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The New Sexual Harassment - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The New Sexual Harassment

October 14, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

Sexual harassment has been a longstanding issue in a workplace that is now comprised of fifty percent women. However, there appears to be a new, much more subtle form of sexual harassment.

So you may be wondering, how real is this new form of sexual harassment?

It is quite real and it is proliferating due to our electronic networks and conversations. There is just so much room for misinterpreting a simple comment as sinister. On the other hand, there is also a lot of misbehavior and sexual harassment that can be hidden in such conversations.

According to research, we still view men and women differently in the workplace, especially in male dominated professions. Women must over-perform and female managers and supervisors are still expected to be more nurturing and supportive than their male counterparts (Rudman & Glick, 2008). Such expectations can be very awkward when your colleague or boss invites you to a private dinner or sends an inappropriate text.

Here’s how this new form of harassment is different from the old forms:

Not So Direct, Coarse or Directly Threatening: The new sexual harassment is not so direct, not so coarse and certainly not so directly threatening. The millions of dollars spent on educating corporate America has helped. However, subtle forms can be just as insidious.

Inappropriateness and Imbalance of Power: This new form of harassment emphasizes the imbalance of power by the inappropriateness of the request or comment. For example, your boss repeatedly comments on how fantastic you look while his eyes linger much too long or he may suggest you catch drinks alone late at night.

Setting a Boundary is Hard: Different from a direct threat, there is social capital lost if you retort with a boundary, however justified you may feel. Such pressure is often systematic and undermining and contributes to a hostile work environment.

Here are my tips and suggestions for avoiding these kinds of misunderstandings:

Watch Your Timing - Please do not email late at night from your personal email if you are saying anything about the other person, professional or not. Emailing at 4 A.M. might look a little weird if you are working that late. However, the email or text becomes a potential problem if it is too flattering, too personal or too self-disclosing. If this is a problem, invest in applications such as Gmail’s “Mail Goggles.” After a certain time of night, you have to solve three simple math problems within a time limit to send your e-mail. It’ll keep you safe and make you think twice.

Watch Your Facebook Posts - Social networking sites are great but do not post anything (pictures or text) that you don’t want an employer, your entire family, your first grade teacher and the local news to see. If you want a promotion, don’t put your latest bikini pictures online! Even if you dismantle a Facebook or other profile, don’t forget that images and information are still retrievable.

Find Romance Elsewhere - Please find your soul mate in the next building. When there is an imbalance in status and authority, there are unnecessary complications. Even when such relationships exist between colleagues, the legal challenges can be daunting for a company if someone is terminated. Such romances are great when you are dating and everything is rosy. However, such alliances can become a nightmare when you break up. Be smart.

Compliment in Person - It is much better to give a complement in person when the other person can read the non-verbal cues, tone and inflection and when there are witnesses. Compliments can be badly misinterpreted, especially when they are personal and about appearance or appeal. There is much less chance for miscommunications when accolades are given in person. However, the safest strategy is to restrict your praise to their work, their initiative and team contribution. If you must comment on their appearance, keep it simple and don’t stare.

Watch What You Write Down - Be very self protective about what you text or email in a business setting. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to anticipate who might misinterpret your words and bring an action. Don’t write anything down that you cannot defend easily.

Diffusing the Bomb - Every woman in the workplace has experienced unwanted attention from co-workers or superiors. Women must be adept at diffusing the political bomb that comes when a flirty comment is made in a business setting, especially when there is an imbalance of power. If someone crosses the line with a statement like “you looked hot today” you can reply with a cordial but clear message that you are remaining professional. Acknowledge the text or email but step past the comment and focus on the business issue. The absence of an inviting verbal volley will be noticed. Reply, but do not get entangled in the harassment.

Sources Include:

Newsweek.com

Forbes, com

The Social Psychology of Gender by Laurie A. Rudman and Peter Glick, The Guildford Press, 2008


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