Unequal Power in the workplace

Sexual harassment is wrong. It can also be costly to employers. Just ask executives at Philips Morris, Dial and UPS. A Kentucky jury awarded $2 million to a Philip Morris plant supervisor who suffered though more than a year of sexual harassment by men she supervised. Dial agreed to pay $10 million to resolve widespread sexual harassment practices at its soap factory in Aurora. Illinois. And a former UPS manger won an $80 million suit against UPS for fostering a hostile work environment when it failed to listen to her complaints of sexual harassment.

Not only are there legal dangers to sexual harassment, it obviously can have a negative impact on the work environment to. Research shows that sexual harassment negatively affects job attitudes ad leads those who feel harassed to withdraw from the organization. Moreover in many cases, reporting sexual harassment doesn’t prove the situation because the organization responds in a negative or unhelpful way. When organizational leaders make honest efforts to stop the harassment the outcomes are much more positive.

Sexual harassment is defined as any unwanted activity of a sexual nature that affects an individual’s employment ad creates a hostile work environment. The US Supreme Curt helped to clarify this definition by adding that the key test for determining if sexual harassment has occurred is whether comments or behavior in a work environment would reasonably be perceived and is perceived as hostile or abusive. But here continues to be disagreement as to what specifically constitutes sexual harassment. Organizations have generally made considerable progress in the past decade toward limiting overt forms of sexual harassment. This includes unwanted physical touching, recurring requests for dates when it is made clear the person isn’t interested and coercive threats that a person will lose the job if he or she refuses a sexual proposition. The problems today are likely to surface around more subtle forms of sexual harassment – unwanted looks or comments, off-color jokes, sexual artifacts like pin-ups posted in the workplace or misinterpretations of where the line between being friendly ends and harassment between being friendly and harassment begins.

A recent review concluded that 58 percent of women report having experienced potentially harassing behaviors and 24 percent report having experienced sexual harassment at work. One problem with sexual harassment is that it is, to some degree, in the eye of the beholder. For example men are more likely to see a given behavior or sets of behavior as kissing someone, asking for a date, or making sex-stereotyped jokes. As the authors of this study note, although progress has been made at defining sexual harassment, it is still unclear as to whose perspective should be taken. Thus, although some behaviors indisputably constitute harassment men and women continue to differ to some degree on what constitutes harassment. For you, the best approach is to be careful – refrain from any behavior that may be taken as harassing even if that was not our intent. Realize that what you see as an innocent joke or hug may be seen as harassment by the other party.

Most studies confirm that the concept of power is central to understanding sexual harassment. This seems to be true whether the harassment comes from a supervisor, a coworker, or an employee. Sexual harassment is more likely to occur when there are large power differentials. The supervisor employees had best characteristics an unequal power relationship, where formal power gives the supervisor the capacity it reward and coerce, Supervisors give employees their assignments evaluate their preference make recommendations for salary adjustments and promotions and even decide whether or not an employee retains his or her job. These decisions give a supervisor power. Because employees want favorable performance reviews salary increases, and the like, it’s clear supervisors control resources that most employees consider important ad scarce. It’s also worth noting that individuals who occupy high status roles (like management positions) sometimes believe that sexually harassing employees is merely a extension of there right to make demands on lower status individuals. Because of power inequities, sexual harassment by one’s boss typically crates the greatest difficulty for those who are being harassed. If there are no witnesses, it is the victim’s word against the harasser’s. Are there others this boss has harassed and if so, will they come forward? Because of the superior’s control over resources, many of these will not come forward. Because if the supervisor’s control over resources many of those who are harassed are afraid of speaking out for fear of retaliation by the supervisor.

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