Sexual Harassment From a Confucian Perspective

With serious allegations being made against presidential candidate Herman Cain, Americans are talking about a charged topic: sexual harassment in the workplace.

Peter Drucker wrote about the problem in two notably different contexts. One was in the context of understanding workplace regulations. Although Drucker viewed worker protections as necessary, he lamented the red tape and mountains of paperwork that invariably come with them, noting, in Managing in the Next Society, “the constant—and constantly growing—threat of employment-related lawsuits.”

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“Between 1991 and 2000, the number of sexual-harassment cases filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission more than doubled, from 6,883 a year to 15,889,” Drucker wrote. In turn, employers “have no time to work on product and service, on customers and markets, on quality and distribution—they have no time to work, that is, on results.”

[EXPAND More]But Drucker’s comments in this regard shouldn’t lead one to believe that he was soft on the subject of sexual harassment. Drucker drew very strict lines on workplace relationships, especially between superior and subordinate. As we’ve noted, he even tended to frown on friendships between executives and those reporting to them.

Although Drucker was steeped deeply in Western civilization, he considered most Western codes of ethics to be insufficient to the task of setting guidelines in the workplace. That’s because they, in effect, contain too many loopholes. By contrast, Drucker wrote in The Ecological Vision, Confucian ethics ensure that “the same rules and imperatives of behavior hold for every individual.”

“An example of the Confucian approach to the ethical problems discussed under the heading of business ethics would be sexual harassment,” Drucker explained. “To the Confucian it is clearly unethical behavior because it injects power into a relationship that is based on function. That makes it exploitation.”

Drucker noted, importantly, that this Confucian standard would apply inside a business as well as any other kind of setting. “The master/servant or superior/subordinate relationship is one between individuals,” Drucker wrote. “Hence, the Confucian would make no distinction between a general manager forcing his secretary into sexual intercourse or . . . a college professor seducing coeds with implied promises to raise their grades.”

Has the problem of sexual harassment infected your workplace? Would a more Confucian code of ethics help?[/EXPAND]