While the concept of gender and harassment of sexual nature at places of work may be approached from various perspectives, this paper offers a succinct literature review of the concept on gender and harassment of sexual nature with specific references to known case studies. In addition, some solutions and recommendations on how this problem can be reduced have been explored in the critical review. In addition, the literature review also looks at intervention mechanisms that have been used by organizations to fight sexual harassment in workplaces. In order to offer a fair and balanced discussion, various definitions of sexual harassment and the scales that exist regarding this heinous act at workplaces have been explored as well. The paper uses incidence surveys to explain the concept of sexual harassment in work places. In order to come up with an intervention model, it is crucial to understand and inherently explore issues of sexual harassment examine why and how this harassment occurs in some workplaces while others are relatively safe. An evaluation of workplace antecedents of sexual harassments is also important. One way of achieving this is by analyzing critically organizational cultures and their applicability. Furthermore, there are three broad levels used in intervening cases arising from sexual harassment. These are primary, secondary and tertiary. The paper also looks at some holistic intervention measures that have been used in specific situations to curb gender and harassment of sexual nature at workplace.
Most of the literature materials that deliberate on gender and harassment of sexual nature were seemingly published in plenty during the last century than it is today. However, it is imperative to explore the origin and development of this term before embarking fully on discussing the subject. To begin with, the concept of harassment of sexual nature was first coined in North America during the mid 1970s. However it was not until 1986 when United Kingdom tackled the first case on gender and sex harassment under Employment Protection Act (Hodges, 2001, p.36). Needless to say, sexual harassment is an offence that deliberately attempts to victimize a weaker gender against a stronger one. Most importantly, females have been perceived for long as the weaker gender and therefore, they have been worst hit through gender and harassment of sexual nature comprising physical and verbal acts against them (Equal Opportunities Commission, 2005, p.21).
Defining gender and harassment of sexual nature at places of work
In 2005, the United Kingdom instituted the Employment Equality (Sex Discrimination Act. Since then, there have been many amendments done on the Act. For example, the clauses on workplace behavior pertaining sexual harassment have been changed severally. As indicated in the Act, sexual harassment refers to unwanted act meant to violate the dignity of a man or a woman and create a hostile environment to the victim (Arthur & Doverspike, 2005). However, there has never been a consensus or common ground regarding the real definition of this heinous act. In most cases, the differences are in circumstances and behaviors where the act occurs (Bimrose, 2004).
It is crucial to understand components of gender and harassment of sexual nature and how they manifest themselves in different situations. The definition is put into two major forms of behaviors namely quid pro quo and hostile environment. The first refers to a situation whereby a person implicitly or explicitly requests another person for sexual favors in exchange for returns. The second refers to behaviors portraying sexual desires which the victim does not condone, and therefore, the perpetrator creates a hostile working environment. Nonetheless, the second definition is regarded to be more subtle than the first one (Smolensky & Kleiner, 2003, p. 60). There are also psychological dimensions to gender and harassment of sexual nature and the common ones are coercion, attention as well as harassment along gender lines which are all of sexual nature (Fitzgerald, Gelfand & Drasgor., 1995).
Differences seem to emerge with respect to harassment of sexual nature at places of work. In many instances, the methodologies used by empirical researchers have led to into these differences (Bingham & Scherer, 1993). World Health Company in a multi study, examined domestic violence and the health of women. The survey reported that women preferred reporting sexual abuse anonymously rather than doing it openly. Additionally, use of interviews as a methodology is likely to be more efficient especially when developing in-depth knowledge of the kind of experiences of victims. Some data collection methods like face to face may give results which are unreliable because there may be reluctance from respondents to disclose sensitive information (Barak, 1994).
In 2005, the Department of Trade and Industry conducted UKs first survey examining unfavorable treatment, discrimination, sexual harassment, and bullying in companies (Rutherford et al., 2006). This survey comprised face-to-face interviews for 3,936 workers and was done from November 2005 and January 2006. In the report, 0.9% of workers recounted their experience they had regarding sexual harassment in their working places. This was done two years prior to the survey. Women have had the largest percentage of sexual harassment. The most vulnerable group of workers who reported sexual harassment were those who were either disabled or incapacitated inn one way or the other.
