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Toxic Culture: Sexual Harassment – What’s OK, What’s Not?

By Karetta Hubbard, Lynne Revo-Cohen, Gwen Crider, and Dr. Chris Martin.

Sexism is a form of prejudice, just as Racism is. In the conversation we presented in our previous story, men learned to confront each other, and as an important byproduct, to support each other. We received the following comment from a reader. 

“Interesting article, as they all have been. It seems to me that if the husband and wife (or any male-female pair) have a relationship grounded first by true friendship, then a lot of the male exploitation issues go away. I know that’s a great over-simplification, but I believe it does work for at least some people, myself included.

The questions remain about how to prevent Sexual harassment at work. The following helps to understand in simple interactions What’s OK, What’s Not?  Note: even though women are most often targeted regarding the following behavior, we note men are, too. Use of the word “woman” could be easily replaced with “man.”

What’s Not OK (The following examples may be obvious to many, but still a handy guide for curbing the wrong instincts.)

  • Office meeting: telling a woman on the team that she should “take one for the team” to “be extra nice” to a prospective client or supervisor/manager.
  • Telling a sexist joke in front of colleagues.
  • Making demeaning sexist comment about a woman’s body (body shaming), who they are considering putting on a key assignment.
  • Inappropriate touching, the difference between a nonsexual pat on the arm and sexual rubbing, massage, grabbing, fondling, kissing, cornering, etc.
  • What’s ok and not ok on a business trip with a colleague or subordinate; where to meet up, drinking, etc. Drinking alcohol can be a slippery slope that might allow your Inner Devil to surface.
  • Comments about male/female suggesting, you know “why she/he got the assignment?”
  • Using social media to degrade female colleague using a photo of her.
  • Spreading rumors to friends about sexual liaisons at work.
  • Calling a strong woman names such as “bitch,” “feminazi,” for being tough and demanding at a meeting.
  • Comments on “getting lucky”: speaking about your personal issues in your marriage or love life
  • Leering in a sexual way, stalking either in person or online, lewd or suggestive comments, licking lips, touching or exposing oneself in view of another person
  • Displays of sexually suggestive or pornographic images at work or after work online
  • Comments on mood such as time of month, other personal issues
  • Victim Blaming: making negative comments about someone who has complained about harassment, such as the way they dress, look or act as if they invited harassing behavior.

What’s OK – First rule: The line isn’t always clear: just remember, you need to be sure your behavior is “welcome” and not “offensive” to the others. The following simple examples are a general guide, not meant to be all-inclusive.  Remember, you can always ASK the person first. And if the person says they would be displeased, then just don’t say or do the behavior.

  • complimenting a good job, thought, contribution to work product
  • shaking hands
  • pat on the back or arm in a nonsexual manner
  • telling a non-offensive joke
  • normal kidding around in a nonsexual manner
  • criticizing a colleague’s work or behavior that has no sexual innuendo
  • asking a colleague for lunch, dinner, or drinks with no  Quid pro Quo
  • spending free time with a colleague or subordinate on travel or outside of work with no expectation that they owe you sexual favors
  • asking a co-worker for a date (not a superior, or subordinate) and if he/she refuses, respect the answer
  • respect and understand the “reasonable person standard” 
  • if you say the wrong thing, or offend someone: apologize!

These are guidelines, and, as humans we all react to situations differently. Always, use your best judgment. 


We welcome your thoughts and comments.  Each contributes to the conversation which is the key to understanding and culture change.  Please email [email protected] and we may publish your comment. Thanks!

The preceding is based on Kilmartin, C. T. (2017).  Male allies to women.  In J. Schwarz (Ed.), Counseling women across the lifespan: Empowerment, advocacy, and intervention.  New York: Springer. 

Since 1984 the founders of NewPoint Strategies, Karetta Hubbard and Lynne Revo-Cohen, have built a strong reputation for delivering extremely effective prevention training in high-risk issues such as sexual harassment/assault.  Contributing Author and Lead Consultant, Chris Kilmartin, Ph.D, Emeritus Professor of Psychology from the University of Mary Washington, is an expert in Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention, specifically Male Violence Against Women. Gwen Crider is a Diversity Expert. For more information, go to the website for NewPoint Strategies.

Photos from Bigstock

The post Toxic Culture: Sexual Harassment – What’s OK, What’s Not? appeared first on Woman Around Town.

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Toxic Culture: Sexual Harassment – What’s OK, What’s Not?


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