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Learning from those who have experienced sexual harassment

Sexual harassment can happen in any workplace. Although it is more common for the harassment to come from a male employee harassing a female coworker, this is an oversimplification of the issue. Men can and often are subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, and the harasser and the victim can be the same gender.

Regardless of where you work or who is harassing you, it's important to be aware of any behavior that feels inappropriate or makes you feel uncomfortable. Many employees will simply accept the abuse because they believe that they have no other alternatives; but this is almost always untrue in today's work environment, and past victims will tell you that this is the wrong way to approach sexual harassment in the workplace.

CNBC wrote a recent story about Kellie Krawcheck, a former Wall Street executive who wrote a book about her experience working in the financial industry. Her book details some of the harassment she endured during the early years of her career, when her field could be best described as a classic "boys club" industry. Instead of reporting the abuse, Krawcheck coped with it on her own.

In her book, Krawcheck says she felt as though she had no other option than to deal with the behavior of her male coworkers. She says she needed the pay.

Looking back, Krawcheck says she wouldn't recommend handling the harassment the way she did. In fact, she now runs a company aimed at diversifying Wall Street to get more women in positions traditionally filled by men.

Stories like Krawcheck's are all too common, and demonstrate how easy it is, even for a competent, driven employee to feel that ignoring or coping with sexual harassment is necessary in order to keep a job or move up in an organization. This is not the case. We routinely advise our clients and potential clients that they have the power to stop the harassment, often with our help.

It is important to learn from people who have endured sexual harassment at work in the past and educate both employees and employers on ways to prevent harassment from happening, and to identify and correct harassment when it occurs.

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