Sexual harassment is one of the most prominent social issues that not only affects the victim, but also the decorum of workplace as a whole. Two forms of conduct may constitute harassment, sexual and non-sexual. Physical assault, and sexually charged advances come under sexual form of harassment. Non-sexual conduct, consisting of gender-discrimination, is also a form of sexual harassment. Statistics reveals that around 15000 cases are filed with EEOC(Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) each year. Sexual harassment of women, in the form of gender discrimination, is common at American workplaces also. Most of the cases of sexual harassment center around females as victims, though males can also be the targets of uninvited sexual conduct or gender bias.
This paper discusses different aspects of sexual harassment and how it affects the working environment. I have presented the examples of sexual discrimination/harassment from my previous organization, ABC Limited, where I have volunteered on a project of fund-raising for orphans. Illustrations testify that abuse issues not only affect individual growth and work potential but also put a substantial impact on overall organizational productivity and long-term success. Based on the empirical evidences and literature review, I have recommended certain measures to counter this social nuisance in an efficient way.
Sexual harassment assumes different forms as verbal, physical, psychological and visual harassment. Passing indecent jokes with women at a hearing distance is an example of verbal abuse. Visual abuse occurs when male co-workers put pictures of scantily-clad women at their workstations. Psychological harassment involves pressurizing the female colleague for dates despite she exhibits the disapproval consistently.
In organizations, Quid pro quo harassment and hostile environment problems are also common. In ABC Limited, a female employee complained that the interviewer touched her during recruitment session to test her adaptability and open-mindedness. The incident represents a quid pro quo harassment that caused superfluous tensions in the company and a sense of insecurity among female interviewees. More often than not, sexual harassment reflects an abuse of power in the organization where men, usually, wield more power than counterparts.
Scholars have provided different definitions of sexual harassment; some restrict it to "sexual" advances and physical assault while some see it in a wider context of bullying and sexual discrimination. A recent survey specifically directed the attention towards harassment cases that create hostile working conditions. Studies have found a strong a correlation between bullying, sexual harassment, and hostile working environment. Researchers, who have discussed sexual harassment in wider contexts, have drawn similarities between workplace aggression and sexual discrimination. They have argued that sexual mistreatment is one of the notable forms of aggression that usually put women in subordinate positions. Though it exists in almost all occupations and industries, organizational culture plays a decisive role to make it possible.
The culture that centers around rigid hierarchical roles and managerial power increases the propensity for discriminatory behavior in one or other forms. Researchers have identified that authoritarian and laissez-faire styles are more likely to encourage bullying and sexual harassment. Authoritarian style lacks communication and participation on the part of staff members while laissez-faire management fails to control the workplace behavior. These both reflect extremes that are likely to cause bullying, stalking, and workplace aggression.
Clinicians have discovered theoretical links between gender discrimination, sexual advances, and other forms of abuse against girls and women. Sex discrimination, sexual abuse, and exploitation reinforce:
1) subordinate status to females
2) Devaluation and objectification of women
3) Gender role socialization
Victims of these abuses feel immense social, physical, economic, and emotional pressure. International Trade Union has reported that social and human cost of sexual harassment is very high as victims, often, find it difficult to lead a normal life. At workplace, the cases of sexual harassment or gender discrimination can dwindle workers' morale thereby affecting the organizational performance. A company in US incurred a cost of US $ 6.7million a year because of ignoring this problem. Continuous ignorance increased absenteeism, employee turnover and dwindled the morale of the workforce in the organization.
Studies have marked out that workplaces characterized by sexual harassment are less satisfying for female employees. A survey identified that overall job satisfaction was substantially low among women who witnessed discrimination and mistreatment during two years of their jobs. As job satisfaction among employees is positively associated with organizational outcomes, it is obvious to assume low work quality among females who feel a lack of security because of workplace issues.
The company lacked a healthy interpersonal climate, and there was the lack of communication among staff members, especially between males and females. Job satisfaction was low, and this was one the reason the company could not encourage more youths to volunteer in the fund raising project.
Though the organization did not reflect extreme cases of physical assault, its organizational culture lacked a sense of courtesy and respect towards women. Some employees were habitual of sharing sexual anecdotes and indecent jokes. There were few ethnic minority women employees who, often, faced racist and sexist remarks from colleagues. Literature also endorses that there is a high rate of harassment cases against ethnic minority women compared to White females.
Being a small organization, there was not any formal platform to resolve these conflicts. As such, complaints were frequent with no effective solutions by HR department. The environment was hostile to the women as the organization did not adhere to pregnancy laws for full time employees and would not offer maternity benefits. The women in the organization found it quite disturbing and pregnant ladies did not join the organization post-delivery.
