Sexual harassment in the workplace undermines women

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Sexual Harassment

It is generally accepted that men in the workplace stand a much better chance of achieving high positions than do women. Indeed, culturally, character, style and ability differences between men and women exist. There are several things that cause men to appear superior to women apart from the physical aspect. For example, men tend to be more rational and realistic, more competitive, greater risk takers with more initiative and aggression. However this does not mean women should be considered as lesser than men. For capable women living in the modern era there should be a pathway to higher position and achievement in their careers commensurate with that capability. However women still need to be aware of the various barriers that may prevent them from doing so.

Nowadays, jobs such as manager, director or even chief executive officer (CEO) are open to those women capable of filling these demanding positions. Now that feminism philosophy has begun to make its way into organisation studies, the rate of occurrence of issues such as sexual harassment is now becoming more apparent, "when men and women are involved in emotional closeness this may be a positive experience, but sexual harassment is not. Sexual harassment is illegal "(Samson & Daft, 2006). This assignment will further discuss how the issue of sexual harassment and sex discrimination has an effect on women's participation in the workplace.

Sexual harassment is any form of sexual connotation or behaviour that may be unilateral and unwanted by the person targeted. The result of sexual abuse may lead victims to feel ashamed, angry, humiliated, offended, and disgusted with the perpetrator. Sexual harassment can happen at any and all levels of an organisation.

Women who are moving up the corporate hierarchy by entering male-dominated industries report a high frequency of harassment (Samson & Daft, 2006). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) combats sexual harassment by making illegal the acceptance of harassment as a condition of employment, using compliance or non-compliance to affect employment decisions with regard to the individual or creating a hostile working environment which may affect the individual performance.

Itzin (1995) conducted a major research project with an aim to improving women's positions within a local authority organisation. Itzin describes a five part methodology using a survey, interviews, group discussions, statistical data and participant observation to explore the culture and practices of the organisation and to collect data on the position and experience of women.

According to Itzin's survey results (1995, p.33), the majority of women in the organisation were 'breadwinners', they work either to support themselves or their families. Most women said they work because they want 'to pursue a career' and 'self fulfilment'. Therefore by looking at this result, Itzin (1995, p.33) suggested 'that there may be little difference between the reasons why men and women work and the economic and emotional significance which they attach to their work."

Aside from sexual harassment there are various reasons why women are still far behind men. Through this table (1995, p.34) and diagram, Itzin shows the percentage of women that had worked for the local authority for more than seven years and still not yet made any progression in their career .

Reasons for women not applying for or not getting another job



At a disadvantage because of job sharing


Lack of encouragement


Obstruction from supervisors


Sexist Attitudes


Racist Attitudes


Lack of confidence


Lack of interview or job application skills


Lack of skills or qualifications necessary for the job


Subordination of women is a global phenominon be it in government bureaucracy, society or in the household. In some cultures women may have some power in the home and within their family, but when it comes to the major decisions concerning the family the men generally lead. For example women who are active in "male dominated activities" such as politics, business and the bureaucracy are labelled as "housewives" and this carries a very negative connotation for them. Where as men in the same positions are labelled as 'heroic' "breadwinners".

Women are thus at a lower rank in society, with little power or privileges (Ruth, 1990). As long as the various factors that cause the above mentioned problems are still dominant, women will have to maximize their strategic efforts to achieve gender equity. Women are not given the chance not because of their lack of ability or their lack of intelligence but because they are women (Ruth, 1990).

Probably the worst kind of discrimination in the workplace would be that women are not allowed to work in the organisation just because of the fact that they are women. According to Itzin's survey (1995, p.80) 49% of people surveyed agreed that women were unreliable because they had children and 42% agree that some jobs required a degree of physical strength which women did not have. The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) census shows the number of female executives employed by companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX200) has fallen by more than two per cent over the past two years ("Number of women executives falling", 2008). This would indicate that business do not look favourably upon women as senior executives. This could be because of the "boy's club culture" looking to recruit those most likely to fit in. This culture continues to impact on women's ability to take on more responsibility (Ms McPhee, 2008). Perhaps businesses needs to study why women are being overlooked for executive positions as more women seem to be in the work force yet the majority of them are still in low status, low paid roles. Businesses should look closely at why the women that they are employing aren't able to meet their full potential (Ms McPhee, 2008).

Promotion is the pathway for women to achieve a higher position in any organisation. Male management restrict women's chances of promotion by not providing suitable child care facilities or flexible school holiday arrangements. Itzin (1995, p.38) stated that "Managers do not encourage women to go for promotion, or administrative staff to cross over into professions. They drew attention to the fact that 'admin is dominated by women, but men are at the senior level.'They thought women were better organizers and lateral thinkers than men, but management jobs were less attractive to women because they' take you away from dealing with people' and consequently provide less job satisfication." According to Itzin, Women have to out performed men to get equal recognition and position and tend to have less power than men in the same position.

Even though sex segregation is not exactly sexual harassment, it still discriminates against women in an organisation. Williams (1995) says that sex discrimination almost always occurs in an organization and workplace where males are in higher positions with higher salaries than women. There are various researchers who show that sex discrimination is a major obstacle for career women. This manifests as inequality in terms of salary, authority, opportunity in promotions and career advancement. Women are more often placed in a lower position with a smaller salary and without the opportunity to gain promotion (Hossain & Kusakabe, 2005).

The 'Glass Ceiling' created by discrimination may lead women to have feelings of low self-esteem, slowing down of interest in their jobs and decreased motivation. The glass ceiling effect is a distinct limiter to a woman's advancement into the higher level of corporate management and directorship. '"Ceiling" stresses the limitation of upward progress a woman is subjected to and "glass" refers to the fact that though the limitation is apparently not written in any rule book, it is nevertheless a definite fact understood by both the sexes.' (Ayushveda, 2009).

One of every company's toughest challenges is the need to deal with sexual harassment issues. The first step to preventing this situation is to make a sexual harassment policy. Companies must make a written rule that contains the company's commitment to prevent and deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. The content of the policy should include the notion of what constitutes sexual harassment, grievance procedures, and punishments that should be meted out to the perpetrators. It should also have counselling available to the victims and the assurance that the complaint made is confidential and ensure all employees, supervisors, managers, directors and clients are aware of the written rules. Hence the human resource people need to take serious action to ensure that rules are obeyed.

In conclusion, there are many courses of action that can be taken by companies and individuals in addressing issues such as sexual harassment and sex discrimination in the workplace. One important thing to note is that the right to pursue a career does not solely belong to men but women are also equally entitled. Although awareness in the workplace of women's rights is growing, there is still much to be done to truly have equal opportunity without the threat of sexual harassment and discrimination for women.


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Hossain, J. & Kyoko, K. (2005) "Sex segregation in construction organizations in Bangladesh and Thailand" Construction management and economics, Vol23, No.6, July, pp.609-619.

Itzin, C. & Newman, J (1995). Gender, Culture and Organizational Change. UK: Routledge.

Ruth, S. (1990). Issues in feminism: An introduction to women's studies. California: Mayfield Publishing Company.

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