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Sexual Harassment In The Workplace Still A Problem In Women’s Eyes

18 Apr

According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, one in four women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. One in ten men also say they have been sexually harassed and a quarter of the men say they fear being falsely accused of sexual harassment. 64% of people surveyed said they believed sexual harassment to be a problem in the workplace, and 88% of those women harassed said the same.

For most, knowing what is and isn’t sexual harassment can often be a blurry line. How are we to know what makes one person uncomfortable and not another? The EEOC states that sexual harassment includes unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that unreasonably interfere with an individual’s work performance, or create an intimidating, offensive, or hostile work environment. Ok, but how do we know what is or isn’t sexual harassment? Because sexual attraction may sometimes play a role in sexual comments or conduct in the workplace, it is often hard to distinguish between those sexual advances that are invited, uninvited-but-welcome, offensive-but-tolaterated and flatly rejected.

According to an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case, for a sexual harassment case to succeed it is important that the individual being sexually harassed did not incite or solicit the conduct, and that the individual saw the conduct as undesirable and offensive. When a court is considering such a case it looks to the totality of the circumstances. If both people have different stories, which is obviously likely to happen, the court will consider the woman’s to have more credibility if she complained or voiced her opinion about the inappropriate conduct. This is especially true if the parties used to have a consensual sexual relationship.

Ok, enough of the legal mumbo-jumbo. What types of things may be considered sexual harassment?

Touching Any Body Part Besides The Individual’s Hand

Of course whether this is considered sexual harassment depends on the situation and the relationship between the parties, but there is no doubt that your boss rubbing your shoulders when you are stressed out can make you uncomfortable. Other than a handshake, it is best never to initiate physical contact with another co-worker. If you are being touched in a manner that makes you feel uncomfortable it is important to voice your opinion on the situation. You don’t need to go into detail, simply saying “I think this is inappropriate” will suffice.

Making Any Comment About The Opposite Sex’s Appearance

Because sexual harassment is in the eye of the receiver of the comment, it is important to be careful what you say about the opposite sex’s appearance. At a previous job I had a boss that would always comment about my appearance. At first I thought he was trying to help me look more professional, but when he started saying things like “you have a really great body” or “I wonder what you look like all dressed up” things became awkward. Like most women, I felt as if I was in no position to say anything to a boss when it was my first “real” job, but regardless, his comments still made me uncomfortable. If you are the type to comment on the appearance of others because you think you are giving them a compliment, maybe it would be best to ask if such comments make them uncomfortable.

Calling An Employee Anything Besides Their Name

I hate when people call me “honey” or “sweetie” because to me it is degrading. I have never had anyone of the opposite sex call me either name, but if they did I am sure I would be uncomfortable and pissed. It is important to always refer to people by their names unless they tell you to call them by something else. if you are an executive and are calling your lower-level female employee “honey,” she may take that the wrong way.

Telling A Male Co-Worker To Think Above Their Belt Buckle

According to The Grindstone, such a comment could be taken the wrong way and lead to lawsuit.


At one of my previous jobs a young woman complained that one of the tech guys always stared at her. She told her boss that the staring made her feel really uncomfortable and she threatened to file a lawsuit with the EEOC if the staring didn’t stop. To her, the staring was unwanted and creepy. To others this may seem strange that this woman felt uncomfortable being stared at, and some may even find such a thing flattering, but remember, a sexual harassment suit is based on the individual’s perception. If you find yourself staring at someone by accident, make sure to apologize and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

Checking A Co-Worker Out

I have had numerous women tell me that they feel extremely uncomfortable when men, especially male executives, stare at their breasts or glance at them when they are talking. Who knows, the male may not even be looking at her breasts, but to the woman he is and it makes her uncomfortable. I have had another woman tell me that a male co-worker looked her up and down and said, “you look good today,” which made her feel really uncomfortable. Maybe if she hadn’t caught him checking her out the comment would have been perceived differently, but that wasn’t the case. The point is that work is not the bar. Work is not the place to be checking out your co-workers and looking (or thinking) about them in inappropriate ways.

Making Sexually Explicit Comments or Jokes

There are some people out there that have a sort of twisted sense of humor and find sexual jokes funny. That is fine, but not in the workplace. These types of jokes and comments should be completely left out of the workplace, even if they are made to your friends or buddies.

Talking About Your Sex Life

I have a male friend that works with a woman who is constantly talking about her sex life, or the lack thereof. He always tells me how uncomfortable these types of conversations make him. I am sure he doesn’t know that he has a potential sexual harassment suit on his hands, but he does. Talking to anybody about your sex life can make the other person feel uncomfortable, even if they don’t seem uncomfortable. To you such conversations may be normal, but to others sex is a deeply personal matter. It is best to keep your personal life personal and vent to someone outside of work.

