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Millions of women face gender discrimination/harassment at work

The headlines of 2017 were dominated by men behaving badly, from Hollywood to Washington to Silicon Valley. Was it one big bubble that finally burst, or is it a reflection of a broader problem simmering across the country?

Several studies suggest that sexual harassment and gender discrimination – in various forms – still occur regularly in the workplace. The perpetrators are not just celebrities and politicians. It’s co-workers and supervisors and executives, across every industry.

Sexual harassment may have changed, but it hasn’t gone away

In a Pew Research survey last summer, more than 1 in 5 women (22 percent) said they have experienced sexual harassment at work. In a November survey by NPR/PBS/Marist, more than 1 in 3 women (35 percent) said they have experienced sexual harassment or abuse in the workplace. While the ratio may vary depending on the poll question, it still represents tens of millions of women.

Older workers (age 45 or more) were more likely to say they have been sexually harassed on the job at some point. Perhaps the message is finally getting through about unacceptable behaviors in the workplace. However, younger workers are more susceptible to being harassed through email and social media.

About 1 in 5 women aged 18 to 29 report that they’ve been sexually harassed online (not necessarily at work). And more than half (53 percent) of women under 30 say they have received unsolicited explicit images through electronic media – which constitutes sexual harassment when such unwelcome material is coming from a boss or co-worker.

In the Pew survey, 70 percent of women said online harassment is a major problem, while men were more likely to say that online content was “taken too seriously.” Online harassment was defined as sexual harassment, stalking, physical threats or intimidation, offensive name-calling, intentional embarrassment, or any harassment over a sustained period.

Gender discrimination is alive and well

About 4 in 10 women have experienced discrimination at work on the basis of their sex, according to the Pew poll. The most common forms of workplace gender discrimination reported:

  • Less pay than men in the same job (25 percent)
  • Treated as if they were not competent (23 percent)
  • Small but repeated gender slights (16 percent)
  • Less support from management than men in the same job (15 percent)
  • Passed over for plum assignments (10 percent)

Other forms of sex discrimination (aside from harassment) include feeling isolated or ostracized, being turned down for promotion, and being turned down for job openings.

How bad is the problem? It depends who you ask.

Not surprisingly, men were more likely to downplay the prevalence of harassment and to say that men and women are treated equally in the workplace.

However, the biggest split was not male/female but political persuasion. While half of women (48 percent) who identify as Democrat or left-leaning say they have experienced gender discrimination at work, only one-third (33 percent) of Republican or right-leaning women said the same.

Are conservative women more likely to dismiss certain behaviors as harmless “boys will be boys"? Are liberal women more likely to stand up for themselves or report abuse? Perhaps it’s some of both.

Both sides of the political spectrum agree on one thing. The large majority of women (Democrat and Republican) said that gender discrimination and sexual harassment reflect a deeper societal problem, as opposed to the isolated actions of a few “bad apples.”

Source: 10 things we learned about gender issues in the U.S. in 2017 (Pew Research Center) 

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