Learning & Development, Talent

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: An Ongoing Story

A movie mogul acknowledges sexual harassment, attempts to shrug it off, and is ousted from the company that bears his name. The behavior is not new – indeed, it is as old as Hollywood itself – but the swift reaction to it is.

Source: Professor25 / Getty Images Plus

The fact that companies are addressing sexual harassment in a prompt and public way has come about for a number of reasons, including the issues associated with a tainted brand, the fear of litigation and its financial consequences, and maybe, just maybe, positive change in the workplace at large.
Yet, despite several recent incidents where predators have lost positions of power, sexual harassment remains an issue with which many workers struggle.

By Age and Occupation

A survey of more than 10,000 employees conducted by Comparably, a provider of comprehensive compensation and workplace culture data, finds that 28 percent of female employees and 7 percent of male employees answered “yes” to the question, “Have you ever been sexually harassed at work?”
While this in itself is cause enough for concern, perhaps even more alarming are responses by age group.
As might be expected, older workers, 51 years of age to 66+, who were in the workforce when there wasn’t as much oversight, and for the purpose of analysis include four survey groups, are those most likely to have encountered sexual harassment at work.
However, the next age group with the most “yes” responses is the youngest survey group, workers 18 to 25 years of age. This suggests that sexual harassment at work is not something that happened to past generations. It is prevalent today.
What’s more, sexual harassment appears to be widespread in certain professions.
Consider these findings, by occupational area:

IT 34% of females 7% of males
Business Development 33% of females 8% of males
Engineering 33% of females 5% of males
Operations 31% of females 11% of males
Marketing 31% of females 10% of males
Executive 29% of females 7% of males
Design 28% of females 8% of males
Legal 27% of females 20% of males
Sales 26% of females 11% of males
Admin 26% of females 17% of males
Communications 25% of females 9% of males

The positions included here are those where at least 25 percent of respondents indicate they have been sexually harassed at work.

Seeking Change

It begs the question, where is HR? The survey suggests HR has issues of its own. Among survey respondents working in HR, 17 percent of females and 7 percent of males say they have been sexually harassed at work.
Data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shows that sex-based harassment allegations, which include charges alleging sexual harassment, have not declined in recent years; from 2010 through 2016 they basically remained flat:

FY 2010 12,695
FY 2011 12,461
FY 2012 12,569
FY 2013 12,379
FY 2014 12,146
FY 2015 12,573
FY 2016 12,860

These numbers include charges filed with the EEOC only; they do not include charges filed with state or local fair employment practices agencies.

Paula Paula Santonocito, Contributing Editor for Recruiting Daily Advisor, is a business journalist specializing in employment issues. She is the author of more than 1,000 articles on a wide range of human resource and career topics, with an emphasis on recruiting and hiring. Her articles have been featured in many global and domestic publications and information outlets, referenced in academic and legal publications as well as books, and translated into several languages.