We read a good article in Suddeutsche.com (in the original German) and Worldcrunch (in English) about the problem of sexual harassment in Germany. The German General Act on Equal Treatment (“AGG”) requires employers to protect employees from sexual harassment. Nonetheless, a 2010 government survey found that 60% of women had experienced sexual harassment either in public, the workplace, or socially (22% of cases occurred at work or school), and 50% of those feared for their safety.
Significantly, the government report said what we have always believed, that “[i]n most cases, there is a big discrepancy in power between the perpetrator and the victim, and the former often abuse the latter’s dependence." See our blog of December 27, 2012, which discussed a new academic study which correlated low status in the workplace and victimization.
Alexandra Borchardt and Tanja Rest, who authored the journal article we have been discussing, explained sexual harassment in a way worthy of quoting here and worth noting by employers: “Men in power are used to getting what they want. They tell others what to do and generally get obedience and agreement back. Sexual harassment is also a means of establishing or enforcing power dynamics. A man who treats a woman like a Playboy bunny is making sure she stays at the bottom of the totem pole.
But men in upper management also have to get used to the fact that with women in the group certain word choices or the after-work activities will have to change. Some men resent this, and yet if women go along with the boys’ rude ways it’s often negatively construed. Uncertainty levels are high for both men and women.
Men at all professional levels are going to have to get used to being surrounded by more – and very different kinds of – women. They are going to have to learn to understand what women are saying, especially when the woman is a subordinate. Women have to stop putting up with it – they have to set boundaries and find the courage to speak up when certain behaviors are unacceptable to them. And the learning curve doesn’t have to be unpleasant for anyone.”