Men at work: 33% admit to sexual improprieties

January 12, 2018

Nearly half of U.S. working women say they have experienced some form of sexual harassment at least once in their careers, according to findings of a study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released last June.

But there has been little research about those responsible—that is, until The New York Times released results of its own poll on December 28.

In the new survey—conducted on behalf of the Times by Morning Consult online and by SSRS by telephone among a sample of more than 750 adult working men nationwide—about 33% of respondents said they had done something at work within the past year that would qualify as objectionable behavior or sexual harassment.

The most common type of action is what researchers call gender harassment. This includes telling crude jokes or stories and sharing inappropriate videos. About 25% of men self-identified as having done at least one of these things.

Another category is unwanted sexual attention: actions that include touching, making comments about someone’s body and asking colleagues on dates after they already have said no. About 10% of respondents reported such behavior.

Least common is sexual coercion, which includes pressuring people into sexual acts by offering rewards or threatening retaliation. Two percent of men said they had done such a thing recently.

And then there were men who had committed multiple types of harassing actions: In the Times polling, 12% of respondents said that they had either engaged in at least three of the listed actions in the past year, or performed the same action at least three times. Excluding jokes or remarks cuts that figure in half.

However, joking may by a “gateway behavior.” Men who admitted to telling sexual stories or jokes were about five times as likely to report other harassing behaviors.

The Times commented, “Some men were probably unwilling to tell the truth in the survey. But the results captured just how many admitted to some form of harassing behavior.”

“In general, frequency is the most important component,” Louise Fitzgerald, a leading researcher on sexual harassment, told the Times. “Even milder forms of harassment can be extremely damaging if they happen frequently and continue over time.”

The phenomenon cuts across demographic divides, the poll found. Harassing behaviors are committed by blue-collar and white-collar workers, Democrats and Republicans, the young and the old, the married and the unmarried, high earners and low ones, people who feel powerful at work and those who do not.


“Most harassment is not by high-profile celebrities,” Fitzgerald noted. “This is so common in places that are very far from the spotlight. This is endemic.”

Organizations play a big role in curbing or permitting harassment, according to a Times interview with Vicki Magley, a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut. “Research finds that sexual harassment occurs when it is tolerated — that is, when policies are not enforced and when incidents are not taken seriously,” she said.

Men who worked in the food and beverage industry and in blue-collar jobs, as well as those who were white or Republicans, were more likely to acknowledge their own harassing behavior, the polling found.

So were those who described a feeling of resentment—saying that they were unappreciated by coworkers or superiors; or that colleagues received undeserved promotions.

Men with graduate degrees or strong disapproval of President Trump reported lower rates of harassing colleagues.

The online and phone surveys took place across three weeks from late November to mid-December, on days when sexual harassment dominated the news and on days when it did not. The results were about the same for each of those weeks.

Research contact: @jugal_k_patel

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