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I am a M.A. in industrial/organizational psychology. Most of my experience has been in human resources and change management. My passion lies in employee assessment, organizational development and employee opinions. Website: www.IanMondrow.com LinkedIn Profile: http://linkd.in/drBYoC

Sunday, September 5, 2010

HR Professionals as Sexual Harassment Victims?

Background Information
The EEOC currently defines sexual harassment as the following: "Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment" (EEOC, 2002). In 2002, 97% of employers included sexual harassment in their policies. 62% of these employers also provided training on sexual harassment (Blackman, 2005 as cited in Tyner & Clinton, 2010). According to the EEOC, there were approximately 12,969 sexual harassment receipts in 2009. Although the number has decreased from 15,889 in 1997, the number is still large and only covers the cases of sexual harassment that are reported to the EEOC. However, the percentage of male-on-male sexual harassment continues to rise. In 1997, about 12% of EEOC cases were male-on-male based but this has increased to 16% in 2009. To make matters worse, 50% of sexual harassment victims are hesitant in claiming themselves as a victim (Mecca & Rubin, 1999; Calderon, 1999; Gerrity, 2000 as cited in Tyner & Clinton, 2010).

Unlike other litigation, sexual harassment is difficult to define as it varies on if the sexual behavior is welcomed by the participant or not. What is acceptable to one person, may not be acceptable to another. The U.S. current uses the "reasonable victim" system. To be a reasonable victim, the harassing behavior is compared to the standards of the specific gender; i.e. "If the victim is a a woman, it's a reasonable woman standard. If the victim is a man, it's a reasonable man standard" (Risser, as cited in Tyner & Clinton, 2010). While sexual harassment is researched extensively, research on HR professionals and their sexual harassment experiences is limited.

Tyner and Clinton (2010) used the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ) by Fitzgerald. This assessment is merely a psychological assessment and has no legal merit. The SEQ uses a 5 point likeart scale that ranges from "Never"(0) to "Many times" (5). The researchers edited all the questions to start with "In the past 5 years" instead of the original: "during the past 24 months". The questions focused on three sub scales:

1) Gender harassment - Verbal and non-verbal behaviors that create a hostile environment and demeaning attitudes about women.

2) Unwanted sexual attention -- verbal and non-verbal gestures that is unwanted and insulting.

3) sexual coercion -- blackmailing that may have a negative effect on one's job.

The survey was administered to 124 participants, all of whom were members of the Oklahoma City Human Resource Society, The Enid Society of Human Resource Managers and/or the Stillwater Area Human Resource Society. The survey received a response rate of 25.35%. 26 (23.6%) of the respondents were male and 84 (73.4%) were female.

98 (89.1%) of participants stated that they were victims of gender harassment. 52 (47.3%) stated to be a target of unwanted sexual attention. 7 (6.4%) admitted that they had faced sexual
coercion (quid pro quo) before. However, when asked "Have you been sexually harassed?", only 32 (29.1%) said yes.

The results yield that unwanted sexual behavior occurs often for HR professionals, which may suggest that they have a thorough understanding of unwelcome behavior and sexual harassment laws. This is most likely because organizations expect them to be an expert in sexual harassment. Unfortunately, the experts on sexual harassment are often victims themselves which can cause a complicated challenge. While these individuals may be able to report these occurrences, there is promise that their supervisor is prepared to handle or confront the situation. It is suggested that an alternate person is assigned this responsibility, preferably a legal counsel.

While the study produces alarming findings, it is no where near a representation of the population as it is based on a Oklahoma based population. However, the gender distribution of the study closely reflects the distribution of gender in the HR industry. For future research, it suggested to obtain a more diverse sample pertaining to location. It is also suggested to consider other demographics including race, religion and age.

Work cited

Tyner, L.J. & Clinton, M.S. (2010). Sexual harassment in the workplace: are human resource victims? Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 14(1), 33-49.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2002). Retrieved September 5, 2010 from: http://www.eeoc.gov/.

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