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PRESS RELEASE
6-15-15

No Quick Fix for Workplace Harassment, Social Scientists Tell EEOC Task Force at Open Meeting

Public Suggestions for Solutions To The Problem Will Be Solicited Through Suggestion Box On Special Web Page, Task Force Announces

WASHINGTON - There is no one magic bullet to stop workplace harassment or prevent its occurrence and the efficacy of solutions such as training varies widely, a panel of psychologists told the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) Select Task Force on Workplace Harassment (STF) at a public meeting held today. 

This was the first public meeting of the STF. The STF was set up by EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang in January, 2015, and is co-chaired by EEOC Commissioners Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic, with the participation of individuals representing the worlds of academia, law, labor and business. This meeting was designed to explore the scope of the problem and the types of research already existing on the issue of workplace harassment.

In order to be as informative and inclusive as possible, co-chairs Feldblum and Lipnic announced the launch of a special web page on the EEOC's website with links to EEOC's many resources about workplace harassment. Additionally, there will be a 'suggestion box' where members of the public and other interested parties may submit their own ideas on how to solve workplace harassment. The page may be found at www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment.

"Today's presentations were extremely informative.  They will help guide our work in developing creative strategies for preventing harassment in the workplace," said Feldblum. "I am also excited about the launch of our public webpage and look forward to hearing suggestions from the public on how to solve workplace harassment."

It is well known that "harassment is pervasive, damaging to individuals, and costly to organizations, but what are its causes?" asked Dr. Mindy Bergman, Associate Professor of Psychology, Texas A&M University.  "One of the most important [factors] is organizational climate. When an organization is more tolerant of harassing behavior, more harassing behavior occurs."

Dr. Lilia Cortina, Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan, agreed with Bergman, telling the STF: "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."

While training is a common response to the problem of workplace harassment, its ability to solve the problem is not uniform, noted Dr. Eden King, Professor of Psychology at George Mason
University. However, training which is live, rather than done on a computer, 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 goal setting by a mentor or supervisor, can have the greatest effect, her research has showed.

Additionally, the STF also heard from Louise Fitzgerald, Professor Emerita of Gender and Women's Studies and Psychology, University of Illinois; and two EEOC staff members: Dr. Ronald Edward, Director, Program Research and Surveys Division, Office of Research, Information and Planning; and Dexter Brooks, Associate Director, Federal Sector Programs, Office of Federal Operations, who discussed the scope of harassment in both the private and federal workforces.

"Today's meeting, designed to start the work of the task force at square one, was a crucial first step," said Lipnic. "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."

The EEOC enforces the federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.