Weighing Workplace-Harassment Worries

According to a new survey, Americans are more concerned about male workers getting away with sexual harassment in the workplace than they are about false accusations against men–though that finding does not hold true across gender and party lines.

The findings were revealed in a national survey by Pew Research Center, which sought to take the temperature of American workers toward workplace sexual harassment as the #MeToo movement wages on.

Overall, 50 percent of respondents said that men getting away with sexual harassment or assault at work is a major problem, while 35 percent saw it as a minor problem and 14 percent believe it’s not a problem at all. Additionally, about 46 percent said women not being believed about such instances is a significant issue.

About 34 percent of workers said employers firing men who are accused of such acts before getting all the facts is a major problem, while 31 percent saw women falsely claiming to be victims as a serious problem.

However, there are significant differences when the numbers are broken down by demographics. For instance, only 33 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning workers said men getting away with sexual harassment and assault is a major problem, compared to 62 percent of Democrat and Democratic-leaning individuals. Those numbers are even starker when gender is factored in: Just 28 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning men are concerned about sexual harassment, compared to 66 percent of Democrat and Democratic-leaning women.

How do these differences affect the workplace? For one thing, it could be impacting how workers communicate.

According to the survey, 51 percent of participants said the recent shift has made it harder for male workers to interact with their female colleagues–a number that was higher among men (55 percent) than women (47 percent). Partisan divides were also evident again: 68 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning men expressed concern, compared to 45 percent of Democrat and Democratic-leaning men. Additionally, the older the worker was, the more likely he or she was to express hesitance about navigating interaction among men and women in the workplace.

While political leanings aren’t a matter for HR leaders, the numbers do speak to the importance of HR remaining cognizant that the company is likely home to people of varying views, including on sexual harassment. Regardless of workers’ vantage points, the reality of sexual harassment in the workplace is hard to deny, making the case for ongoing HR investment in addressing the issue: The Pew survey found that nearly 60 percent of women have encountered unwanted sexual advancements; 14 percent of them said such instances happened in work, with another 55 percent reporting it happened both at the office and outside. More than a quarter of men also said they have been sexually harassed.

As HR leaders continue to grapple with the impact of sexual harassment, the Pew survey also highlights the need for understanding how workers perceive the issue–and how varying views may impact the workplace.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected]