Toxic Culture: The Radioactivity of Sexual Harassment

By Karetta Hubbard, Lynne Revo-Cohen, and Chris Kilmartin

Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Rose …. have you had a version of this egregious behavior in your present or past?  Sexual harassment is an extremely important issue, and every CEO is holding his or her breath that the next shoe to drop won’t be at their company.

A Few Sexual Harassment Specifics

  • 60% of women reported that they have experienced unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion or sexually crude conduct or sexist comments in the workplace.
  • Two-thirds of college students report they have been sexually harassed.  Male and female students nearly equally likely to be harassed on campus.
  • 52% of military women report being sexually harassed compared with 19% of men.
  • 56% of female and 40% of male middle and high school students report having been harassed at school.  More than one in four are harassed frequently.

Consequences 

  • Financial Costs: Employers paid out $698.7 million to employees alleging harassment from 2010 to 2015. In 2012 alone, $356 million was paid in settlements and court costs and the largest sexual harassment jury award was $168 million (eBossWatch, 2012).
  • Employee morale plummets: Increased absenteeism and turnover, recruitment challenges, lack of trust, lowered productivity, time away from other work to deal with complaints, and increased use of health and mental health benefits.
  • Public relations nightmare: Reputation as a toxic place to work means key people may leave and it may be harder to replace them.

Unfortunately, our society has been assaulted with sexual harassment allegations and explicit examples for many, many years, beginning in 1991 when Anita Hill testified before the Senate committee considering Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.  In televised hearings, Hill said that Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her supervisor at the Department of Education and the EEOC. Despite her statements, Thomas was confirmed. During the 2016 president campaign, more than a dozen women came forward to say they had experienced unwanted sexual advances from then-candidate Donald Trump.  Trump denied the allegations and was elected president. One of the women, Summer Zervos, has filed a defamation lawsuit against the president. If the New York State Supreme Court allows the suit to go forward, we may hear more about these allegations.

So, what is Sexual Harassment? Is it an over-the-top compliment, flirting, leering, only physical contact, demanding sexual favors? Specifically, Sexual Harassment is defined as behavior that is Sexual in nature, and/or Unwelcome, it must be offensive or intimidating to a reasonable person, and that is severe and/or pervasive.

The Basics: There are two forms of sexual harassment:

  1. Quid Pro Quo (“this for that”): A person in a power position attempts to extort sexual cooperation by means of subtle or implicit pressure in return for benefits: better assignments or pay increases, or attempts to obtain sexual cooperation by means of subtle or implicit offers of positive job-related consequences.  To be chargeable, quid pro quo harassment need happen only once.
  2. Hostile Environment: Pervasive sex-related verbal or physical conduct that is unwelcome or offensive.  To be chargeable, hostile environment harassment must either be extreme or “sustained and non-trivial.”

Is this behavior against the law? Sexual harassment constitutes a civil rights violation. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to all organizations with more than 15 employees. The law forbids discrimination in employment based on age, race, color, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, or sex or pregnancy. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 applies to all educational institutions who receive, or whose students receive, any federal funding.  The law forbids discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual harassment, is considered a form of discrimination.

 Is the environment different now in the post Weinstein effect? Thirty-three million women (and men) have signed onto the #metoo movement, a social media campaign where people stepped up to tell their stories of sexual harassment.  The power of social media and the frustration of the silenced has empowered women and men, and continues to consume air space like never before.  Victims are hurt, they are fed up, and determined to fight back – by speaking out, and that’s the good news.

So, what is NOT Sexual Harassment?

  • Causal, harmless jokes of a non-sexual nature;
  • A  non-sexual compliment, “That’s a nice outfit”;
  • Suggestion that is non-sexual, “You should dress more professionally”;
  • Managers that may be annoyed by employees is not harassment;
  • Consensual relationships, a hug between friends, mutual flirtation, and a compliment on physical appearance between colleagues are not considered harassment.

Change is beginning to take place. The (r)evolution of the harassment issue has allowed women and men to find their “voices” as they speak out discussing their personal experiences. This “tipping point” should compel employers to put effective policies in place, hold themselves and others accountable, and “walk the talk.”  It is time for corporations, organizations, the federal government, the military, schools, colleges and universities to spend the time and money now to address this issue as women and men are demanding it.

Next Week: Why women stay silent so long?

Since 1984 the founders of NewPoint Strategies, Karetta Hubbard and Lynne Revo-Cohen, have built a strong reputation for delivering extremely effective prevention training in high-risk issues such as sexual harassment/assault.  Contributing Author and Lead Consultant, Chris Kilmartin, Ph.D, Emeritus Professor of Psychology from the University of Mary Washington, is an expert in Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention, specifically Male Violence Against Women. For more information, go to the website for NewPoint Strategies.

Top photo from Bigstock

About KHubbard LRevo-Cohen CKilmartin GCrider (18 Articles)
Since 1984, the founders of NewPoint Strategies, Karetta Hubbard and Lynne Revo-Cohen, have built a strong reputation for delivering extremely effective prevention training in high-risk issues such as sexual harassment/assault. Contributing Author and Lead Consultant, Chris Kilmartin, Ph.D, Emeritus Professor of Psychology from the University of Mary Washington, is an expert in Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention, specifically Male Violence Against Women, and Gwen Crider, a diversity and inclusion strategist with over 20 years of leadership experience in non-profit and private sector organizations.