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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Essay by   •  September 18, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  3,578 Words (15 Pages)  •  1,364 Views

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Abstract

Sexual harassment in the workplace is considered unwelcome or uninvited behavior of a sexual nature, that is offensive, embarrassing, intimidating and affects an employee's work performance, health, career or livelihood. One of the major problems in dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace is its perceptual nature. Men and women generally differ in what they perceive to be sexual harassment.

There are several forms of sexual harassment. They include verbal, psychological, unwanted touch, sexual gestures and exposure. Women are often caught up in the dangerous web of sexual harassment by receiving conflicting messages from men in the workplace. The fact that these misconducts are made to look normal goes a long way in making it difficult for women to cope in these situations, which in turn may have a negative impact on their productivity as equals in the workplace all over the world.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual Harassment or sexual annoyance in the workplace is considered as a great concern for employees as well as for the employers of organizations and institutions across the globe. The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has been highly concerned about the occurrence of sexual harassment in the workplace since its inception in 1975. Various cases of sexual harassment are registered in local justice courts of the different countries around the world. The rise of the term "sexual harassment" has been traced back to the mid-1970s in North America. Sexual harassment has been defined by the following two ways:

"Harassment related to sex: Where an unwanted conduct related to the sex of a person occurs with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment."

"Sexual harassment: Where any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature occurs with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment" (Hunt et al., 1-2).

Literature review

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been highly instrumental in providing greater amounts of opportunity and freedom for women in the workplace. The most important objective of the title has been to identify, as well as, to eradicate discriminatory employment practices. These aspects have been used in the act for the purpose of providing equal opportunities in respect to each and every aspect at the workplace. However, despite all these legal provisions for reducing the level of sexual harassment in the different workplaces across the country, in actuality this problem has not been resolved. Even after four decades of these legislations and regulations, numerous instances of sexual harassment in public and private workplaces across the country are found. Various recent researches and findings suggest that about 50 percent of women face one and/or more forms of sexual harassment in their workplace. A study on sexual harassment in American workplaces, which has been conducted by the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, revealed the fact that almost 10 million women have faced different forms of sexual harassment within the workplace (Jackson and Newman, 706).

There are various aspects which are thought to be behind the evidence of sexual harassment in the workplace in our country. Among these aspects the most important ones are socio-demographic aspects, the social contact and the spillover effect of sex-role. The socio-demographic profile of a worker reveals the relation status of that worker in the workplace and also the power of the worker in or outside the workplace. In this context some socio-demographic features are related to the characteristics of the worker which are associated with the defined positions of absolute and/or relative power. Some other features of the worker are associated with the level of personal vulnerability and the level of risk. Those people who have the lowest level of power possess the lowest level of status within and/or outside the workplace are most likely to be sexually harassed. According to this viewpoint, it can be said that gender is perhaps the most important predictor of the risk associated with sexual harassment in the workplace; 'the value system of a patriarchal society legitimates power and status differences between men and women, rendering women vulnerable' (Jackson and Newman, 707).

Gender is regarded as the most influential and most powerful predictor of sexual harassment. Almost all studies and practical evidences have revealed the fact that women are most likely to be sexually harassed compared to men; not only in the workplace, but also in the outside world. Apart from gender differences, marital status is also regarded as highly important factor which contributes in affecting evidences of sexual harassments in workplaces. According to Jackson and Newman, "single, divorced, separated, and widowed women are more likely to be harassed than married women. Among the likely explanations, some potential harassers may perceive "married women as falling under the protection of another man" and as unavailable sexually" (Jackson and Newman 204). In this context it can also be said that marriage is the most important distinguishing factor behind a women being sexually harassed. However, some studies have revealed that married men are also less likely to get sexually harassed compared to the unmarried men. Hence, in overall terms it can be said that marriage provides a great protection from being sexually harassed for men, as well as for women (Jackson and Newman, 707).

Another important role that plays a significant part in sexual harassment is age. In comparison to the general female workers, those that are within the lower and middle age groups are more likely to be sexually harassed. This age group includes female workers who are between 16 and 34 years of age. There are also other socio-demographic profiles which cause people, mainly women, to be sexually harassed in the workplace. Income level of the female worker, educational level, as well as posts or designations in the workplace, are also regarded as important factors behind cases of sexual harassment. It has been shown that female workers earning lower annual salaries and not being as educated, compared to most of their peers in their business organization, are most likely to be sexually harassed by their co-workers. The basic reason behind these outcomes is that lower educational qualification, lower level of designation in the workplace and lower

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