The EOC-Equal Opportunities Commission has been tasked with matters that have to do with sexual harassment in the work environment since its conception in 1975. As the years have passed by, the commission has made use of the powers it has in the Sex Discrimination Act to assist in sexual harassment claims in tribunals of employment in establishing case laws and has also brought the problem to the fore through lobbying and campaigns. The commission has also initiated investigations on organizations that have a large number of complaints linked to sexual harassment.
The purpose of this study is to explore what has been assessed on sexual harassment using a multi-disciplinary route and finding out the workplace culture, it takes place in, among other things as well as the policies in place to deal with and prevent sexual harassment, the culprits who commit this act and the victims of harassment. The paper will also try to find the gaps in knowledge as far a sexual harassment is concerned.
The initial SDA-Sex Discrimination Act did not have any meaning for sexual harassment or any definition that would explain harassment in any way. The 2005 amendments to this Act came with two different definitions of sexual harassment that is; unwanted non-verbal, verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature; and unwanted conduct on the grounds of someone’s sex (EOC, 2006). The parliament in Europe has defined sexual harassment as follows: any form of unwanted physical, non-verbal and verbal conduct of a sexual nature that takes place with the effect or purpose of abusing the dignity of a person, especially when creating an offensive, humiliating, degrading, hostile and intimidating environment; or where an unwanted conduct in line with a person’s sex takes place with the effect or purpose of violating a person’s dignity and of creating an offensive, humiliating, degrading, hostile and intimidating environment (Ballard et al., 2006).
The individual experience of sexual harassment is subjective as much as the behaviors that comprise this act are well known, but one of the main characteristics that can show this act exists is the fact that it is unwanted by the victim who has been harassed (Martin, 1989). In an organization, abuse of power is the main reflection of sexual harassment where some members of a specific group have more powers than others, for example men over women who are vulnerable. This is in line with the pros and cons women have to go through at work and society in general (Giuffre and Williams, 1994). There are many forms of sexual harassment: from sexually inciting oral banter and remarks to harassment via communication channels as emails, social websites, mobile phones and telephones leading to the more serious act of sexual assault (Fineran and Bennet, 1999).
Research has unveiled that people view sexual harassment in different ways. For instance, women are more vulnerable to this act and label some behaviors in the category of sexual harassment this is similar to casual and non-casual staff (Clair, 1993). The behavior has a high chance of being deemed as harassment when the difference in power is huge between the person harassing, and the one being harassed for example a C.E.O in a company harassing his female personal assistant. Emphasis on research in the recent past has shifted the act from harassment to bullying. These two concepts are closely linked.
Sexual harassment takes place in companies, industries and all forms of occupations and an organizational culture is important to know why and how it takes place in some places and not in others. Physical violence and bullying are termed to be violations in an organization and this is a culture that allows employees to be treated with disrespect and abused.
According to Kohlman (2004) managerial and hierarchical power is important to be able to understanding how this culture develops and goes on. As the work environment in the organization gets worse it is likely that some behaviors that are inappropriate will be shrugged off creating a pattern that leads to discourteous behavior being recognized as normal behavior by the employers and the employees in the workplace. Some certain work situations show more prevalence of sexual harassment than others due to the uneven sex ratios where there are wide gaps between men and women or in the appointment of new positions at work or in times of insecurity at work (Kohlman, 2004).
There are two types, though not exclusively, of leadership styles that is linked with sexual harassment: in laissez faire style the management usually fails to intercept workplace behavior; while in authoritarian style consultation with staff is limited (Rayner and Cooper, 2002). Individuals who belong to a group that is advantaged prefer other individuals from their own group and are likely to discriminate groups that are socially disadvantaged hence such situations pave way for the occurrence of sexual harassment.
Groups more at risk
People who encounter sexual harassment range from manual workers, to professionals and managers. Women are the most vulnerable group, whether illiterate, literate, divorced, single or young and old (Martin, 1989; Watts and Zimmerman, 2002). The perpetrators of this act are in most cases male with a higher position of power than that of the person they choose to harass. These people do not consider the effect their behavior causes others and in most cases have poor self-monitoring and self-control senses of judgment. There is no much evidence available that shows the link between other characteristic and sexual harassment. It is hard to separate sexual and racial harassment. Most of the evidence available is from the US and it suggests that women from ethnic minorities are at a higher risk of being sexually harassed compared to white women either from white men and women or ethnic minority men (Fox and Boulton, 2005). This fact is true for disabled employees and bisexual, gays and lesbian people who are deemed to be vulnerable and go through harassment.
Impact of sexual harassment
The effects of sexual harassment in both the long and short term are not positive at all. People who have been harassed may show signs of psychological damage, loss of self confidence, anger, humiliation and illness. In the workplace the effects may range from frequent absenteeism, low job satisfaction with poor performance and ultimately one may opt to resign (Anderson et al., 1996). Seeing another person being harassed in the workplace may have a negative impact on other employees affecting the attitude they have towards their jobs and if they feel the issue of sexual harassment is not being tackled well by the company this may lead to poor physical health and lower job satisfaction. In other circumstances investigating sexual harassment claims may bring division among staff members.
The existence of sexual harassment in the organization as noted by Riger (2001) may seriously affect the business through poor performance, the cost of compensating the victims, a spoilt public image, lost productivity and low morale of employees. Sexual harassment is a safety and health problem that has been recognized as a hazard or health risk in organizations by the health and safety executive.
