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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Changing Attitudes and Less Tolerance

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Changing Attitudes and Less Tolerance

Start a management degree at American Public University.

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

Some people are in shock over the high-profile individuals who have been accused of sexual harassment and abuse. I’ve read many posts asking questions such as “Who’s next”? “Why now?”

Responses to Sexual Harassment Are Undergoing a Shift

Sexual harassment has been around for quite a while. However, the response is different now. In the past, there were factions who:

  1. Chose to ignore that it was happening
  2. Made the situations go away by paying off employees to remain silent
  3. Blamed or did not believe the victim

I remember sexual harassment training sessions in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Some people thought sexual harassment training was unnecessary. People did not want to deal with deviant behavior in the workplace or they felt that sexual harassment was a topic fraught with “shades of gray.”

My response was, “If you have to think about whether an action is right or wrong, it’s usually wrong, so don’t do it.”

Why Are Cultural Attitudes toward Sexual Harassment Changing Now?

Although policies are in place to protect companies and victims, individuals are still hesitant to come forth for a variety of reasons. One reason is they fear retaliation (i.e., losing their job or having their career derailed). Other reasons include:

  • Being ashamed or embarrassed
  • Wondering what they did to cause the incident to happen to them
  • Fear of the general population blaming them for the incident that occurred
  • A belief that the Human Resources Department will not be supportive and fair in the process, thus preventing due diligence in the situation.

In the past, victims suffered alone and in silence. Sometimes, they didn’t even want to share their situation with family and friends.

However, social media has provided a global and easily accessible platform for victims’ quiet voices to proclaim, “Me, too.” It only took one bold victim to come forth before everyone else felt safe enough to publicly acknowledge that they, too, had been in the same situation.

Corporate and societal change can be brought about by numbers. As victims saw other people sharing their ordeal in a public forum, we saw a shift in how sexual harassment was viewed. The stigma of rejection and shame can be lifted when people see that “it’s not just me” and that others have survived as well.

Who’s Next to Be Accused?

Right now, some high-profile individuals have been exposed as predators and have lost their jobs. It seems like one to two new predators are revealed per day.

But it doesn’t stop there. This problem isn’t merely within the realm of Hollywood, politicians, national security or even the military.

What about mainstream corporations? We may never hear about these cases, but:

  • How many Human Resources professionals have seen a rise in the number of cases being reported in the last month?
  • Are individuals at all corporate levels ready to come forth when a sexual harassment issue arises?

Curing the Harassment Problem Starts with Acknowledging It Happened

Sexual predators in leadership positions must step up to the plate and react in the same manner as music producer Russell Simmons did. His tweet is an example of taking responsibility for one’s actions and making a change.

The critical points of Simmons’ tweet were:

  • He admits the harassment happened, even though Simmons believes he and the victim have two different recollections of what occurred.
  • He admits that he erred in “reading” a situation and not responding appropriately.
  • He acknowledges that there needs to be “a transition of change.”
  • He steps down AND allows a diverse, new generation of executives to take over.

If you are a leader, you should not wait for someone to tell you that what you have done is wrong. We have to get rid of the mentality that “it’s okay until you get caught.”

Take responsibility for your actions by stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing. Step down! Take time to reflect and get assistance in resolving the issues that led you to believe your behavior was acceptable.

Think about the individuals whom you hurt and whether or not they were able to move on with their lives as a result of what you did to them.

Hopefully, we are ushering in a new era when quiet acceptance of inappropriate behavior is no longer the norm.

It’s time for healing AND real change. There will always be power in numbers.

Start a management degree at American Public University.

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 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.



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