Abstract: Sexual harassment is a major issue in the service industry and with many publicised recent revaluations in the media. It is important this issue is brought to attention; the public needs to be educated on what it is, what is right and wrong, and more importantly what needs to be done as business managers to prevent this behaviour from continuing.
Key words: Sexual harassment, women, hospitality, vulnerable, sexual behaviour.
Sexual Harassment in the workplace is a major issue, which is being brought to attention Internationally, with many newly publicised incidents brought to attention, such as the revelations of Harvey Weinstein, 2017. Within the hospitality industry, the issue seems to be more apparent than any other industry, mainly due to the highly interactive customer service aspect of the job and the intense working conditions (Mkono, 2010). It has been researched and estimated, around 89% of workers within hospitality have experienced sexual harassment during their working life (Topping, 2018).
The majority of workers in hospitality are mainly women, there are however, a small percentage of men (Topping, 2018). Workers in the industry have one or more of the following characteristics: young, flexible, migrants, temporary or part-time contracts. They also tend to be or stereotypically known to be weak, low self-confidence, low education and skills and tend to not stand up for themselves in many different cases. All these factors including, intense working conditions and pressures such as long hours and a constantly positive attitude when dealing with every customer, contribute to the vulnerability of staff within the industry (Gilbert, et al., 1998; Mkono, 2010).
A major issue as an industry is the expectation of attractiveness, sexiness, and dress-code of members of staff, which often influences sexual harassment. Many organisations encourage a tasteful uniform to boost the chance of staff receiving a tip. If customers like what they see, they are more likely to tip (Gilbert, et al., 1998; Mkono, 2010). The way in which staff are expected in some organisations, is to ‘flirt’ or be extra nice to customers, which is also set to encourage tips, repeat customers, and overall customer expenditure. However, flirting whilst providing a service also stimulates sexual harassment from customers. This is where defining sexual harassment and reporting incidents becomes unclear and difficult in some cases, as this behaviour almost provokes customers, therefore who is right and who is wrong? (Gilbert, et al., 1998).
The act of sexual harassment is somewhat controversial and can be perceived in many ways by different people (Gilbert, et al., 1998). However, it is behaviour in which is unwanted, unwelcoming and makes a person feel uncomfortable or threatened in sexual way, whether it be physically or non-physically such as verbally or by messaging on social media for example. If a person does not give consent to such behaviour, and the perpetrator continues to perform this behaviour, it is more than likely an act of sexual harassment. Common sexual harassment in this industry includes, groping, touching which makes the victim uncomfortable, threatening of sexual favours and inappropriate messaging (Mkono, 2010; Topping, 2018).
The perpetrators tend to be customers of such harassment, however, in many cases within the hospitality industry, colleagues are also a major issue. Chefs are known to have their stereotypical behavioural characteristics in kitchens, which seems to stem from the feeling of power (Gilbert, et al., 1998). Having some kind of sense of power and authority is a major characteristic in terms of perpetrators of sexual harassment. Therefore, anyone is the industry with any power such as supervisors, managers, whom are mainly men, are also known for instigating such behaviour. People who tend to have authority therefore use their knowledge and experience, to threaten and intimidate those lower in the industry such as waitresses and hotel maids who tend to have less experience and less knowledge about work policies (Mkono, 2010).
People who have been targeted for sexual harassment, usually have side effects whether they are small or life changing impacts to many victims work life or life in general. Many are known, who have experienced some kind of sexual harassment, to have a knock on their self-confidence and confidence in general at work. Many experience stress, performance levels minimised, a rise in absenteeism, sickness, depression, fear, lowered self-esteem and more (Gilbert, et al., 1998; Mkono, 2010). In most cases, victims tend to leave their jobs and more than likely instigate them to leave the industry altogether to avoid such incidents from happening again. This therefore has a bad impact on organisations and the industry overall, giving it a bad name and leads to high staff turnover (Mkono, 2010).
Reporting sexual harassment incidents therefore, is crucial. It is crucial for both the victim and the organisation. However, only one in five tend to report sexual harassment as many are afraid of the harassment getting worse, not being taken seriously or nothing changing at all (Mkono, 2010; Topping, 2018).
It is extremely important for this issue to be improved within this industry across the world, for workplaces to have clear and well-practiced policies in place for employees to feel reassures during their work life. It is essential for employees to feel safe and secure, being comfortable to speak to human resource staff if they are ever under any kind of threat or uncomfortable with another colleague or customer.
Gilbert, D., Guerrier, Y., and Guy, J. (1998) Sexual Harassment issues in the hospitality industry. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 10 (2), 48-53.
Mkono, M. (2010) Zimbabwean hospitality students’ experiences of sexual harassment in the hotel industry. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 29, 729-735.
Topping, A. (2018) Sexual harassment rampant in hospitality industry, survey finds. The Guardian. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/24/sexual-harassment-rampant-hospitality-industry-unite-survey-finds
[accessed 20 April 2018].