“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”
—The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
The list of well-known workplace sexual harassers is growing by the day. Recent additions include Charlie Rose, Garrison Keillor, and, gasp, Matt Lauer. This in addition to Harvey Weinstein, US Senate candidate Roy Moore, actor Kevin Spacey, former Fox News star Bill O’Reilly, former Fox News Director Roger Ailes, CNN commentator Mark Halperin, actor Louis CK, former president George H.W. Bush, NPR exec Michael Orestes, UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallow, US Congressman John Conyers, US Senator Al Franken, and even our current president, Donald Trump, to name but a few.
Of course, sexual harassment is rampant in more than just politics and the entertainment industry. As women (and some men) are well aware, sexual harassment can occur in any situation. And this is never fun or enjoyable for the victim, even if the harasser deludes himself into thinking it is. In fact, most victims of workplace sexual harassment end up dreading their jobs, no matter how hard they’ve worked to get where they are. Think about Gretchen Carlson and Megan Kelly, the women who left Fox News. How hard and for how long did they fight to push their way through the glass ceiling? How thoroughly must they have hated going to work before coming forward and risking what they’d finally achieved?
In some workplace environments, sexual harassment is an invisible, undiscussed norm. In such cases, it can be hard for a woman to recognize what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. It’s like a smoker going “nose blind” to the smell of cigarettes. So, if your workplace culture actively allows and condones sexual harassment, that can make it harder rather than easier to identify that behavior for what it is.
The most obvious and hardest to ignore sign of sexual harassment is that you feel in your gut that something is wrong. The most typical situation is that you have experienced some type of sexual quid pro quo. Basically, you have been told (or it has been implied) that to get ahead (or to simply stay employed) you need to “play ball” sexually with a particular person (or people).
Here are some other common examples of sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Someone is overtly sexual toward you in or the workplace, or out of the workplace in ways that make you uncomfortable. For instance, a superior, coworker, or even a subordinate might proposition you, expose himself to you, show you pornography, etc.
- There is sexual tension at work, and it makes you uncomfortable, perhaps to the point of affecting your job performance.
- You experience unwanted touching, even if this is passed off by the other person as “friendly” and “normal” within the workplace.
- Someone at your workplace persistently “corners you” and forces you into “private” conversations, possibly standing or sitting too close, eyeing you in ways that feel sexual, etc.
- Sexual jokes and “locker room banter” are typical in your workplace.
- Someone in your workplace makes offensive remarks about your gender or sexual orientation.
- Someone comments on your appearance in ways that make you uncomfortable.
- Someone in your workplace persistently pries into your personal life, especially your romantic and sexual life.
Basically, sexual harassment in the workplace boils down to feeling uncomfortable because of sexualized behavior—either overt or subtle—from a person you work with (who might or might not be higher in the company hierarchy). If a behavior seems in some way sexual and you feel icky about it, it’s quite possible that it qualifies as sexual harassment, and you need to check this out further, knowing that you have rights and legal protections.
In my next posting to this site, I will discuss ways to effectively deal with workplace sexual harassment.