Harassment at work is in the eye of the beholder

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The Independent Online

Unattractive, middle-aged married men with senior positions in the workplace are far more likely to be accused of sexual harassment by female employees than younger, less successful men, new research shows.

Unattractive, middle-aged married men with senior positions in the workplace are far more likely to be accused of sexual harassment by female employees than younger, less successful men, new research shows.

Women of all ages are far more likely to find comments about what they are wearing, risqué jokes or questions about their personal lives far more offensive when they come from their married boss rather than from a younger co-worker.

In Britain, nearly half of all working women say they have been sexually harassed in the workplace compared with 15 per cent of men. The number of sexual harassment cases has doubled in the past three years to nearly 20 a week, with many firms choosing to settle the matter privately because they do not want the publicity.

Research presented to theconference shows that young, pretty women who hold senior positions in companies are able to put their arms around junior colleagues, touch their shoulder during a discussion or ask them on a date with little chance of being accused of harassment.

In two separate studies, psychologists found that women were able to comment on male colleagues' figure and build, ask for home numbers and even ask them if they would go away for the weekend without fear of causing offence or being sacked. The studies showed that men were more inclined to see any approach as flattering rather than offensive, regardless of how attractive they found their female boss.

Professor Justin Rueb, from the United States Air Force Academy, said society had "double standards" on sexual harassment at work because women were allowed to get away with more unacceptable behaviour, and they should be more careful in an increasingly egalitarian society. He said: "Men should become more sensitive to what women find offensive, while women should realise some behaviours have a benign intent and therefore take less offence."

His research, based on more than 700 students, professionals and armed forces personnel, found that unattractive men in a position of power and authority who were married caused the most offence.

Findings from a second study, conducted by Dr Holly Traver, from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, supported this research.

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