First Career? Tips on Approaching Sexual Harassment Issues Out of College

Sexual assault is a topic college students are used to hearing about. Nearly everyday there is a new story about a college failing to protect its students from sexual assault. While colleges seek to better educate their students on sexual assault, less often discussed is sexual harassment, which can be a precursor to and is intertwined with sexual assault.

Sexual Harassment and Entering the Workforce

A 2005 study by the American Association of University Women found 62% of female college students had been sexually harassed. Unfortunately, the behavior often continues after a woman graduates and enters the workforce. It is estimated about one third of women in the United States have been harassed. While harassment can also affect young men, young women as new entrants to the workforce are more likely to be targeted due to their age and lack of experience.

Overcoming Ignorance

The most difficult barrier to combating sexual harassment of young women in the workplace is the confusion around what constitutes sexual harassment. Moving from a college campus environment where sexual jokes and innuendo are the norm can make identifying harassment in a work environment difficult for recent graduates. This ambiguity around sexual harassment can be challenging for both women and men; however, there are a few steps recent graduates can take to empower themselves:

Educate Yourself: Make sure that you are familiar with your school’s and/or company’s sexual harassment policy. Take the time to look up important Supreme Court cases and legal definitions. These could be useful if you feel that your company or school has inadequate policies or is not responding correctly to a complaint.

Confront the Harasser: If a behavior makes you uncomfortable, say something. Simply letting individuals know you are not okay with their conduct may be enough to stop the harassment. While confronting an individual may be difficult, studies have shown many individuals work to alleviate the situation, sometimes even leading to permanent changes in sexists attitudes and behavior.

If Unable, Find an Ally: Do not let yourself be alone if you are a target. Find someone with whom you are comfortable speaking.

Know Your Legal Resources: If you believe that your school or company is not doing enough, know your rights and agencies you can contact, such as your school’s Title IX representative or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commision.

In the end, there is not an easy answer to sexual harassment; however, education is a powerful tool to help protect you against sexual harassment. Be your own advocate. Be honest with people about how they make you feel and hold others accountable. Being new to the workforce should not prevent you from speaking up.

Image credit: Flickr TheeErin