Workshop discusses sexual harassment Men and women remain confused

February 24, 1993|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

Is it sexual harassment when a woman puts up a sign at work that says, "Improve productivity at work: Fire two men and hire one woman"?

That question and many others addressing the issue of appropriate behavior between men and women who work together were raised last night at a workshop on sexual harassment, sponsored by the Howard County Human Rights Commission and the Howard County Commission for Women.

Mary Campbell, an investigator for the county Office of Human Rights who conducted the workshop, outlined the laws relating to sexual harassment and provided information on how to recognize the problem and deal with it.

Scott Leighton of Columbia asked the question about the sign that criticized men's work habits.

"We thought that was inappropriate and offensive in the workplace," Mr. Leighton said of the sign, which was put up at a government agency where he used to work.

While the sign may have been an example of sexual discrimination, it was not sexual harassment, Ms. Campbell said.

The question illustrates the confusion surrounding the issue of what is acceptable behavior between men and women in the workplace.

Approximately 60 people attended the workshop, held at the Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia, and the crowd was evenly divided between men and women.

Pat Burton, who supervises a six-member grounds crew for the Columbia Association, said he came to the workshop because one of the workers is a woman.

"I've heard the words [sexual harassment] but I had no clue what it was," Mr. Burton said.

Ms. Campbell said sexual harassment normally takes two forms. In the "quid pro quo" situation, a person in power asks a subordinate for a sexual favor and promises a promotion, a good reference or special treatment in return.

In a hostile work environment, sexual harassment can take the form of sexual jokes, obscene or offensive posters, unwanted touching or suggestive behavior.

"You see sexual harassment both from female to male and between the same sex," Ms. Campbell said.

Ms. Campbell said managers and supervisors have a responsibility to take sexual harassment seriously by investigating complaints and enforcing company policies relating to it.

A 49-year-old woman who attended the workshop said she experienced sexual harassment in many forms when she entered the work force 30 years ago as a management trainee.

She was chased around a desk and endured sexual jokes and suggestive remarks. The woman, who asked that her name not be used, said she did not report the behavior for fear of losing her job.

If it happened today, she said, she'd report it.

"There would still be severe consequences," she said. "But I'm a lot tougher now than I was then."

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