Dynamics of the sex equation

13th November 1998 at 00:00
SEXUALITY AT WORK. How Does it Affect You? By Jean Civil. Batsford Books Pounds 25

This book reports on a survey of the attitudes towards sexuality of 400 managers in companies, colleges and prisons and how these attitudes affect their working lives and relationships. It accepts that sexual relationships are inevitable in the work place and that they can lead to some dynamic and productive partnerships.

Jean Civil, a clinical psychologist argues that we all live out our own sexual script, which is written in our formative years and fed by the attitudes and behaviours of parents and other adults. Teachers and those in a custodial relationship are presumably included.

In a series of interviews, some managers refer to the exploitative nature of sexual relationships, although several worrying des-criptions by lecturers about their affairs with students clearly ig-nore the dangers and the inequality of most of these liaisons. "My supervisor made it clear that if I had sex with him I'd get a first. I told him to sod off," said one woman, while another "slept my way to a 2.1. It was easy."

Although Civil's method is rather anecdotal, she shows that there are deep and serious problems caused by the ways our sexuality affects us at work, for both men and women. "One female head of department is very powerful and uses her sexuality to create fear among her staff" and "I feel definitely second class in management meetings where I am the only woman. I argue for people and caring and my views are dismissed." Some women who are the only woman in management teams enjoy that status and deliberately block the advancement of others.

The messages are complex and generally men and women are mistrustful of each other. Men feel that women use their sexuality unfairly - "women flirt to get what they want" - while women feel that men are dominant and exploitative.

There is no doubt that sexuality affects your chances of getting on. The undercurrents of appointments mean that you may be offered a job because someone on the appointing committee fancies you, but equally your attractiveness may lead to you not being appointed by someone scared that you could distract them.

Civil's conclusions are a bit disconnected from the slightly rambling interview section, but a lot of the final section, which offers advice and guidelines, is sound and helpful. There are dos and don'ts for managers, such as always being honest when making appointments and never being involved in the appointment or promotion of someone with whom they are or have been involved.

If teachers have a profound and lasting influence on the sexual behaviour and attitudes of their students, in schools we need to make sure that we try hard to understand this and to lead by example. We need a code which communicates to our students that we can all behave reasonably and with respect for others. This book helps to start to understand the complexities of our personal interactions at work.

The writer is professional and development co-ordinator at Moorside High School, Werrington, Staffordshire

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