THE virtual explosion of outcries from women around the United
States over Prof. Anita Hill's testimony alleging that Supreme
Court nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her indicates that,
despite 10 years of federal guidelines prohibiting sexual
harassment in the workplace, it's alive and perniciously well.
Last year the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
received 5,694 sexual-harassment complaints.
In one of many surveys taken by various groups during the last
10 days, the National Association of Female Executives found that
77 percent of women executives queried consider it a problem in the
workplace. More than half reported that it had happened to them,
but most said they never reported it. In an ABC News/Washington
Post poll last week, 5 percent of the men polled said they had been
Guidelines issued in 1980 by the EEOC determined that conduct
linking sexual favors to employment violated Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act. In 1986, the Supreme Court broadened that to conduct
that created a "hostile environment."
In the last decade businesses increasingly have tried to get a
grip on the problem: defining acceptable office decorum, educating
workers to understand those definitions, and creating an
environment that enables women to come forward while still
protecting men from unfounded accusations. Taking down calendars of
bikini-clad women is the easy part. But what about the hand on the
shoulder or the invitation to dinner? A common definition of
harassment is any unwelcome, unwanted touching, jokes, or comments.
"Sexual harassment is one of the few acts that can be seen very
differently by the person who's been accused and the victim," says
Janet Andre, vice president of advisory services for Catalyst, a
New York-based group that works with businesses on women's issues.
"It's the way the person sees the encounter which makes it
harassment or not."
Enter consultants, who help companies establish policies to make
clear what is and what is not acceptable behavior.
"More companies have developed these policies, whether through
negotiations or lawsuits or good management," says Ellen Bravo,
associate director of 9to5, the National Association of Working
Women, which helps companies establish policies. The ultimate idea,
she says, "is to build respect and harmony into the workplace."
Susan Webb, president of Pacific Resource Development Group, a
Seattle-based consulting firm that specializes in sexual-harassment
cases, says a good policy includes top management support, a policy
statement with procedures for getting and handling complaints,
training for all employees, and "healing" the work group after an
investigation so that no retaliation takes place. …