May 09, 2007

Sexual harassment is illegal and uncivil

Society changes and so does what is acceptable. Media and government surveys estimate the percentage of women being sexually harassed in the U.S. workplace at 40% to 60%. While the majority of sexual harassment complaints come from women, the number of complaints filed by men is increasing. In 2004, more than 15% of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints were filed by men.

Define sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is the inappropriate sexualization of an otherwise non-sexual relationship. The severity of the harassment is determined to a large extent by the impact it has on the victim.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is unwelcome or unwanted attention of a sexual nature that causes discomfort, humiliation, offense or distress, and / or interferes with the job. It includes a range of behavior from mild transgressions and annoyances to serious abuses. It is not honoring professional boundaries.

Sexual harassment is a form of abuse and bullying. Sexual harassment is not about sex. Harassment usually relates to intimidation, exploitation and power.

"It was just a joke" is no excuse. It is the consequences, not the intentions that count. Sexual harassment can be verbal by sexist, crude or suggestive remarks, through casual touching or open advances, to the extremes of coercion or blackmail if the harasser has the power to threaten. It does not include a relationship between two consenting adults.

Sexual harassment affects workplace performance of the individual harassed. A study on the effects on work teams shows unwanted sexual attention was associated with increased team conflict and diminished group cohesion which resulted in inferior financial performance. Combating sexual harassment makes good business sense.

There’s a loss of trust in environments similar to where the harassment occurred and a loss of trust in the types of people that occupy similar positions as the harasser or their colleagues.

From the ISU Campus Climate Assessment Project Final Report November 2004
“I routinely have women students come to my office asking for advice about how to deal with flirtatious male professors or professors who use sexist language in class...”
From the summary--
Notably, over half of participants who identify as a woman or as lesbian, gay, or bisexual fear for their personal safety due to their membership in their respective constituent groups… the majority of respondents who report being the victim of a bias-related incident are women, LGBT, and/or a person of color. While these finding are not remarkable when compared to similar investigations, they are notable, if not alarming, in that they point to a lack of civility towards these constituent groups.
Surveys returned: 1001 students, 582 faculty, 265 staff, and 52 administrators (1000 women; 907 men)

Things you can do if you are harassed
Politely, but firmly, confront the individual doing the harassing. State that the actions/conduct are unwelcome and request that the person cease the unwanted actions.

Document the details: include dates, times, places, and description of each incident of harassment. Include who might have witnessed it, whom you spoke to about it, and what you may have done about it if anything. Read the policy and complaint processes from the original post on sexual harassment,

More reading
The Wikipedia entry,, has many reference links.

Sexual Harassment Support, nonprofit organization
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace,
Effects of Sexual Harassment on the Victim,

Effects on workplace teams, news release from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada,

Know Your Rights: Sexual Harassment At Work, Equal Rights and Economic Opportunities for Women and Girls,
Equal Rights Advocates, Inc. is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco.

January 12, 2007

What we don’t value….

discrimination and harassment

This week all ISU Extension employees are attending training on preventing and addressing potential problems of discrimination and harassment. The goal is to make Iowa State a comfortable place to work, a place where all are welcome. A place free of hostility.

Iowa State implemented a new policy on discrimination and harassment in 2006. The policy covers protected classes mandated by state and federal laws, and it goes beyond those classes. The introduction to that policy says,
“Respect is the foundation for interchange of ideas, for learning and for working toward common goals.
Consequently, Iowa State University is committed to assuring that its programs are free from prohibited discrimination and harassment based upon
national origin,
physical or mental disability,
age (40 and over),
marital status,
sexual orientation (including gender identity),
status as a U.S. veteran (disabled, Vietnam or other), or
any other status protected by University policy or local, state, or federal law.
Discrimination and harassment impede the realization of the University's mission of distinction in education, scholarship, and service, and diminish the whole community.”

The American workplace is diverse.
The culture of the future is global. Those who work for a higher education institution should lead the way in studying and learning about these differences---every one of us. The one-hour training should be simply the opening chapter. With knowledge, we understand more and become more open to differences. We can communicate better. Each one of us is unique….and different. Diversity provides a real richness in the workplace, in life. Don’t miss it.

"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood."
- Martin Luther King, Jr., American civil rights leader and Baptist minister (1929 – 1968)

The Iowa State policy,
Learning about diversity,
ISU Campus Climate Assessment Report, Nov. 2004,

September 19, 2006

Guest Post about Sexual Harassment

At times, I’ll ask people far more qualified than I to write about topics you’ve suggested. That’s the case with this topic which was recommended at annual conference.

Iowa State University has a sexual harassment policy that covers extension staff. The policy is listed on the Iowa State Web site at

Faculty and staff who have concerns have two options for handling complaints. One is the informal complaint process and the other is the formal complaint process. This is all explained in the policy on the Web site.

To help faculty and staff decide how to handle the concern, the university has established a system of sexual harassment assistors, selected and trained faculty and staff who can help work through the policy information. To identify assistors, go to

Don Broshar, Extension Youth and Community Development Specialist