Secretaries say sex banter can be fun

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Male office workers who engage in sexual banter and lecherous behaviour with women colleagues are generating a light-hearted, fun atmosphere which is more conducive to work, according to a study.

The findings, likely to incense even the most faint-hearted feminist, are more surprising because they originate from the women most likely to be at the receiving end of unwanted sexual attentions - secretaries.

It appears they accept that sexual harassment is an occupational hazard and they are less worried about it than the female workforce in more powerful jobs. In fact, most of the 70 secretaries interviewed for the study made excuses for their bosses when it was pointed out that the suggestive comments and leering they had experienced could be classed as sexual harrassment.

Helen Mott, a researcher in the psychology department at Lancaster University, said: "The most common response was `Oh, he was only joking' or `I didn't take it seriously because I knew he didn't mean it'."

Only three of the secretaries in the study were angry about it, Ms Mott said.

She added: "Being a secretary is a gender-specific and sexualised role. It seems when they take on that role women accept what goes with it and sexual harrassment is not always an issue for them."

The study concluded: "Many secretaries saw that ... sexual harassment could serve a function in promoting an atmosphere in the office that was light-hearted and so, in the short term, productive."