harrass.jpgThe CEO of Hewlett Packard, Mark Hurd, got fired last week following an investigation into sexual harassment claims made by a former contractor, Jodie Fisher.

After the probe into the allegations, the company found Hurd had not violated HP’s sexual harassment policy but he did monkey around with $20,000 of company funds. hurd.jpg

jodie.jpgNow Fisher, who was also a reality show contestant, is saying: “I was surprised and saddened that Mark lost his job over this.”

Sources have said Hurd and Fisher settled the harassment matter but few details were disclosed.

So I’m missing something. They settled the matter. She didn’t want him fired. Well, why the heck not? If a guy is harassing you sexually, so much so that you write a letter to company officials, then why would she want him going after other women? Or was it all about the money?

Sexual harassment is a serious problem for many women and even men who have to endure it. It can undermine employees, lead to dismissal or demotions, create a hostile work environment, favoritism, and it can cause emotional distress.

And sexual harassment is illegal.

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

No one but Hurd and Fisher knows exactly what happened between them, but this type of story always gets under my skin. These backroom settlements of sexual harassment claims that leave the alleged harasser in his job has to make you wonder how serious the problem was.

Did Fisher really see Hurd as a threat? Did the money in the end outweigh any moral obligation to keep him from striking again?

Sexual harassers just don’t go away, because, “sexual harassment is, and always has been, about power more than it is about sex,” says Kathleen Neville, author of “Internal Affairs: The Abuse of Power, Sexual Harassment, and Hypocrisy in the Workplace.”

The HP saga shows we have a long way to go before we can eradicate this type of behavior in the nation’s workplaces. As it is, people don’t take sexual harassment seriously folks, and that contributes to the problem and a general feeling that it’s OK to be immoral. And even teenagers have to endure this type of sleazy behavior sometimes. Maybe adults should help the young kids out by standing up to sleaze, not just looking for some payola for our troubles.

Yes, I do think monetary damages via the court system or government agency actions are often needed in these cases to get companies and managers following the rules, but that comes with a public airing of problems so everyone can know what’s going on.

But even that is no guarantee behaviors will change.

So many people thought it was a big fat joke that a big star like David Letterman was banging young interns at his studio.

Well, that wasn’t funny, and the HP scandal isn’t funny either.

So, what should you do if you’re a victim of sexual harassment.

Here are some tips:

Confront it head on. From the moment women feel any sexual harassment, even if it’s slight, they should be firm and very clear with the harasser that that kind of behavior is unacceptable, said Gabriela Cora, author of “Alpha Female: Leader of a Pack of Bitches — Winning Strategies to Become an Outstanding Leader.”. If you don’t confront it right away, she adds, the harassment could just escalate.

So, the first time that off-colored joke is told at a meeting or at lunch, she continues, you should convey a message right away, even in front of other colleagues, that “you don’t like to play this way.”

Women and men, she adds, need to show right away that the behavior is unwanted, that they’ve done nothing to deserve it and that they really mean business. “They can’t be wishy washy.”

Broaden your network now. “I suggest that a woman manager should already have developed good, solid relationships within HR managers, be a big supporter of company policies and initiatives, and maintain good professional relationships with those who surround her boss and who he or she reports into,” Neville advises.

Pick your battles. Not every joke in the office or at the plant is meant to undermine a female leader’s authority. As a manager, you should be able to deal with some of the cracks the good old boys’ network — still is the upper echelon of corporate America — is used to, especially if they don’t really make you feel uncomfortable.

“What I’ve seen is women who tend to say they’ve never been harassed carry themselves with a sure and secure personality and can brush off unwanted advances,” she says.

Know when enough is enough. If the harassment just does not subside, be extremely professional about reporting it and document everything, Neville advises. Despite how it might impact your career, she notes, HR departments tend to think charges made by managers are more likely to have merit.

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