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Discussion Paper on Sexual Harassment in the Hospitality and Service Industry. What is Acceptable?

Discussion Paper on Sexual Harassment in the Hospitality and Service Industry. What is Acceptable?
Author: Freya Wells
2 Commentries
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].
Commentary on "Discussion Paper on Sexual Harassment in the Hospitality and Service Industry. What is Acceptable?"
Author: Karolina Lotycz
I have chosen to comment on this paper as sexual harassment at tourism and hospitality industries is a very interesting topic and a major issue. I conducted my own research on the sexual harassment and well-being of stewardesses which links with the hospitality industry as there are many common issues of sexual harassment and the impact it has on employees well-being and life.

Sexual harassment is a common matter which has to be dealt with and people should take responsibility for their actions. Due to sexual harassment happening every day, this paper is very important as it highlights that there is more woman than men working in the hospitality industry which is why around 89% of the workers from the hospitality industry suffer from sexual harassment (Gilbert et al., 1998). Within the hospitality industry, there are many migrant workers as it has been stated well by the researcher which to managers and co-workers may seem as a good pretext to using them as they might not know the language well and may be afraid of losing their jobs due to that (Gilbert et al,. 1998).

As stated by the researcher, the issue within the hospitality industry is the expectation of attractiveness, sexiness and the dress code. As well as for the stewardesses the looks is very important but it leads to more sexual harassment as the more good looking and younger the worker is, the more sexual harassment she is involved in (Hochchild, 1983; Mkono, 2010).
It is good that this paper acknowledges the sexual harassment within the tourism and hospitality industry as everyone deserves to work in a safe environment and without any need of being sexually harassed.

Unwanted groping or forced physical contact or even assault or harassment are outwardly accepted as conventional by workers within the tourism and hospitality industries which makes the victim uncomfortable, threatening of sexual favours and inappropriate messaging (Mkono, 2010).

This paper brings many issues which are seen within the stewardesses job within which the colleagues and pilots are a major issue as stewardesses tend to be threatened by the ones which are on a higher position than them. The sexual harassment should be reported more often and management should take responsibility for any kind of threatening or any unwanted behaviour towards a female worker.

This paper has been interesting to read as it provides a lot of information and it states how unfair work is to hospitality industry workers, which are lower and don’t have as much authority as the managers or supervisors. The author has provided a good knowledge of the issues of sexual harassment and the data provided seems to be fairly recent but due to the world limit, the researcher perhaps could not have gone more into depth. It is good that there are more sexual harassment issues being brought up to daylight as the companies within which the employees are working might start taking sexual harassment seriously and not let it have a bad outcome on the well-being and life of their employees.


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.

Hochschild, A. (1983) Managed heart: commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley, CA: University Press.

Mkono, M. (2010) Zimbabwean hospitality students’ experiences of sexual harassment in the hotel industry. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 29, 729-735.
Commentary upon 'Discussion Paper on Sexual Harassment in the Hospitality and Service Industry. What is Acceptable?'
Author: Saara Jaakkola
I decided to post a commentary on this discussion paper because there were similar issues discussed in my paper. My paper focuses on female housekeepers and one of the main threats for hotel cleaners during working hours is harassment of a different kind. Therefore I found it interesting to read this specific paper to broaden my own opinions and thoughts.

The author of the discussion paper has introduced the topic well and brought the issues to attention. However, when discussing about sexual harassment in the service industry, due to the service sector being quite broad, the content of the discussion paper does not go much in-depth. Nevertheless, the structure of the paper is clear and easy for reader to read.

According to United Nations statistics the working women across the world are subjected to physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence, regardless of their income, age or education. Such violence can lead to long-term physical, mental and emotional health problems (2015). As the author mentions, sexual harassment has been brought to media a lot lately and it has drawn attention. Various campaigns and international movements against sexual harassment such as #MeToo, have brought people together to share experiences on social media and to support one another. Women that work in publicity and have a high profile, can help the ones without a voice. The founder of #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke wanted to empower women in the workforce and give them support and justice. Burke wanted especially to help young and vulnerable female workers, courage them to speak out and not be ashamed nor alone with these issues (Brockes, 2018).

It is good of the writer to inform the characteristics of perpetrators of sexual harassment within hospitality workplaces. According to Guerrier and Adib (2000), hotel workers are vulnerable for harassment of hotel customers. The reason behind this is that customers often see hotel work being a ‘low-status’ occupancy compared to their own position. This then possibly makes the perpetrators feel powerful against the hotel workers and therefore the hotel workers become victims of violence.

The writer makes a valid point when discussing about reporting sexual harassment incidents. By creating stronger and trustworthy communities within work place, the individual workers have more strength and power to defend themselves and their rights as employees. When there is trust between the employer and employees, the employees get their voices heard and the human rights violence’s seen.

Overall this paper is well structured and it discusses the main issues of sexual harassment within hospitality and service industry.

Brockes, E. (2018) Me Too founder Tarana Burke: ‘You have to use your privilege to serve other people’. The Guardian. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/15/me-too-founder-tarana-burke-women-sexual-assault [accessed: 15 May 2018].

Guerrier, Y and Adib, A.S. (2000) ‘No, We Don’t Provide that Service’: The Harassment of Hotel Employees by Customers. Work, Employment & Society, 14(4).

United Nations (2015) The Worlds Women 2015 – Trends and Statistics. New York. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Available from: https://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/downloads/WorldsWomen2015_report.pdf [accessed 15 May 2018].