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Sexual Harassment Remains Hard to Discuss within Organizations

Sexual Harassment Remains Hard to Discuss within Organizations


By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

Sexual harassment has always been a touchy topic in the workplace. For one reason, people see sexual harassment as a “gray” area. People are reluctant to discuss it and want to sweep the topic under the carpet. Some factions blame the victim, while others deny that anything wrong has happened.

About 70% of women won’t report incidents of workplace sexual harassment because they fear professional retaliation or termination. Some women are dependent on their paychecks and believe they don’t have the choice of quitting.

Why should women have to choose between a paycheck and routine harassment on the job? Why must women suffer in silence? Shouldn’t an organization be responsible for what is occurring in its culture?

Companies Deal with Sexual Harassment Training Differently

As a result of these dilemmas, companies take different approaches to awareness training. Sexual harassment training can take the form of:

  • Awareness training
  • Behavioral change training
  • Prevention training

Awareness training is one of the earliest forms of training used in these situations. The goal is not to try to change employees’ behavior. The training program focuses on making employees aware of what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the workplace.

Behavioral change training is the most difficult type of training to perform. This workshop-model training seeks to facilitate a change in an offender’s behavior.

This format would be ideal if it were not a challenge to alter a person’s value system and beliefs. Trainers have the daunting task of coaching employees to rethink behaviors that are deeply ingrained in their thought processes. This type of training is long-term and tends not to have immediate results.

Prevention training highlights an organization’s position on the issue of sexual harassment. The objective is to teach organizations how to prevent unethical behavior in the workplace and to outline the legal ramifications if a sexual harassment case goes to court. Companies have the opportunity to act before legal action is necessary by putting in place a process to discourage the behavior.

Job Candidates Should Study Organizational Culture after Accepting a Job

The topic of sexual harassment is not seen as a topic that one discusses during the interviewing process. Therefore, a decision about the job has to be made without much information on the topic, especially since you often cannot obtain a copy of an organization’s employee handbook prior to your acceptance of the job.

However, if you elect to accept an offer of employment, reading the handbook should be your first order of business during the first 90 days of employment. While the employer evaluates you, you should evaluate the organization.

What behavior should you look for during your evaluation? Some questions that you could ask yourself are:

  • Organizational values: Are employees encouraged to treat each other with mutual respect?
  • Subcultures: Is inappropriate behavior tolerated and ignored?
  • Open-door policy: Are employees comfortable with approaching executives and the Human Resource Department about organizational issues?

Seeking out the answers to these types of questions can assist you with “learning” the organization. In certain situations, there are unwritten, informal rules. Observation and questions can assist you with finding out the values of an organization more quickly.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and an ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.