobs to escape harassment than file a complaint and risk further unwanted and unwarranted consequences. Employees who remain quiet about the sexual harassment they're enduring often fear getting fired or being labeled a troublemaker.
Some employees report sexual harassment, but to no avail. Some organizations protect high-level employees who perpetrate harassing behavior, offering the accuser a settlement to leave the company and remain quiet about the sexual harassment. It's not uncommon for harassed employees to feel as though they are the only victim or for the accused to continue the harassing behavior with a new employee.
To combat sexual harassment before it ever becomes an issue in your agency, build strong connections with your co-workers, and network with human resources representatives. Get to know your company's sexual harassment policies well, and support any sexual harassment training or awareness initiatives your employer promotes. Show empathy for any employee who files a report, and offer your testimony if you witness harassing behavior against a co-worker.
Address the Issue
If you recognize sexually harassing behavior, put a stop to it before it escalates. If a co-worker or superior makes a sexual comment or tells an inappropriate joke that offends you, immediately speak up and make it known that you find the behavior unacceptable.
File a Report
You might not want to report every inappropriate comment, but it's important to know when to contact human resources about the situation. Discuss the situation with your supervisor or a higher-level employee you can trust, and discuss the steps you should take to report the harassing behavior. Ask the human resources department to document each incident, and be professional when filing your report.
While sexual harassment is still an issue in today's society, high-profile lawsuits have given the subject plenty of media attention, leading companies to protect employees and establish policies against the misconduct. Take a stand against sexual harassment in your organization by knowing what steps to take if you fall victim or witness harassing behavior.
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