Sexual Harrassment in Manufacturing: Seven Strategies Successful Companies Use to Curb It

Article excerpt

"Yes sir, I'll schedule that with our driver for a Tuesday delivery," Fran said to the customer on the line, making a note of the request on her pad. "You're welcome," she responded to the customer's appreciative thank-you.

But before she could put the phone on the cradle, another line began flashing. "Customer service, Fran speaking," her voice sang out into the receiver. "How can I help you?" While Fran was busy listening to the customer's request, Pete, her production boss, tiptoed up behind her. He dropped a piece of paper on her desk and scurried away quietly, his shoulders shaking with laughter. Fran sensed Pete's presence and wheeled around in her chair to respond to him when the customer put her on hold. Pete was already gone, but his one-page delivery lay on the corner of her desk.

Fran recognized the paper as the company's standard performance appraisal. The scale ran from one to five, with one representing "unacceptable" and five designating "exceeds expectation." In the section where Pete was to fill in the key duties for her job and rank them accordingly, he had scrawled the following:

1. Face = 3

2. Breasts = 1

3. Butt = 5

4. Legs = 3

Fran's face turned red and her teeth clenched in anger as she tried to maintain her composure. When the customer came back on the line, she strained to keep a smile in her voice. What should she do about this situation?

Sexual harassment continues to hold national attention as a common topic in company workrooms, boardrooms, and production rooms. Despite extensive policy activities and training programs to prevent sexual harassment, claims are increasing. Many training experts and human resource managers wonder what their manufacturing organization is missing when it comes to preventing sexual harassment.

The episode involving Fran and Pete is one of 36 authentic workplace incidents on sexual harassment and other topics documented by Dr. N. Elizabeth Fried in her recent book, Sex, Laws and Stereotypes. As a manufacturing professional, how would you handle such a situation if it was reported to you? What would you want your company's workers to do? Your peers?

In this case, Fran called her lawyer immediately. Three weeks later the company's corporate counsel flew to the facility to meet with Pete and the vice president of manufacturing. "What in the world were you thinking when you did this, Pete?" he scolded.

"Well, we were due for a performance appraisal, so I thought it would be funny to start on a light note," Pete shrugged.

Could this incident have occurred if Pete's company was modeling strong antiharassment practices? Did Pete get sufficient training to realize the liability he was incurring to his company and the negative impact of this behavior on its victims? If solid sexual harassment policies existed in this company, were they clearly communicated to-and fully understood by-Pete and his colleagues?

For employees in organizations lacking sound policy practices, the negative impact from sexual harassmentincluding liability, embarrassment, and lost productivity-can be extensive. In the case of Fran and Pete, the company did not ignore the situation. Still, the circumstances suggest that the firm had no written sexual harassment policy or didn't enforce it for managers. The corporate counsel believed that Fran had the manufacturing firm in a very difficult position because of Pete's unprofessional behavior. In fact, he predicted that Fran could build a "nice little nest egg," compliments of the company. Many companies can and do take specific steps to eliminate inappropriate social-sexual behavior throughout their organizations. But with such claims increasing, how can U.S. manufacturing organizations make their sexual harassment policies and training efforts more complementary and effective?

We offer some answers to this sticky question based on practical recommendations from 194 high-level manufacturing human resource and training professionals, most of whom oversee successful prevention policies and training programs. …