Sexual Harassment Still Disproportionatly Impacts Women
Men file just 17.5% of the sexual harassment charges documented in the United States, which confirms what you may have already suspected: sexual harassment is a major issue that impacts women. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects Americans by making sexual discrimination illegal, but unfortunately, many women are still scared to report incidents of abuse, harassment, and discrimination that occur in the workplace. There are also women who are unsure whether what they’re experiencing counts as harassment, which is why we’ve compiled this list. From lewd jokes to unwanted groping, here are 3 signs of sexual harassment women may encounter in the workplace.
Comments That Imply Women Must Sleep Their Way to Success
Have you ever heard a coworker comment that a woman only landed her current position because she slept with the right people? Or perhaps your supervisor has made inappropriate comments like “If you want a raise, you need to give me what I want first.” Legally this is referred to as “quid pro quo” harassment, which is Latin for “something for something”, or “this for that”. In the workplace, this is usually the first type of sexual harassment that comes to mind. It often takes the form of a supervisor promising a new promotion, position, or raise to someone who agrees to a sexual relationship in return.
These comments imply that women aren’t capable of advancing unless they cater to the sexual needs of men, but that’s simply not true. There are many jobs that promote employees based on merit rather than sexual favors, and it’s not acceptable for anyone to act like promiscuity is the only way to get ahead in the business world.
You may have also heard comments like “She only got this job because she’s pretty” or “She gets paid more than the other women because the boss has a crush on her.” These comments are hurtful and can make everyone uncomfortable, not just the woman they’re directed toward.
When you hear these comments, do not keep the conversation going. Change the subject, and defend the woman (or yourself, if the comments are about you) if you feel safe doing so. Document these comments, along with the date and time that you heard them. Most importantly, immediately notify HR or a supervisor about the comments. The US Supreme Court has determined that failing to file a timely complaint per company guidelines may bar a harassment lawsuit.
Some women mistakenly think that a man has to grope their vagina or breasts to be an instigator of sexual harassment. However, that’s definitely not the case. Sexual harassment refers to any form of unwanted touch, whether a coworker “accidentally” rubs against your butt each morning or a supervisor brushes your hair out of your face during a meeting. Unwanted touching may also include requests for hugs or hand-holding, as well as interactions with touchy-feely employees who repeatedly grab your arm while speaking with you.
If you suspect the touching is accidental, you may want to confront the instigator directly in a non-confrontational manner. Consider saying something like, “Hey, I’ve noticed you grab my arm a lot while you’re talking. You probably don’t mean anything bad by it, but I’m just uncomfortable with it.”
If the touching is obviously done on purpose, say something if you feel comfortable doing so. If not, talk to a supervisor or human resources specialist about what’s going on. Some workplaces even have anonymous forms where employees can report workplace harassment.
Sexual harassment doesn’t always involve direct contact with a specific individual or a group of women. When a coworker shares a crude joke, it may disgust other employees and create an uncomfortable work environment. This is true even if some of the employees laugh at the joke.
Sexual jokes might be shared verbally, sent via email to a group of coworkers, or posted in a company breakroom. Regardless of the medium, a joke is a form of harassment if it has the potential to make someone uncomfortable.
If a coworker tells you an inappropriate joke, tell him or her that you didn’t find it funny. Your coworker might apologize and explain that they didn’t realize it was offensive. Unfortunately, they may become defensive instead and call you a baby or prude. If this happens, stand your ground. Say, “Like I said, that joke wasn’t funny. It’s sexual harassment.” Your coworker may continue claiming that the joke is funny, but don’t stand there and argue all day. Notify management about the incident verbally, and file a formal complaint if the jokes continue.
With all types of harassment, it’s imperative to notify HR and/or other individuals in management immediately. Don’t forget that with all legal cases, the timing of the complaint is important. For example, individuals generally must file complaints of sexual harassment within 180 days with the EEOC.
Sometimes sexual harassment is obvious, but many times it’s subtle. If something makes you feel uncomfortable or violated in the workplace, it may be sexual harassment. When in doubt, notify your supervisor, HR, or your supervisor’s supervisor so you can develop a plan to prevent further incidents from occurring.
Guest blogger Gloria Martinez founded womenled.org to educate people about the many women-led achievements that have shaped our world. Ms. Martinez believes that while women have made many advancements toward “shattering the glass ceiling,” there is still much to be done. It is her aim to help increase the number of women-led businesses by educating others about the topic.