Glen A. Wilson High School

Preventing and reducing cases of sexual harassment in higher education workplaces

A 2003 meta-analytic study “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that the academic workplace has the second highest rate of sexual harassment at 58% in comparison to the military, private sectors and the government.

This statistic is shocking, since people might expect that lower income work forces are more susceptible to sexual harassment, since people in such jobs might not be as educated or have the resources to create a safer environment. 

However, even in 2020, sexual harassment is still happening, especially in the workplace for academic science, medicine, engineering, and other higher education workplaces. These statistics are very disappointing since educated people should have a lot more respect towards each other since, being more knowledgeable and informed, they should know better. To create safer environment and to prevent and reduce cases of sexual harassment, the report “Sexual Harassment of Women suggests three principles workplaces should follow: providing supportive environments for victims, creating a diverse and inclusive environment, and giving offenders harsher punishments.

First, in order to be able to demonstrate appropriate behaviors for everyone to abide by, workplaces should focus on creating a safe, supportive, and protective environment for victims. Most victims don’t report their cases of sexual harassment, as they might not realize that it’s a form of sexual harassment. They are also afraid they will get retaliated against, or they are worried that their complaints will not be taken seriously. Because cases often go unreported, the company does not know how to improve their environments, which will allow sexual harassment to continue.

To help victims, workplaces must have a “supportive environment for workplaces … extended not only to targets who come forward but also to bystanders who report their own experience or others’ and to students, faculty, and staff when they enter the institution.”

Workplaces should always put the victim’s needs and feelings first, to show that they care and that their feelings are valid. Victims need a lot of courage to come out and talk about their experiences, and by creating a safe and supportive environment for them, this will encourage other victims to come out, and help to reduce sexual harassment since the victims are being protected and supported. 

In addition, leadership should create a more diverse and inclusive environment in the workspace. Diverse and inclusive environment means “cultural values around gender and racial equity align with a climate where policies and practices do not disadvantage groups of people, and thereby making them incompatible with sexually harassing behavior.”

This diffuses the power structure and reduces isolation, because no one or one group is solely in charge; everyone is in charge and involved. Creating a diverse environment is the most important, because most workforces are in a “male-dominated environment, with men in positions of power and authority,” and this part of the work environment most heightens the risk of sexual harassment. By being more inclusive and diverse, people would feel included and wanted, making them less susceptible to sexual harassment since they have people to depend on and rely on, so they won’t have to be vulnerable. 

Finally, leadership should construct an environment where all employees understand that sexual harassment would not be tolerated and that offenders would not be punished lightly. However, many higher education environments still fail to provide this sort of environment, which is why they are “perceived as permissive environments in part because when targets report, they are either retaliated against or nothing happens to the perpetrator.”

This sort of behavior is very disturbing and disgusting, because it shows that sexual harassment is not being taken seriously, or that they choose to believe the offender rather than the victim. Because of their response, the victims will be unlikely to report cases of sexual harassment, or the perpetrator will continue to harass other people. Instead, the victims should be trusted and protected against retaliation. The offenders should be prosecuted appropriately, to ensure that sexual harassment would be less likely to happen and to show everyone the consequences of their actions.

By modeling an environment where sexual harassment is not tolerated at all and that offenders would face harsh consequences, victims would feel more reassured that their case would be taken seriously and feel more safe in their working environments, and thus sexual harassment would be less likely to occur. 

Unfortunately, sexual harassment is more common than people think. It is shocking and disappointing to know that our most educated are among our society’s worst offenders. In order to help prevent sexual harassment, leadership in higher education workplaces must first create a better workplace environment for employees and staff. To create a better workplace environment, leadership must put victim’s feelings and needs first, by creating a safe and supportive environment for them, to ensure that their feelings are validated.

Once they ensure the safety of victims, leadership must make the workspace environment more diverse, inclusive and where sexual harassment is not tolerated. These changes, as suggested in “Sexual Harassment of Women,” will help make a big difference in occurrences of sexual harassment, by helping the victims and improving work environment.