Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Has anything really changed?

Yesterday's Economic Empowerment class went very well. The women were engaged and there were several topics addressed. The focus of the lesson was interpersonal relations at work; namely how to resolve problems with coworkers.

Talking with these women reminded me of the numerous challenges we still face at the workplace. One woman in particular shared her experience with a harassing supervisor. Apparently, this gentleman was sexually abusing the women who worked under him. His behavior went on for some time, although others at the company were aware of his misconduct. Another woman was alarmed that none of his victims had ever come forward. I was actually surprised she found it strange.

Things are changing in the workforce, especially with respect to the resources companies are devoting to accommodate women. But sexual harassment does continue, and it affects both genders although women are prime targets.

In 2011, the EEOC reports there were over 11,000 cases of sexual harassment, 400 less than the prior year. In fact, the number of reported cases has been steadily declining since 1997. That's a good thing. A little over 16% of those claims were filed by men, which shows that women are still in greater danger of being harassed. That's bad. But what's worse is that the percentage of claims filed by men has been growing. That's terrible. No one should have to endure such an ordeal.

But the numbers can mean anything. Perhaps men are more inclined to step up and report abuse. Women of course deal with traumatic situations differently. For the most part, we usually blame ourselves, or conceal such incidents because we're either afraid of a confrontation or are too ashamed to come forward. This is the case when women lack the knowledge or support system to report harassment, which is most likely the case with the women I sat with last night.

Where am I going with this? I don't know, but I find it disheartening that workers are still sitting behind their desks or standing behind cash registers dealing with such madness. Even if there has been a decline in actual reports made, the fact that there are still individuals being violated at the workplace is disturbing. The only possible solution is increased awareness, which will be addressed in class somewhere in the near future.

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