Q. I bumped into the CEO of the company I work for in the lift – there were three of us, the two of us and a man in a cleaner’s uniform. After I said good morning, he told me that I was a “beautiful woman”. I was taken aback but managed to say thank you. Isn’t this sexual harassment, and if so, how is one to handle such a situation?
It is important to know where to draw the line between a compliment and what may constitute harassment.
Comments like this, from a person you least expect to utter them, such as a total stranger, are often said from a view that sees the recipient as an object to be admired for gratification of the admirer. To say it in the presence of another stranger is total lack of respect to you, and indeed the cleaner, as I doubt he would have said this in the presence of a peer.
My conclusion is yes, this constitutes harassment, and your boss ought to be ashamed of himself and apologise. It is such a pity that as the person holding the highest office in your company, he is capable of such behaviour. I wonder how he would view similar complaints that may be escalated to him for investigation.
Let me quickly add that when such a comment comes from someone you are familiar or comfortable with, it is acceptable to view it as a compliment since there is a level of familiarity and friendship. When frequently repeated however, it will constitute harassment.
Women go through many challenges - I recall a couple of complaints I have dealt with over time – “He stood too close I could smell his breath”, “I wonder what you are hiding under that long skirt”, “You have lost weight lately…is he treating you well?”
I wonder why men make such comments that obviously cause women embarrassment. These are sexist utterances, and those who say them have an agenda that easily fits the sexual harassment category and ought to be called out and shamed.
And really women, we have to speak up. Say, for instance, “You are standing too close, keep your distance”, because if you do not, they will think you like their advances and will continue to make derogatory comments. It is best to draw the line from the onset. Employers ought to educate their employees on what constitutes harassment, make it easy to report abuse and take firm action on those found culpable.