Sexual harassment isn't a Hollywood, tech, or comedy world issue — in fact, it affects everyone

Harvey Weinstein

  • Sexual harassment doesn’t just affect the Hollywood elite or major tech companies.
  • Allegations of sexual harassment have impacted most industries.
  • A new poll from MSN shows just how far-reaching the issue is.

Sexual harassment in the workplace isn’t an industry issue. Nor is it a toxic workplace issue. It’s an issue that affects literally everyone. 

number of industries have been implicated in the wake of producer Harvey Weinstein‘s alleged sexual misconduct, including Hollywood, politics, and sports. Before that, sexual harassment at work made headlines with tech‘s “bro-culture” problem. Before that, it was the media industry with Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly‘s oustings. And the list goes on.

When pretty much every industry out there is involved, it’s naive to simply point the finger at these institutions and damn them for perpetuating a systemic issue.

To be sure, toxic workplace cultures are partially to blame — companies with these values are far more susceptible to sexual harassment.

But don’t let these characterizations lull you into a false sense of security. Sexual harassment is a problem that affects everyone — not just those in high-profile positions or industries.

sexual harassment boss office

Sexual harassment is more rampant than you want to think

Overall, about one in three people (31%) in the US admit to having been sexually harassed at work, according to a poll from Business Insider’s partner, MSN.

MSN polls its readers and then uses machine learning to model how a representative sample of the US would have responded, using big data, such as the Census. It’s as accurate as a traditional, scientific survey.

For women, the situation is drastically more dire.

Overall, 45% of women polled said they have been sexually harassed at work. This translates to about 33.6 million women in the US.

The group that experienced the most harassment were women between the ages 30 and 44 — almost half (49%) said they had been sexually harassed at work. Not far behind, 47% of women ages 45 to 64 said they were sexually harassed at work, followed by 41% of women ages 18 to 20, and finally 40% of women 65 or older.

Sexual harassment at work doesn’t just affect women.

While 15% of men said they had been sexually harassed at work, a higher proportion of men between the ages of 30 and 44 said they had been sexually harassed in the workplace: 22%.

gretchen carlson roger ailes fox news sexual harassment getty images

Speaking up rarely ends well for the victim 

Former Fox News Channel host Gretchen Carlson stunned the media world when she filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes in 2016.

In her lawsuit, Carlson said Ailes repeatedly sexually harassed her, and that she was fired from her job of 11 years for turning down his sexual advances.

The lawsuit ultimately led to Ailes’ resignation from the network, which he had run since its founding in 1996, and Carlson settled the suit for a reported $20 million in 2016.

But Carlson did not walk away from the accusation unscathed.

At Fortune’s Most Powerful Women (MPW) Summit in October, the TV journalist said she faced concentrated backlash on social media when she came forward, and many people close to her distanced themselves. “You find out who your friends are in a big way,” she said. “It can be a very alone experience.”

Carlson also said that, for many people who confront sexual harassment head-on, the fallout can often be steep:

“First of all, if you do come forward, you’ll be labeled a ‘troublemaker’ or a ‘bitch.’ More importantly, you won’t be believed. And, some people have even suggested that you do it for money or fame.”

Carlson said it takes courage to put your career on the line and report sexual harassment in the workplace.

“When you know that that’s the culture that we still live in … it’s the most important decision of your life to dig deep for that courage, to know that you might torpedo everything that you’ve worked so hard for,” she said.

It’s unsurprising, then, that 73% of the women who said they had been sexually harassed at work also said that they never reported it. Of the men that said they were sexually harassed at work, 81% said they never reported it.

Bill O'Reilly

Sexual harassment can happen anywhere, anytime, and be perpetrated by anyone

Certain factors may make organizations or institutions more susceptible to instances of sexual harassment.

A 2015 report from researchers at Kent State University and the University of Texas at Tyler found that the “prevalence of male norms in the male-dominated environment may result in a more hostile workplace for women who are perceived by men as violators of the gender norms.”

But as Adam Bear and Joshua Knobe wrote in The New York Times, when normally inappropriate or unacceptable actions continue unabated, people tend to adapt their mindset, and sexual harassment becomes normalized and seen as less worthy of outrage.

This could happen literally anywhere — and in many places, it seems that it already has.

When asked to rate their employers’ efforts against sexual harassment, 42% of the people MSN polled overall said their employers have done enough, while 26% said they haven’t.

But when you ask women, who are disproportionately more likely to experience sexual harassment at work, the number of people satisfied with their employers’ approach to sexual harassment at work drops to 36%, while 33% of women say their employers haven’t done enough.

What’s more, with 31% of the American workforce reporting they’ve been sexually harassed at work, if you work at a company with at least three people, odds are either you or one of your coworkers has been sexually harassed at work.

While this means you may not be affected directly, you are undoubtedly affected indirectly by the financial and emotional damage sexual harassment’s causes.

According to Working Woman Magazine, a typical Fortune 500 corporation blighted by sexual harassment incidents can expect to lose $14.02 million adjusted for inflation annually from absenteeism, lower productivity, increased health-care costs, poor morale, and employee turnover.

And it cannot be good for any employer’s bottom line when sexual harassment settlements and legal fees themselves cost the company tens of millions of dollars.

In fact, thanks to the growing number of allegations, Business Insider’s Lauren Lyons Cole reports that some companies are purchasing employee practices liability insurance to protect against the financial risk of sexual harassment.

These policies have become a multi-billion dollar industry, with companies collectively paying over $2 billion in EPLI premiums last year.

“Claims are so common now that it’s more or less part of the cost of doing business,” New Jersey employment lawyer Stephanie Gironda told Business Insider.

SEE ALSO: Only 3 of the 50 most-loved CEOs in America are women — and the reason why transcends the corner office

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