In a report published Wednesday, British researchers found that 52 percent of women in the U.K. said that they’d experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. The report detailed the results of a poll of 1,533 women commissioned by the Trades Union Congress and the Everyday Sexism Project earlier this year. The women answered questions about different types of workplace harassment, ranging from comments about their bodies to rape. The researchers found that one in eight women experienced unwanted sexual touching of their bottoms, genitals, or breasts, or attempts to kiss them while at work. For women between 18 and 24, the overall rate of harassment jumps to 63 percent—although the report acknowledges that younger women are more likely to be in lower paying or temporary work, where harassment is more likely to occur. As troubling as these statistics are, perhaps most upsetting is the fact that four out of five women did not report the incidents, fearing that they would damage their work relationships or not be taken seriously.
Are women any better off in the U.S.? Not exactly. In 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission created a task force to study harassment in the American workplace. In their recent report, the co-chairs of the task force explained that academic studies have shown that somewhere between 25 percent and 85 percent of American women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. The variation in results comes from varying samples and varying definitions of sexual harassment. When asked simply if they’d experienced “sexual harassment,” with no explanation supplied, only one in four women reported experiencing harassment. When the respondents were asked “whether they have experienced one or more specific sexually-based behaviors, such as unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion, the rate of reported harassment rose to approximately 40% of women.” When researchers expanded the definition further, asking about gendered harassment—which includes sexist comments and sexually crude comments often aimed to insult women—the rate rose to 60 percent.
Like the women in the recent U.K. study, most American women don’t report their harassment. The EEOC task force found that only 30 percent of women talked to a supervisor or union representative about their harassment, and between 6 and 13 percent of women filed a formal complaint. No one can blame women for not reporting harassment when they know, or suspect, that reporting will hinder their professional advancement. Employers have to make it easier for victims to report harassment without fearing adverse consequences, and to do a better job of preventing sexual harassment from happening in the first place. The EEOC report notes, “Much of the training done over the last 30 years has not worked as a prevention tool—it’s been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability.” However, the task force suggests that bystander intervention training and “civility training”—which focuses on promoting a respectful atmosphere in the workplace—might help reduce the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s a recommendation that employers in the U.S. and the U.K. should take to heart.