Overcoming Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Hanna Rosin on the Rise of Women, via TED

In light of the many recent political scandals, and a story a dear friend of mine recently relayed, I wonder: how we can overcome sexual harassment in the workplace? Be it unwanted sexual advances by hotel employees, illicit photos sent through email, or passing disparaging or sexual comments to colleagues in the workplace, women are constantly subjected to a barrage of unwanted sexual harassment. How to effectively cease it is a question activists have been trying to answer for years.

There have been many gains for women's equality in workplace over the decades, most notably, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which made sexual harassment a punishable offense. (In it, harassment was defined sexual harassment in the workplace as any conduct- verbal, non-verbal, physical, or visual- that is of a sexual nature and is severe or perverse AND/OR any harassment that occurs as a result of gender.) Census data has shown us that women have even surpassed men in education attainment.

Yet despite all of these legal advancements, women are still routinely subject to harassment in the workplace. While blatant acts of sexual harassment are unfortunately quite common, (all one has to do is tune into Politico to see what a select few of our Congressmen have been up to know that…), at the very least, more women are reporting these problems, and the courts are coming down hard in favor of women. However, it's the lecherous stares; the more subtle comments that women are forced to endure. 'Good to see you're so much more than a pretty face'- intended to be a compliment for a job well done. These comments may seem harmless, but in fact they represent an entire layer of harassment women are expected to accept, lest they want to be considered 'petty' and 'weak' by their male colleagues.

As women, we are forced to choose to stand up for ourselves and report such disrespect, and stand the risk of being criticized by colleagues, but if we don't say anything, we are only helping to perpetuate the problem by not saying anything in our own defense.

So how do we fix this? What is the right thing to do? Yes, there are laws meant to protect women for reporting harassment and most companies have specific policies in place for handling sexual harassment claims, but until more women start to report these ‘lesser’ transgressions, we will not begin to change this culture of disrespect.