Volume 94, Issue 91

Wednesday, March 14, 2001


Editorial Board 2000-2001

Zero tolerance

Editorial Cartoon

Zero tolerance

In a recent survey of female office executives, it was found that 64 per cent have either been sexually harassed or assaulted in some way in the workplace. Although this analysis has the potential to cause much controversy, one thing everyone can agree on is that it's important to recognize the problem.

But what is the problem?

It's easy to nail down the clear-cut cases of blatant sexual harassment, but what needs examination are the grey areas.

The corporate world is changing. With more women taking power positions within the upper echelons of the corporate hierarchy, the more some men may become resentful. Sexual harassment is just one form of retaliation that some workers may resort to in order to subjugate fellow co-workers.

So, to combat the old-boys club mentality that prevails in many workplaces, some companies offer sensitivity training courses to help workers know how to recognize the problem, and provide steps to resolve misconduct. And while this is a good beginning to addressing the problem, corporations must also provide their employees with a clear set of standards outlining what is and what isn't sexual harassment.

This way, the all too common defence of "I didn't know he/she'd take it that way," isn't an excuse at all, and the lines are clearly marked.

Even though it is a reality that in our own time, men are often sexually harassed as well, it must be understood that in the workplace, full gender equality is still not realized, and the ability for either gender to be the initiator of improper behaviour is no reason to dismiss the topic altogether.

Women's fears of things like rape and other malicious sexual acts committed against them is ten fold compared to that of men. It's a given that women are more likely to be intimidated. Bearing this in mind, workplaces should err on the side of caution since there is a greater danger of women being scared out of the workplace.

Let it be known there do exist stringent rules about what constitutes sexual harassment. Aside from government in the role of the enforcer, there are even economic incentives for corporations to crack down on sexual harassment.

If a company fires an employee who commits these types of acts against co-workers, it's good for business – it lends credibility to a company that punishes what is considered unacceptable behaviour.

The one thing that remains clear for policy makers is to set the standard of acceptable conduct among employees from the beginning. Guidelines which limit the behaviour of workers may lead to the loss of some types social jocularity, but an employer will more importantly be able to provide a comfortable environment for all employees who can rest easy, knowing that if they are harassed, it won't be more than once before something is done about it.

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