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Workplace harassment an insidious problem


A panel of psychologists told members of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission there is no magic bullet to stop or prevent workplace harassment, and the efficacy of training on the issue varies widely, the EEOC said.

The federal agency’s Select Task Force on Workplace Harassment held its first meeting Monday.

“Organizational ‘tolerance’ (sometimes known as organizational ‘climate’) is the single-most powerful factor in determining whether sexual harassment will occur. Studies have shown that strict management norms and a climate that does not tolerate offensive behavior can inhibit harassment, even by those with a propensity toward such conduct,” Lilia Cortina, associate professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, said during her testimony.

While training is a common response to the problem of workplace harassment, its ability to solve the problem is not uniform, Eden King, associate professor of psychology at George Mason University, testified, according to the EEOC.

However, live training — rather than training done on a computer — that lasts more than four hours and includes role-playing that puts the trainee in the place of a stigmatized co-worker, when combined with specific goals set by a mentor or supervisor, can have the greatest effect in reducing workplace harassment, Ms. King said her research has shown.

EEOC Commissioner Victoria A. Lipnic said the meeting she co-chaired was an important first step.

“As we move forward with our study of workplace harassment and exploration of solutions, what we learned today will serve the important function of grounding us in the extent and nature of the problem,” Ms. Lipnic said in a statement.

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