Psychological studies have stated that sexual harassment and related abuses harm beyond targets. It means they also affect second targets who notice hostile working conditions directed at coworkers. Expressions of hostility as interruption without reason and inappropriate way of addressing each other declines motivation level and job satisfaction. These features combine to impact the organizational functioning and employees' well-being. In instances of sexual harassment, the presence of abuse at workplace harms the targets and also the secondary victims who witness or hear about it. As such, it distorts the teamwork by causing a gap between male and female employees. Gradually, the organization starts ranking low in reputation and financial performance.
The company follows a rigid hierarchy with most of the top positions are occupied by men despite equal representation of women in the total workforce. The scenario naturally places women as subordinate to their male counterparts and makes them vulnerable to derogatory behavior.
Organizational success depends on the motivation of employees and overall work culture. As such, it is imperative to impose certain controls to placate the instances of sexual harassment. The problem exhibited by ABC Limited involves various dimensions, i.e. organizational policy/culture, employees' ignorance, and lack of awareness on the part of management and employees.
Ameliorating corporate culture, thus, is the first step towards achieving a healthy work environment. The organization must draft gender-neutral policies to address the resentment. For instance, procedures should be made to enhance skill-based representation of women at higher positions. Also, the organization must adhere to existing rules and regulations. EEOC, in 1971, established that hostile work environment stemming from gender discrimination is one of the markers of sexual harassment. The policies of ABC Limited must encourage employees to perform optimally without any gender-based discrimination. Not offering pregnancy and maternity benefits is incongruous to a neutral approach as these practices put women in a state of subordination.
Secondly, the firm could impart appropriate education and training to employees( full-time and volunteers) about courteous behavior at the workplace. As the employees did not exhibit a high degree of the amorous attitude, few training sessions and knowledge on the matter could help in solving the issues. Studies have revealed that open communication is crucial to counter the issue promptly.
The organization must clarify that harassment will not be tolerated in any form. Its policies and procedures need to be coupled with anti-harassment training for staff members irrespective of their tenure and designation. Adopting an anti-harassment policy will instill a sense of responsibility among managers and workers to create a work environment devoid of abuses. Additionally, the organization must act precipitously to take actions against such complaints. For instance, in recruitment case, the management could have confronted the interviewer directly so as to avoid similar situations in the future.
Literature asserts that employers apply a two-pronged approach to solving the issues, i.e., offensive approach to re-educate their employees to eliminate thoughtlessness from the workplace. The defensive plan includes lining up legal experts to review company policies and more recently, purchasing insurance that can help the firms to solve the cases without being destroyed financially.
However, only drafting the policies is not sufficient; seniors must exhibit commitment to make these procedures effective. Many organizations have adopted formal policies and standards, but they have rendered redundant because of an implicit complexity in lodging the complaints and delivering the proofs. ABC Limited, thus, can resort to informal dispute resolution system that will aim not to impart punishment to the offender, but to restore a peaceful co-existence between both parties. Savants have argued that most of the victims want to avoid formal procedures. It is imperative if the organization makes the process more friendly and less formal.
It is obvious that sexual harassment incurs a high social, emotional, psychological, and economic cost to both parties, victims and the organization. Scientists have documented a range of links between harassment cases and physical and mental health of victims. Combating it with effective means is an advantage to workers, organization, and the society as a whole.
First of all, the organization may reduce the overall cost and efforts by adopting informal dispute system and related insurance policies. Formal mechanism may take a long time that can further distort the functioning of the involved department. Resorting to informal procedures may reduce organizational cost by addressing the matters in a speedy manner.
Secondly, spreading awareness by means of employees' education will encourage women to come forward in case they feel that they are being harassed. Effective resolution of cases will help create a positive work environment in the organization, one of the potential social benefits in itself. Society, Marx says, is the sum-total of relations that connect the individuals. Efforts by organizations to instill a healthy approach in the minds of staff members will gradually trickle down to the society thereby creating a broader social benefit in terms of women respect and courtesy. Eliminating sexual harassment from the workplace will enhance social justice in the society and help women feel safer at workplaces.
The issue carries a broad dimension, and scholars have provided different definitions of sexual harassment involving verbal, psychological, and physical harassment. ABC Limited suffers from harassment instances that emanate from hostile working policies and employees' ignorance. Appropriate education and legal help will help the organization to deal effectively with such cases.
Last but not the least, sexual harassment is not restricted to females, though females are more likely to be victimized by it. Also, it can assume much more dimensions than discussed in the paper. It is necessary to create awareness about the issue and encouraging the victims to counter it with poise.
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