It is also crucial to mention that victims who often report gender and harassment of sexual nature in UK are only a fraction of people who, on daily basis, experience similar challenges. Figures which have been produced by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) clearly show the number of people who report this kind of abuse is still very low (Bingham & Scherer, 1993). The study carried out in United Kingdom found out that 7 out of 10 employers tend to perceive gender and harassment of sexual nature as a challenge and concern to employers. On the other hand, another 17% regard sexual harassment as a real problem, and 2% who do not regard it as a real problem.
Furthermore, 70% of companies in the EOR survey of 2002 have monitoring procedures in place. However, variance still exists about these sexual harassment survey results. Nonetheless, it may not be easy to predict the outcome of this intervention measure bearing in mind that variance depends on the type of company; that is, private or public. Similarly, about 92% of public sector has had monitoring process and 54% of private sector carries its own evaluation/monitoring (Bell, Quick & Cycyota, 2002). The difference in these figures is not only presented as a problem in the United Kingdom. There are many other European and American empirical research studies that have conclusively reported between 40% and 90% of women who were questioned to have experienced some form of sexual abuse at their working places (European Commission, 1998).
How gender and harassment of sexual nature may be perceived at places of work and in organizations
Some work situations are more prone to sexual abuse than others. Specifically, male dominated workplace environments are reported to have higher levels of gender and harassment of sexual nature than those dominated by females (European Commission, 1998). Bell, Quick and Cycyota, (2002) tend to counter this argument by saying that prevalence of sexual abuse does not depend on the dominance of any gender. Sexual abuse occurs when there is power differentiation in an organization or within various departments at places of work especially between males and females. When there is a skewed sex ratio, the gender which is dominant tends to have an upper hand, and so skews sexual harassment. Power differentials may have impacts in psychological violence. Sexual abuse is seemingly more common in places where males and females do not have equal power.
Sexual abuse has been studied to occur more in some social situations than others, and in companies with some particular characteristics suggest a method of combining some personal factors as well as some situation factors. Some of common personal factors are like self esteem, attributes towards females and experience. On the other hand, situational factors are like status, the opportunities and the permissive culture.
Style of leadership in a company may have an impact on the kind of bullying and abuse that may exist in a company. There two forms of leadership that are associated with bullying and harassment; laissez faire and authoritarian. As many companies adopt these styles, evaluation of when and how certain styles of leadership lead to increase in general sexual harassment would be important.
Bell, Quick and Cycyota (2002) state that prevention should always be placed as the most viable way to stamp out sexual abuse in workplaces. The commission notes that the ideal way to root out sexual abuse is by educating the workers about the need to fight sexual abuse as a whole and institute a good culture towards this end (Dougherty and Smythe, 2004, p.17). Companies have to ensure that they promote good policies in the company hierarchy. While sexual abuse is seen as an isolated case, it could be one permeating the overall company culture (Dougherty and Smythe, 2004, p.17).
In evaluating situational and company antecedents of sexual abuse it is crucial to look at various factors in the company; for example, styles of leadership and the culture in the company. It is useful for companies to evaluate kind of leadership style they have, the gender ratios prevalent, and the effectiveness of the company culture before they could implement any policy about combating sexual harassment in the company.
Policies and training
The primary intervention mechanisms aim at addressing the basis of the problem, and how to prevent these problems from recurring (Firestone & Harris, 2003). Sexual abuse is a commonly-known problem, and this is due to its multiple antecedents. A company may be having risk factors such as unequal gender ratios or power differentials between the two genders. Without proper preventive measures, the risk factors could result to high levels of sexual harassment. This sexual abuse may lead to sexual coercion, assaults or rapes. Bell, Quick & Cycyota (2002, p. 16) define these as advanced levels of sexual harassment.
In preventive management perspectives, it is crucial to adopt policies before the problem occurs. During the primary level, the company as well as the workers portray certain characteristics with potentiality of merging together and create what can be regarded as unhealthy company. In this case, the sexual abuse is deeply embedded in the company culture. Bell, Quick and Cycyota (2002) advocates for strong use company culture to show intolerance of sexual abuse. It is important to broaden involvement of the process, all through the hierarchy of the company. A normal sexual harassment policy can help to set behavioral guidelines, which may deter potential perpetrators of this heinous act, and as a result encourage potential victims of the act to report.