Strategies to stop sexual harassment
Interventions to deal with or prevent sexual harassment by an organization are divided into three basic types; prevention, acting upon where the harassment has occurred and follow-up on the investigation aftermath of the sexual harassment complaint (Adams, 1992). Measures that can be used to prevent sexual harassment include evaluation and monitoring, awareness and training strategies, and sexual harassment adoption policies. The approaches for the formation of policies are divided into two: one is the consultative approach. This approach is recommended by researchers who feel that it is crucial to include trade union, employee groups and multiple stakeholders in the full development and management of relevant programs and policies in the organization (Dasgupta, 2004). Secondly, is the bottom-up approach where staff representatives and the staff are involved in the management and development of the organization.
In the organization a culture of respect should be bred together with a no-nonsense policy towards sexual harassment through relevant policies no matter which approach is used by the organization. Training can be utilized to equip people with the proper skills on how to handle sexual harassment as well as raise understanding and awareness (Smolensky and Kleiner, 2003). This strategy has proven to change the perpetrator’s attitudes, especially in men.
Sexual harassment responses immediately, it has happened include, pinpointing the most effective strategy to use in order to handle the sexual harassment complaint and the organization’s procedures as far as complaints are concerned (Smolensky and Kleiner, 2003). It is important to have an informal and a formal route for the reporting of harassment. Confidentiality should be considered where possible together with explicitly and openly and the assurance that the harassed party will be protected from any form of victimization. Normally, placing a sexual harassment complaint is not an easy task for any individual, especially if the harasser is a person holding a senior position in the company or if the company does not have clear policies and procedures in place to protect its employees from such violations.
Upon investigation of the sexual harassment complaint, it is essential to counsel, support and offer rehabilitation to the person who has been harassed. Other parties such as the harasser, any witnesses or other work colleagues will need to be reintegrated. It is also crucial for the organization to investigate how the harassment happened and whether amendments need to be made on the company’s procedures and policies.
Various companies have put in place proper guidelines that deal with sexual harassment issues from prevention to follow up through monitoring systems that are effective and that offer independent support to the victims of harassment, the full support and commitment from senior staff, employee training, changing the culture in the organization that allows for non-tolerance of sexual harassment, coming up with procedures and policies that are effective (Mackinnon, 2009). Research has proven on an individual level, there are effective ways to deal with sexual harassment, whether at work or in the community through seeking legal remedies, disciplining or threatening the perpetrators, asking the perpetrators to stop this bad behavior through negotiation or confrontation (Einarsen et al., 2003). Denial or trying to avoid the harasser is not an effective method to use in dealing with sexual harassment as the harasser tends to ignore these methods; however it’s unfortunate that most victims tend to use this method.
Lack of support financially for claimants is one of the main challenges faced by the people seeking sexual harassment claims reported to an employment tribunal. This simply means the victims may end up having to represent themselves and this may involve a cross examination with the harasser (Giuffre and Williams, 1994). The individuals who go through sexual harassment find the proceedings very distressing and uncomfortable, especially having to recount the ordeal again and at a close proximity with the harasser (Chappel and Di Martino, 2000; Rutter, 1996).
Differences that have to do with how sexual violence should be defined and the many methods utilized by researchers will definitely have an impact on the reports of sexual harassment. Researchers have noted that the method used in questioning people who have been harassed sexually about the incident can have a significant effect on the findings in the end (Grainger and Fitzner, 2006). The findings can also be affected by quantitative and qualitative methods that might have been applied. WHO-World Health Organization conducted a study that focused on domestic violence and the health of women in general and they discovered that the number of women who reported being sexually abused in a face-face interview before the age of fifteen doubled when they got a chance to report their incidences in an anonymous identity (EOC, 2006).
As many as qualitative methods such as interviews are viewed to have more effects in terms of being able to understand the deep experiences of the victims of sexual harassment, data collected using these methods may end up producing results that are unreliable due to the respondent's denial in bringing to the fore information as sensitive as that face-to-face (Watts and Zimmerman, 2002). It is important to pay attention to the methods used to gain information on sexual harassment, including understanding any possible biases that might come up during interrogations or researches.
In order to give an overview of the recent state of knowledge this paper has reviewed and identified available literature on sexual harassment. Various key points that came up have shown that some aspects of sexual harassment have been under research while others are well documented. Sexual harassment has a severe impact on the people involved and the organization where it takes place. In the evidence presented it is clear that organizations need to take a more preventative or proactive route rather than a response driven or reactive approach to be able to tackle this vice, as well as coming up with proper company procedures and policies.
The culture of an organization plays a big role when causes and the many risk factors involved in sexual harassment are examined. Sexual harassment can be viewed as a violation of the organization since the organization allows employees to be treated in a disrespectful and abusive manner. Individuals view sexual harassment in different ways, especially when it comes to what this vice constitutes. The behavior is likely seen as harassment where the power difference in both individuals that is the harasser and the harassed is noticeable. Women are the most vulnerable group and sometimes they do not think some cases of sexual harassment warrant a level of seriousness, unfortunately research has not discovered why this is so.
So much is not known about sexual harassment in the workplace and there are many areas that research still has to work on, such as programs on monitoring and evaluation, same sex and disability harassment, ethnicity and sexual harassment, the attitudes towards the harassed and the harassment itself, the gap between practice and policies and leadership styles and their effects. It is important to understand the nature and the real scope of sexual harassment and its effects to both the workplace and the individual in order to enable proper implementation of the most preventative and effective interventions and policies.
Interventions recommended to organizations that will assist in eliminating and reducing sexual harassment in the workplace, especially for vulnerable groups of people such as women include, follow up of the person who has been harassed and the harasser as well through proper rehabilitation, an effective procedure for the response to the complaint and proper procedures and policies in the workplace that ensure harassment is prevented through proper training. This intervention method according to researchers work best if the organization is able to take up a more participatory and consultative approach throughout all the stages armed with effective evaluation and monitoring. Interventions of sexual harassment in all organizations should lean towards a more preventative rather than response driven strategies to the procedures and policies of sexual harassment.
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