As I explained above, I have been the receiver of unwanted comments from a male at work. While it was happening I never thought “I am being sexually harassed,” but I should have. I should have told that individual that I didn’t appreciate his comments.

Have you experienced sexual harassment in the workplace? Did you say anything to the harasser or human resources? How was the dispute resolved?

Being True to Who You Are: Why We Don’t Have to Act Like Men at Work

13 Feb

I have often struggled with the question of how a woman should be acting in the workplace. Should she be aggressive, assertive, and tough, or should she be nice, understanding, and patient? A woman’s instinct usually tells her that she should be nice, but we all know that being too “nice” makes it hard for others to take you seriously. On the flip side, if you are too assertive or aggressive, both qualities that are praised in men, you are considered “mean” or a “bitch.” In Catherine Kaputa’s The Female Brand: Using the Female Mindset to Succeed in Business, she discusses a 2007 study by Catalyst, “Damned if You Do, Damned if You Dont,” where the findings indicated that women often face three common dilemmas in the workplace:

  1. The Can’t-Win Dilemma: If women act like women and embody those traits that make us who we are, they are perceived as weak and incapable. If they act like men, they are seen as too tough. In essence, they can’t win.
  2. The Higher Bar-Lower Reward Dilemma: Women often have to work harder to get to where men are, but they often receive less in exchange for their hard work.
  3. The Competent Yet Disliked Dilemma: Women who embody those leadership skills praised in men, such as assertiveness and aggressiveness, are often disliked, even by women. 

As you can see, no matter what a woman does she is always at a disadvantage. I am sure we all remember when Hillary Clinton ran for president of the United States in 2008, right? When Clinton brought her campaign efforts to a close in June of 2008, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric made an everlasting impression on the feminists of the United States when she said, “However you feel about her politics, I feel that Senator Clinton received some of the most unfair, hostile coverage I’ve ever seen.”  Couric went on to argue that Clinton’s defeat was not based upon her political beliefs, but was rooted in sexism. What I remember most prominently about Clinton’s bid for presidency was how often she was criticized for wearing pant suits, and when she did wear skirt suits people commented on how thick her ankles were. Seriously? Clinton was also criticized that her tone of voice was annoying and nagging, and was accused of having a meltdown when she got angry during a debate (something male politicians do all of the time).

While Hillary Clinton is just one example, sexism is all around us. So, what are we to do? Should be behave like men or act as we were meant to act? I have always tended to think that women should bottle up their emotions and niceness and be more aggressive and assertive, but Kaputa’s book and the story of E. Lee Hennessee that I recently read on Forbes makes me think differently.

Hennessee works on Wall Street as a trader. For those of you who don’t know, working on Wall Street is seen as a man’s job. As a result, most women working on Wall Street tend to try to act more like the men. Rather than trying to act like the other women working in Wall Street, Henneessee refused to give up her southern upbringing and morals. When senior men would try to bully her to give up her high-powered clients, she wouldn’t budge, but would instead tell them that when their daughters of nieces entered the workforce she hoped people didn’t treat them like he was treating her. When men were rude to her on the phone, she hung up on them and refused to work with them unless they were polite. When people told her that she shouldn’t work downtown, but should work uptown so she could go shopping on her lunch break she went downtown and worked in the biggest room of men she could find. Hennessee defied the odds and opened her own company – all while acting like a true southern woman.

Just like Hennessee, Kaputa does not think that acting like a man is the answer. Kaputa argues that if women were to act like men in the workplace they would be seen, as stated above, as too assertive or too aggressive. Kaputa correctly states that “Bad behavior is disliked in a man. But it’s despised in a woman.” Rather than trying to be what you are not, Kaputa argues that you should embrace who you are and be a woman. Kaputa states that “Your brand must come from who you are, what makes you tick, what your passions are, and what your strengths are.” Rather than focusing on your shortcoming and always trying to be something you are not, Kaputa says that you need to be who you are.

I agree! Why should women spend so much time trying to be like men when that clearly doesn’t work for them? Rather than trying to be aggressive, women should focus on what they are good at – being empathetic and building relationships with those around them. Women have great intuition and the ability to really see how their actions are affecting other people. Why not focus on this ability to help you succeed? Sure, you can be motivated, hard-working, smart, and opinionated, but you shouldn’t try to overcompensate for your softer side. Women shouldn’t be afraid to be who they are in the workplace. Sure, there are things that women should try to keep out of the workplace – like tears or emotional outbursts – but a woman should not have to be overly assertive, mean, or aggressive to be successful.

What do you think? Do you agree with Kaputa that women shouldn’t try to act like men or do you think that, in order to be successful, a woman needs to act more like a man?