Sexual Harassment in the Workplace in the #MeToo Era

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In the wake of the #MeToo era, there has been an increase in discussions regarding the very sensitive topic of sexual harassment in the workplace. Though sexual harassment awareness has been increasing for decades, it’s still a widespread problem. There are numerous reasons to consider why sexual harassment persists and how we can stop it. 

Sexual harassment often comes from a desire for control. Those in powerful positions don’t want their authority compromised. Knowing that they have status above certain employees makes them feel they have a license to demean them. Since sex is an incredibly intimate topic, the ability to exploit someone’s insecurities through suggestive comments or actions can be thrilling for harassers.

There’s no single type of sexual harassment. It can include making lewd comments, telling inappropriate jokes, and offering promotions in exchange for sexual favors. Discussing an employee’s wardrobe in uncomfortable detail or grazing a hand against them could also be considered harassment.

If a behavior makes someone feel like they’re in a precarious situation and requests for it to stop are not accepted, a harassment claim wouldn’t be out of line. None of this information is particularly revolutionary.

Sexual harassment policies are commonplace in just about any work environment. However, there’s still a divide on what constitutes sexual harassment and what the appropriate punishments are. The #MeToo movement has put a spotlight on how people are sexually humiliated in the workplace, but anyone case could have ten different analyses based on the evidence presented.

In the #MeToo era, people aren’t becoming more overly-sensitive and mistaking good-natured compliments for sexual harassment. Instead, they’re feeling more assertive in voicing complaints when someone harasses them. Technology has also offered more ways for harassment to occur.

Indecent emails, social media messages, and stalking online dating profiles are all examples of how harassers can prey on employees or coworkers by using modern technology. Harassment being inherently wrong isn’t likely to cause any great divide.

What becomes complicated is discerning what counts as harassment. This can come from a generational gap. If someone is older and came up in a time when complimenting the looks of their employees was considered flattering, they could feel unfairly singled out when told that such behavior is inappropriate. While they might protest that no one had a problem with it in the past, the likely reality is that people did have issues with it, but they were afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation.

Not being caught up with how our cultural views on sexual harassment have evolved is okay, but anyone who is serious about avoiding a hostile work environment needs to listen carefully and not become obstinate. It can undoubtedly be humbling for one to admit that didn’t know something, but ignorance isn’t wrong. What is wrong is being presented with valuable information and rejecting it because it doesn’t match up with your previous worldview.

A multitude of sexual harassment incidents are avoidable with common sense. The idea of demanding sex from an employee or insulting their appearance is unthinkable for most people. For other cases, people need to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. They need to ask themselves how they would feel if this behavior was being done to them, not by them.

Having good intentions doesn’t mean someone can’t be in the wrong. Someone might tell a coworker that her dress looks lovely and think that it’s not a problem, but it could put the other person in an awkward situation.

It’s unlikely that they’ll cry sexual harassment at one compliment, but they might want to tell you that they would prefer not to hear such comments. Deliberately ignoring such requests should be seen as a significant example of crossing boundaries. If you’re called out for sexual harassment in the workplace, make sure you understand precisely why and follow any necessary steps to change your behavior.

This could be a reasonably insignificant action, such as reciting a bawdy joke that made some coworkers uncomfortable. You might be feeling upset, but you need to handle this situation maturely. Listen to your employer or human resources representative and agree to refrain from repeating this action or any similar ones.

The easiest way to avoid harassing people in the workplace is to respect everyone equally. It doesn’t matter what someone’s gender, race, age, or sexual orientation is.

Everyone deserves consideration as a human and not a sex object. The workplace is an environment for professionalism. There might be conflicts regarding disagreements regarding what direction specific projects should take, but it should never lead to people being shamed or manipulated.

If you’ve been experiencing harassment, know that you have every right to speak up. There’s also no minimum for what qualifies as harassment. Don’t let yourself think that you have to wait until things are beyond unacceptable for you to file a complaint.

Thanks to the #MeToo movement, people have realized that keeping silent about harassment only allows abusers to exploit their power further. Even if you’re not contributing to or receiving sexual harassment in the workplace, you can still make a difference.

As an ally in the fight against sexual harassment, you should be willing to speak up when you witness someone making crude comments. If someone tells you that a co-worker is harassing them, you should take them seriously and not try to brush off their complaints as an overreaction. If you’re an employer, you need to do all you can to make your workplace a harassment-free zone.

When you hire new employees, go over the harassment policy extensively and make sure that they understand what is expected of them. You can also have seminars on a regular basis which remind your team about what sort of behaviors are considered sexual harassment. Everyone should be held accountable for their actions in the workplace.

Sexual harassment might never be wholly eliminated, but it can be reduced through education. The #MeToo movement is long overdue and should not succumb by people who are unwilling to listen. If we learn the importance of communication and cooperation, we can make our workplaces safer environments for everyone.

Written By
Kayla Clough is the email specialist here at OurStart. Kayla is a recent graduate of Eastern University in PA where she majored in Marketing and Human Resources. Kayla loves all things fashion, her golden retriever Max, and coffee.
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