Nearly two-thirds of the more than 1,000 women surveyed in the United Kingdom by Slater Gordon report that they have had a male coworker behave “inappropriately” toward them, including inappropriate comments about their physical appearance, sex life, and clothes, as well as unwanted touching. One in six women had a colleague try to kiss them and 12 percent had one touch them inappropriately.
More than half of those making comments and ignoring physical boundaries were senior staff members. Five percent of the women who had senior staff behave this way say they then lost their job and more than 10 percent said they had been turned down for a promotion.
Yet only 27 percent of the woman said they reported the inappropriate behavior to someone senior despite finding it to be degrading and embarrassing — something nearly impossible for women being harassed by senior staff but complicated for even those experiencing it from peers. One in five women said the experience made them want to leave their job.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is also rampant in the United States. One in five women say they have been harassed by a superior and another quarter report being harassed by another coworker. American men also report sexual harassment: 6 percent were harassed by a boss and 14 percent by another colleague. Yet of all these victims, 70 percent said they didn’t report it to their employers.
While there were over 11,000 sexual harassment charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or state and local Fair Employment Practices agencies in 2011, the number has been on the decline despite how apparently widespread such experiences are.
While many employers have sexual harassment policies that are meant to help victims, others have policies that end up blaming women for the unwanted comments, advances, and physical content or creating a culture that turns the women into sex objects. One manager training guide blamed women for bringing the harassment on themselves and suggested changing their clothing, manner of speaking, and body language to fend it off without mentioning reporting it to a superior. To be taken seriously, one law firm distributed a memo telling women not to show cleavage or giggle and to change the way they speak. Women at Merrill Lynch say they were told to seduce their way to the top and to be more “perky” and “bubbly.”
But employers should be taking sexual harassment very seriously. It can cost them in reduced productivity and morale when it increases an employee’s time away from work or her output or results in job turnover. That’s not even including the legal fees if cases are actually brought against them.