Hostile Workplace Conditions Under Ambiguous Sexual Harassment Policies

883 words - 4 pages

Having been employed by both large and small companies, I have found that each offers different positives and negatives. Large companies usually offer great benefits and provide clear employee conduct policies to avoid costly lawsuits. Small companies offer more collaboration and intimacy between employer and employee. However, the latter can be a problem if the leadership does not recognize their risk in violating federal laws or behaviors contributing to a hostile work environment. Leadership can also create a more ethical and open work environment by adopting a transformational leadership style.
Inappropriate Leadership Behavior Example
Once I worked for a small manufacturing firm that employed an unusually diverse mix of genders and minorities for a Midwestern company. Just before my employment, a consulting management firm’s contract had recently completed to address infighting among departments. The president of the company, who I will call Carol, had taken over leadership when her father retired. She had an undergraduate degree in human resources and lifetime exposure to running the business. Carol cared about the well-being of employees, although her management skills were questionable at times. Carol was under age forty, married with young children, attractive and athletic, and she dressed in a casual way neither hiding nor flaunting her sexuality.
Occasionally Carol would walk the floor and stop in the engineering office to chat with my male supervisor. The casual discussion, typically about home and family issues, was heard above open cubicles including the closest employees - all educated and married men. However, a few times Carol included topics invoking mental images of herself in the nude. For example, in one discussion she described sleeping naked while her husband was away; another portrayed her airbrushing for a tan before going on vacation. I believe these discussions were intended for an audience of male employees, because the female supervisors in other departments did not hear the same discussions. They also mentioned feeling resentful of favoritism toward male employees, indicating additional internal hostilities.
Occasionally, Carol also emailed jokes to employees that included inappropriate sexual imagery. The most offensive were embarrassing, although the men discussed these emails openly finding them humorous. While neither of these behaviors portray a clear case of sexual harassment, they may have contributed to a hostile work environment.
Analysis of Leadership Behavior
Overall, the leadership behavior at best was unprofessional, and at worse labeled as sexual harassment. Many studies indicate power dynamics motivate harassing behavior rather than sexual needs (McLaughlin et al., 2012). While Carol may have wished to communicate in a self-effacing or humorous manner, alternatively her motive may have been tactically proactive to thwart her own sexual harassment. ...

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