Sexual Harassment and Government Accountants: Anecdotal Evidence from the Profession

Article excerpt

Such homogenization of the workforce, however, can be problematic. In recent years considerable evidence has surfaced suggesting that sexual harassment of working women is quite pervasive. According to recent statistics, 90% of Fortune 500 companies have dealt with sexual harassment complaints. On average $200,000 is spent on each complaint that is investigated and found to be valid. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that over 99% of the complaints received are by women. A recent Supreme Court ruling makes it easier for workers to win lawsuits claiming they were sexually harassed on the job.

The government accounting profession is not immune to the problem of sexual harassment. This article reports on a study of sexual harassment in government accounting. Utilizing written responses, this study finds that women in government accounting are experiencing gender-related problems. Sexual harassment, a form of sex discrimination, and a sense of frustration in coping with this issue is evident in the data. Federal, state, and local government agencies must pause and evaluate their working environment. These agencies are responsible for designing and establishing a business atmosphere that encourages professional growth and respect among men and women.

The changing gender of the United States workforce has forced employers to confront issues as never before. Twenty years ago women were entering the workplace in numbers large enough to make them visible. Today, women comprise 44 percent of the workforce and fill nearly one-third of managerial positions.(1)

Such homogenization of the workforce, however, can be problematic. In recent years, considerable evidence has surfaced suggesting that sexual harassment of working women is quite pervasive. Previous studies have indicated that from 42% to 90% of working women have been sexually harassed.(2) More recent survey data(3) suggests very little change has occurred. For example:

* A 1987 survey of the U.S. Department of Labor showed that 37% of its women employees believed they had been sexually harassed.

* A 1988 survey by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board of 10,648 female federal employees showed that 42% believed they were harassed on the job.

* A 1989 study of female doctors and medical students by the American Medical Women's Association indicated that 27% of the women believed that they had experienced sexual harassment.

* A 1989 ABA survey of 3,000 female lawyers showed that 85% of female lawyers have experienced or observed sexual harassment during the last two years.

* A 1990 survey of the 1,300 members of the National Association of Female Executives indicated that 53% believed they were harassed by male supervisors.

For employers, harassment carries immense costs whether or not individual employees file lawsuits. According to recent statistics, 90% of Fortune 500 companies have dealt with sexual harassment complaints. On average $200,000 is spent on each complaint that is investigated and found to be valid.(4) Additionally, the new Civil Rights Act of 1991 has greatly increased the potential liability employers face so that awards can exceed these averages.

Even if litigation never ensues, ignoring workplace harassment leads to very significant hidden costs, including absenteeism, declining productivity, and loss of valuable employees. A 1988 survey of Fortune 500 companies revealed that harassment costs a typical large company $6.7 million each year due to absenteeism, turnover, and loss of productivity. Although 50% of the women who have experienced harassment at work say that they simply try to ignore it, these same women experience an average productivity decline of about 10 percent. About 24% of harassment victims take leave time to avoid the harasser, while 10 percent choose to leave their jobs at least in part because of the harassment.(5) Thus, even a company which never goes through a sexual harassment lawsuit is paying a heavy price. …

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