Policies based on protection may lead to increase segregation and prohibition based on sex (Bell, Quick & Cycyota, 2002). In this therefore, it is crucial for companies to put in policies based on empowerment, and which encourages resistance the heinous acts by use of some formal support for the victims. Also the policies should prescribe strict measures for potential perpetrators. Workplaces which have good policies on sexual abuse and the ones which use proactive approaches have fewer problems (Einarsen, Raknes, & Matthiesen, 1994). Byers and Rue (1991, p. 206) write that trainings should always be directed at accomplishing the overall company objectives/goals.
Case studies are effective in employing training programs within an organization. Dougherty and Smythe (2004) argue that such case studies can be used in conducting role-playing in which participants can put into practice their interpersonal skills in various challenging situations. There is also the modeling experience, in which people learn just by observing, instead of using direct experience. This is pertinent because workers learn on ways of avoiding sexual harassment through indirect means.
Companies also employ role- negotiation tactics. Firestone and Harris (2003) evaluate the possibility of utilizing role theory as a way of understanding sexual abuse problems and how using role- negotiation tactics can resolve the problems that occur in work places. Firestone and Harris (2003) describe these techniques, which require each group member to examine and state their own roles as well as the role expectations of other individuals in the group. They assert that in role negotiation, it is like training programs regarding sexual harassment.
Trainings are effective methods to be employed during primary intervention levels and comprise methods such as internet training, group discussion, role plays, board games, video training, lectures and sensitivity training (Arthur & Doverspike, 2005, p.2). Training can as well be used to educated staff about sexual harassment and can also help in equipping individuals with proper skills to deal with issues of sexual harassment. A bottom -up approach about policy design and training, which concerns unfreezing established company cultures, is good in bringing in commitment by utilizing well the concept of company hierarchy (Deadrick, Bruce & Champagne, 1996, p. 68). The basis in this bottom- up -approach is used for ownership and involvement of policies and programs developed. It is in order to put company on a three-step model; that is, employee learning, and development, problem recognition; and assessment of change effectiveness.
How effective should training be carried out?
Deadrick, Bruce & Champagne (1996, p.15) note that change assessment at places of workis imperative especially when implementing changes in an organization. However, there is continued lack of empirical studies that assess the impacts of some of training programs for these changes (Arthur & Doverspike, 2005, p.12). One of the studies to assess impacts looked at factors that can influence workers in government companies, and their general perception on effectiveness of trainings aimed at rooting out sexual harassment (European Commission, 1998). The study showed that males and other employees especially those older in age gave approval to this study method. However, their female counterparts, and the young workers regard these trainings differently. This is interesting considering young workers and women are usually those are more exposed to sexual abuse in companies. There is also a general pattern whereby those who have attained higher levels of education as well as the divorced to view trainings as having little impacts in the company.
Use of seminars and workshops to train employees on the need to be aware in terms of their sexual and gender rights at workplace has indeed been a successful story on various fronts. In addition, the very training programs have been utilized to sensitize organizations on the best way to control offences related to this from of harassment. as part of the training program for senior supervisors in organizations, it is also prudent to note that a lot has been achieved in the past few decades especially in terms of treating sexual harassment as a safety concern at places of work. However, comparative studies indicate that there are still numerous emerging and recurrent cases of sexual harassment in some institutions that need to be addressed (Rutherford et al., 2006).
When discussing the effectiveness of sexual harassment training programs, it is important to examine how workers’ views regarding sexual harassment. According to the study carried out by Antecol and Cobb-Clark (2003), the way females perceive harassment of sexual nature at places of work may be completely different compared to men. For instance, women have a tendency of relating any unwanted behavior to harassment. Additionally, any form of sexual misconduct may be perceived by both males and females as harassment or exploitation at workplace. Interestingly, most of those who were interviewed in this investigative study confirmed that they had developed interest in attending training programs that would enlighten them on matters of harassment of sexual nature at workplace. As a matter of fact, about three out of the total four of those who participated in the survey agreed that such training programs were indeed quite relevant in the entire process of building a safe and more conducive working environment (Bagihole, and Woodward, 1995). Indeed, findings from this study is a clear revelation that this form of harassment has been rife in most places of work bearing in mind that most employees were more than willing and quite responsive towards the whole idea of attending seminars and training workshops.
