Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Challenging Harassment

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Challenging Harassment

Article excerpt

In the six years since the televised Clarence Thomas hearings stimulated a national debate on sexual harassment in the workplace, there has been clear progress. But not enough. Cases of women being harassed, or denied career advancement for protesting harassment, continue to reach the courts and the news.

As Ann Scott Tyson details in her major survey starting on Page 1 today, thousands of businesses and universities around the country have adopted codes of behavior to warn, prescribe, and, hopefully, prevent actions that embarrass, demean, or threaten an employee in a sexually predatory way. Perhaps 97 percent of US firms now have some kind of sexual-harassment policy in place.

But those codes are not always observed or regularly enforced. Human beings occupy the slots on organizational charts. And humans sometimes flout the rules. But the education of employees is increasing - and for good reason.

A business, government office, or university that fails to change offensive behavior runs two risks: (1) damage to its reputation and to the reputations of many innocent people in its employ; (2) a potential distortion of its career-promotion and transfer process if it becomes hypercautious in the wake of actionable behavior.

Given these factors, it is safe to assume that several recent sexual-harassment cases in the news have prompted reactions ranging from spin control to executive soul-searching. Spin control usually makes matters worse, as the high-visibility saga of former Sen. Bob Packwood (R) of Oregon showed. Among cases recently making headlines:

*The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) April 9 filed a sexual-harassment suit on behalf of up to 500 female workers at Mitsubishi Motor Corp.'s United States manufacturing unit. The suit includes accusations of various types of sexual misconduct at the automaking plant in Normal, Ill.

*The EEOC this month may have begun an investigation into sexual harassment allegations at Astra USA Inc., a Massachusetts-based pharmaceutical company. (The EEOC has not officially confirmed the investigation.) Astra USA's chief executive was suspended by its Swedish parent company's board of directors in April in part because of harassment allegations. …

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