Harassment Headlines Spotlight Change _ and the Lack of It

By Geller, Adam | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 9, 2017 | Go to article overview

Harassment Headlines Spotlight Change _ and the Lack of It


Geller, Adam, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The accusations of an Uber manager propositioning an engineer via instant message on her first day in his department, of the top-rated host at Fox News calling female co-workers to talk about sex are so lurid they sound like outliers.

But years after companies and courts began insisting sexual harassment has no place on the job, it continues to fester particularly when employers tolerate it, experts say.

While the allegations are unproven, reports that Fox, Uber and other organizations may have allowed such treatment to go unchecked, push back against assumptions that sexual harassment has diminished, even as it has been labeled unacceptable.

The effort to change workplace dynamics "feels like it's been going on a long time, but 30 years in the history of male-female relationships is less than the blink of an eye," said Louise Fitzgerald, a psychologist who in the 1980s developed a survey long used by the U.S. military and other employers to measure their workers' specific experiences of sexual harassment.

"We keep having to rediscover this over and over again, and every time we're shocked."

Last year, Fox News' CEO Roger Ailes resigned amid allegations that he pressured female employees to have sex. Now, the company and top-rated host Bill O'Reilly are under fire for paying women to drop suits accusing him of much the same.

In February, a former Uber employee posted a detailed account accusing the company of ignoring complaints by her and other women of managers pressuring them for sex. CEO Travis Kalanick issued a statement declaring there was "no place for this kind of behavior" in the company, then soon after came under scrutiny for a report he took employees to a Korean escort bar.

But they are hardly alone.

The parent company of the Kay and Jared jewelry chains is battling complaints filed by more than 200 former employees in private arbitration that executives fostered a workplace where managers groped female subordinates and push them to have sex in exchange for better job opportunities.

The company has labeled news reports about the complaints inaccurate, saying they involve a small subset of 69,000 workers who have alleged gender discrimination in pay and promotion in a class action, accusations it believes are unfounded.

"We do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind," the chairman of Signet Jewelers Limited, Todd Stitzer, said in a statement last month announcing the formation of committee of directors to conduct a review of company policies.

The Marine Corps is trying to clamp down on private Facebook groups set up by male current and former servicemen, who collected and shared nude photos of their female colleagues.

Sexual harassment has always been most common in workplaces with relatively few women compared to men, researchers say, particularly in fields where jobs themselves are considered masculine. Industries where top performers bring in big dollars will sometimes overlook their behavior.

But tolerance by top managers is the single biggest factor.

"Corporate culture matters," said Emily Martin of the National Women's Law Center, an advocacy group.

"That idea that this is how we do things here is really quite powerful. It effects what both supervisors and supervisees understand as normal behavior."

It's hard to know how prevalent sexual harassment is in workplaces, but it is widespread, an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission task force concluded in a report last year.

Statistics kept by the Department of Defense show that more than 6,000 sexual assaults were reported in the service branches in 2015, a slight decline from the previous year, but more than twice the figure recorded a decade ago. …

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