Contrary to the above findings, institutions of higher learning like tertiary colleges and universities had unique findings in relation to reporting of sexual harassment cases (Firestone & Harris, 2003). While in the previous case most victims would prefer to report he same, higher learning institutions portrayed an image of lack of trust or being less female when incidents of sexual harassment were reported. In other words, the female participants in the survey carried out in higher institutions would prefer not to report at all. Furthermore, in yet another empirical research study carried out by Stockdale (1998, p.66), the same evidence was found, that is tendency towards not reporting cases of harassment along gender and sexual lines. Indeed, such studies have shed ore light especially when comparative data is needed to correlate with previous findings bearing in mind that there is more than meets the eye when matters of sexual harassment are brought on board. On the same note, some studies have revealed that using confrontation strategy when attempting to cope to sexual exploitation at places of work is more likely to leave the victim more devastated than before Stockdale (1998, p.66). on the other hand, passive coping strategies used by some females at places of work has been found to be more sustainable since the victims who fall into this category of coping are less likely to change their jobs or even perform poorly at work compared to their counterparts who opt to directly confront those who violate their sexual and gender rights at places of work.
Participants were asked to rate whether it was sexual harassment for a supervisor to ask an employee to have sex with them and then promise to help them with their job prospects. 6% of male respondents and 16 per cent of the female respondents believed that what would really constitute sex harassment would not necessarily be the latter case. Out of the total number of males who took part in the survey, about 10% thought that sexual exploitation would not be equated to top company manager requesting a junior employee for a date inn exchange for better job prospects. Another nineteen percent of females argued in the same way.
It appears that a multi method approach to sexual harassment training can be efficient in minimizing the occurrence of this from of exploitation at places of work. Case studies, role negotiation tactics, modeling experiences and group discussion are some of the techniques which can be employed to raise awareness. However, the long-term impact of such training has yet to be established, with studies relying on immediate reactions to training rather than on real changes to attitudes and behavior. Furthermore, despite the success of some training methods in increasing knowledge and changing attitudes towards sexual harassment, this bottom up approach is not sufficient if sexual harassment is to be successful eliminated from companies. A top down approach is a vital aspect in dealing with sexual harassment, conveying the message that this form of behavior is unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated in any form. The resulting secondary interventions that arise from this top down approach are discussed in the following.
This stage refers to how a company responds when faced with cases of gender and sexual harassment. One of the fundamental exercises executed at the secondary stage is a well defined and comprehensive procedure through which complaints can be lodged. There are reported cases whereby certain procedures that have been put in place by supervisors fail to materialize and benefit workers due to their bureaucratic nature. It is also evident that a network approach is more likely to enhance the entire process of launching complaints related to gender and sexual exploitation (Firestone & Harris, 2003). Although there are those who argue that an organization with multiple cases of sexual harassment may be at risk of losing out its internal and external reputation, it may not be the case at all. It is worth reporting the higher the rate of reporting complaints by employees in any organization the better the system is since it implies that the complaints procedure is quite open values employees and above all, it is most effective. According to Knapp et al. (1997, p.45), an effective system of handling sexual harassment complaints in an organization can only be achieved by first of all, attempting to understand the response from those who have been affected by this nature of harassment. Moreover, it is also necessary for affected organizations to fully understand how the affected employees cope with harassment of sexual nature and along gender lines (Gruber’s (1989, p.83).
In an empirical research study conducted in Black University and New York University, two multicultural samples were used in the survey to determine some of the coping tactics that were being employed by students in case scenarios of gender and harassment of sexual nature (Sigal et al., 2003, p.61). Similar to evidence obtained from previous studies, it was found out that coping strategies among affected students was still below par compared to how much pressure they were exposed to. Although the study was carried out in higher learning institutions, the impression ad overall conclusions obtained were very much similar to nay workplace environment.
These contrasting findings highlight the importance of conducting further study to examine different coping strategies. External coping strategies have been found to be associated with negative psychological outcomes. However, Rutherford et al. (2006) found out that emotionally focused coping strategies namely denial, are less effective than problem-focused strategies which also similar to confronting the problem.
