Earlier this year everyone was talking about the “tickling” episode in Congress. From Capitol Hill to the water coolers on Main Street, “tickling” was the topic. Now, people are wondering what really caused the ouster of Hewlett Packard’s CEO.
Sexual harassment in the American workplace is a serious issue. It is a topic that is very uncomfortable to discuss and some would rather sweep it under the rug than address it. Someone recently said to me that sexual harassment is an accepted “occupational hazard,” particularly in Washington, D.C. This couldn’t be more wrong. Sexual harassment, which, depending on the circumstances, can also be classified as sexual assault, should never be considered an accepted occupational hazard. It should always be considered unacceptable behavior.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of ways and many women, and men, are afraid to report these incidences for fear of being ostracized by their colleagues, for fear of reprisal, or for fear of retaliation. Sexual harassment often occurs when the person doing the act is in a position of power. Therefore, it makes sense that employees may be intimidated about coming forward to report aggressors.
Many people think that only women can be sexually harassed. Not true. Sexual harassment does not discriminate between female and male employees or between female and male bosses. Both sexes can be a victim of sexual harassment and both sexes can commit sexual harassment.
Many corporations have written policies on sexual harassment that tell employees how to report the incident and attempt to reassure them that they should feel secure in reporting the harassment without fear of reprisal. Not surprisingly, these policies do not always work.
Despite policies to the contrary, the fact remains that women and men are being sexually harassed in America’s workplaces. Many of these incidents go unreported or are swept under the rug. Harassment, in all of its forms, should never be tolerated.
Jill Sigal is President of Jill Sigal Associates, a consulting firm specializing in policy development, strategic planning, government relations, communications and stakeholder and community outreach. She recently has added Internet Identity theft and harassment to the portfolio of issues for which she gives public policy and strategic advice.