Men Wise Up, but Harassment Persists

Men would roll their eyes or stare angrily when Karetta Hubbard and Lynn Revo-Cohen walked in the room.

It was back in the 1980s, and the two women taught seminars on sexual harassment.

Now, the men pay attention.

"Before the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings employees, particularly men, would not take this issue seriously," says Ms. Revo-Cohen, who runs a human-resources consulting firm in Washington with Ms. Hubbard.

Many, they say, would joke, "Oh you're going to teach us how to sexually harass someone."

No more.

"Today, men want to know what the law is," Revo-Cohen says, "because they know if someone files a sexual-harassment suit against them, they're dead in the water."

The issue also looms large on corporate radar screens. About 65 percent of them provided sexual-harassment training in 1996, up from 40 percent in 1991, according to a survey of American Management Association members.

Yet some charge that with new, heavy-handed policies and worker confusion, tension has tightened between the sexes.

"There's a lot of uncertainty in our culture and in business today, not only about what is legal but what is appropriate," says Michael Karpeles, an employment lawyer in Chicago.

But there is no uncertainty about the seriousness of the issue. And while the workplace has made significant strides in curbing sexual harassment, it still has a way to go.

Indeed, surveys indicate that many more women have been sexually harassed than file complaints. Too often, lawyers say, women still see their best course of action as leaving or changing jobs.

"I know people are tired of hearing about this, but if it wasn't such a major problem, we wouldn't keep hearing about it," says Susan Webb, who has conducted seminars on the issue for 20 years. "Most people would be appalled at the lack of subtlety in the harassment cases I see ... grabbing, fondling, filthy remarks."

One factor in the persistence of such behavior is sheer numbers. While women make up nearly half of the US labor force, they still are a minority in many industries and in upper-management positions.

"You see less harassment at workplaces that are fully integrated," Ms. Webb says.

Another factor is generational.

"We are still seeing ... a generation of people in the workplace who grew up with very different expectations of the role of women," says expert Marcia Greenberger.

Many "senior managers graduated from college when sex discrimination was still perfectly legal," she says. "And these same people are now making policies and supervising."

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