Nevertheless, one must consider how sexual harassment is defined Sigal et al., 2003, p.61). This included touching of the victim by a professor and a veiled threat in their scenario, while the scenarios in Sigal’s (2003, p.61) study used more overt sexual harassment and the professor/supervisor used a variety of coercive approaches. Sigal et al. (2003, p.61) concluded that rather than focusing totally on the creation of policies and training and counseling, companies should also strive to create a climate, which is hostile to any form of sexual harassment and one, which is sympathetic and supportive to the victim.
There exist formal and informal means of responding to issues relating to sexual harassment. The majority of informal responses to sexual harassment include individual attempts by the victim of sexual harassment to confront the harasser (Bingham & Scherer, 1993, p.9). Formal responses to sexual harassment tend to include institutional procedures. In this case, formal channels within the company may be utilized, however a target of sexual harassment may have doubts whether their complaint will be taken seriously and if the company’s policies and procedures will be able to support them.
Decisions on whether employees are to report sexual abuses in the organizations can be a complex one, and this is because some fear that they can be victimized by the organizational managers if found to have reported. Although there are many cases emanating from harassment of sexual nature at places of work, it is unfortunate that there are several organizations which have not enacted any sound policies to deal with this menace. Worse still, works may still be in the dark of the existing policies regarding sexual exploitation even in cases where there are policies already put in place by organizations. According to Rutherford et al(2006, p.60), there are several cases which go unattended to even if they are reported as complaints by workers. In a study carried out to examine the operating procedures and employee welfare at the defense Ministry in United Kingdom, it was profound to note that official complaints were submitted by about five percent of employees in this ministry who lamented that they had gone through very unpleasant experiences at their place of work in regards to being harassed sexually. On the same note, another eight percent was not aware how to present their complaints to the relevant authorities. Additionally, a whooping 67% of the participants in the survey opted not to share their working ordeal with any one and instead decided to handle the issue on their own. As a way of protecting their jobs, 39% were quite afraid of being singled out as errant employees who were just out to cause problems within the ministry. A similar number of respondents thought that even if they presented their formal complaints, there would be no positive feedback or nothing constructive will take place at all. Moreover, another 35% were keen on protecting their careers since such complaints would imply sour relationship between them and supervisors. Finally, participants in the survey who thought that nobody would believe them accounted for about 19% of the total respondents in the survey.
When the respondents were interviewed in terms of the feedback after filing their official complaints, those who thought that the process had too long than it was necessary was close to 50%. Another 45% felt that the outcome of formally presenting their complaints was sincerely negative. Those who were critically affected by the outcome of the complaints accounted for about 60% and they finally decided to quit their respective jobs (Equal Opportunities Commission, 2000; Earnshaw &Davidson, 1994, p.18).
In most cases, the main objective of the tertiary level of intervention is to cater for the victims of gender and harassment of sexual nature. According to Di Martino et al., (2003, p.12), there is usually urgent need to take victims through a rehabilitative process that will ensure of them of quick recovery as much as possible. As a matter of fact, it is prudent to open up selected rehabilitation centers with skilled professionals in social work so that they can handle cases brought to them in the most effective way. A good example is the one illustrated by the above author. The center is located in Austria and largely caters for those who have been psychologically affected by gender exploitation as well as harassment of sexual harassment at their various places of work. Emphatically, it is highly recommended that all tertiary intervention models be put in place so that victims can fully benefit should there be need.
Practical solutions and intervention models
Quite a number of strategies have been proposed by the Equal Opportunities Commission (2005, p.21) on how this form of workplace exploitation can be brought under control. For instance, the commission has proposed the development of clear guidelines right from the level of an organization (Quine, 1999, p.58). These policy guidelines should specifically address both recurrent and emerging issues related to harassment of sexual nature at workplace. In addition, the need to handle sexual exploitation at places of work just like any other health and safety concern has been suggested by the commission as one of the ways through which the vice will be brought into sharp focus. Additionally, all the policies that have been formulated at various places of work and especially those that directly gender and sexual exploitation should be made known to all employees regardless of their positions or ranks at places of work. Needless to say, all the policies that have been put in place should not only be implemented to the latter but also monitored from time to time for purposes of regulation and adjustments whenever there is need.
Another guideline to contain gender and sex harassment at places of work was issued by the NHS in Scotland (2005, p.52). The guideline issued by this company came at a time when sexual harassment and workplace bullying along gender lines was rife at the organization.
In order to make the consultation process effective enough, brainstorming sessions were employed to allow participants engage productively in the exercise. Similar programs have been adopted and utilized in other parts of the world especially among organizations that have global presence. In addition, trade unions have also been at the centre stage in pressing for fair and just working conditions. Indeed, an environment free of gender and harassment of sexual nature ought to be categorized as fair. A network of managers was also used to increase the expert level of the entire process. The main task of these network managers was to handle all forms of complaints related to gender and sexual harassment. There was also improved knowledge of the expertise base. The latter was achieved by putting in place managers network who would specifically deal with all issues emanating from harassment at workplace. Training was also provided for human resource teams. In addition, there were myriad of factors that contributed towards success of the program. For instance, there was great assistance that was offered by harassment advisors especially at the in initial stages. As a matter of fact, those who were found guilty of the offense were disciplined accordingly (Antecol & Cobb-Clark, 2003). Nevertheless, it is important to note that there appears to be an absence of empirical evidence examining the effectiveness of many of these strategies.
Recommendations and conclusions
To recap it all, it is imperative to note that gender and harassment of sexual nature at places of work is increasingly being seen as a management and leadership problem which needs to be addressed with the urgency it deserves. Estimates regarding the incidence of gender and harassment of sexual nature vary greatly and thus it is quite cumbersome to ascertain the true scale of this problem. It is also evident that there are a variety of company’s antecedents of gender and sexual harassment. For example, sexual harassment appears to be more prevalent with women as victims. The latter case is rampant in occupations which are male dominated and where there are increased power differentials between men and women. Undoubtedly, developing a company’s culture, which is intolerant of gender and sexual harassment, is a vital step in tackling the problem of this nature at workplace.
On the same note, there are some approved mechanisms that can be adopted by organizations as part and parcel of intervention models based on our review of the current literature. These intervention measures can be used by companies to combat the challenge of gender and sexual exploitation at workplace. The model covers primary, secondary, and tertiary interventions. At the primary level, companies need to ensure that they have effective implementation of policies and procedures. To do this, companies should always endeavor to educate workers on the negative impacts and unethical nature of gender and sexual harassment. In addition, the possible risk factors (for both female and male workers) and how to deal with gender and harassment of sexual nature should also be discussed. It is also important to ensure that there is open communication and debriefing throughout the design and implementation of policies and procedures to ensure there is commitment throughout the company’s hierarchy. Workers also require multiple method training; this could take the form of workshops, case studies, role plays, interactive DVD/video training etc; in order to equip staff with the necessary skills to deal with sexual harassment. Furthermore, workers need to feel empowered and there needs to be commitment to a zero tolerance perspective throughout the company’s hierarchy. It is also important to note that company’s monitoring and assessment are essential throughout each stage, but particularly during the primary intervention phase to ensure that policies and procedures are implemented effectively.
At the secondary level of intervention, companies need to design and monitor an effective complaints procedure. One way in which companies can do this is through employing a network of trained advisors to handle complaints from staff. Trained advisors may be particularly important in cases where an employee is being sexually harassed by their line manager and therefore may find it difficult to register a complaint through the normal channels. Companies also need to consider how workers cope with harassment and the most effective coping strategies to employ. Moreover, open communication and discussion can be an effective way of examining the best forms of coping mechanisms for victims of sexual harassment.
Finally, companies need to consider how workers are treated if sexual harassment occurs, this can be referred to as the rehabilitation stage. At this stage, a company must consider how rehabilitation and follow-up procedures can be designed to support the victim and the perpetrator as well as the company as a whole. For instance, counseling can be extremely effective at this point. While the company needs to consider effective strategies at each of these distinct stages, there are also factors, which need to be considered throughout each stage. For example, it is important that the company ensures it takes a team building and objective approach when drafting reviewing as well as putting into actions the policies that have been enacted. Taking a consultative and participatory approach can help to shape the company’s culture and ensure that there is a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and that negative behaviors do not become normalized throughout the company. In the final analysis, our model advocates a proactive rather than a reactive strategy to sexual harassment policies and procedures. As Jenny Watson, EOC Chair stated “the benefits of tackling harassment can be substantial. Sickness absence, stress and conflict in the workplace are reduced. Staff retention, efficiency, morale and profitability are increased” (Equal Opportunities Commission, 2005, p.22).
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