by Angus Reid | February 8, 2018 7:30 pm
February 9, 2018 – Their stories are in the news almost daily: powerful men brought low by accusations of sexual harassment from coworkers and subordinates; their accusers – often women who have suffered in silence for years – feeling empowered to speak out about past transgressions, inspired by the stories of other victims shared under the #metoo hashtag on social media.
But has #metoo permanently altered the landscape of gender relations at work? Or is it a cultural moment destined to be subsumed by the rising tide of backlash from those who argue careers are being ruined without due process? A new survey of Canadian public opinion from the Angus Reid Institute finds views on workplace sexual harassment shaped in large part by an individual’s age and gender.
Younger women tend to be among the strongest voices for change, while men in the same age group are more permissive in their views about what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace.
Older men – who see many of those being accused in their peer group – tend to say social norms are changing too quickly, making it hard to know where to draw the line on behaviour. That said, they are also more likely to express views in line with women on a number of metrics surrounding this issue. Women, in turn, are divided on their role in avoiding harassment. Nearly all of them change their behaviour to avoid being harassed, but many resent the feeling that they have to do so.
Overall, half of women say they have been subjected to harassing behaviour in their working lives, though relatively few report such experiences taking place in the last five years.
For the purposes of this survey, sexual harassment was defined as ‘unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal (non-touching) conduct of a sexual nature’. Although technically sexual assault, non-consensual sexual contact (unwanted contact) was defined as ‘anything from an unwanted quick sexual touch to more serious unwanted physical sexual contact’.
Be it male columnists decrying an apparent lack of due process when it comes to allegations of sexual harassment, or female commentators dismissing the feeble excuses of admitted abusers, the current public narrative may lead Canadians to think that gender alone is a massive, dividing driver of opinion.
This is not necessarily the case. Throughout this survey, men and women – when looked at only by gender, without factoring in age – differ by a handful of percentage points on many of the questions asked. Consider the general agreement between the genders on the questions highlighted in the table that follows, and see comprehensive tables to explore this trend in greater detail.
Norms in the workplace have changed drastically over the years. As more women have filled more positions and more powerful positions, the relationship between men and women in the workplace has evolved. The Angus Reid Institute asked Canadians for their opinions on a number of potential workplace interactions – from potentially more acceptable encounters, like hugging a co-worker, to more controversial items, like a boss asking out an employee.
On the less controversial elements of the acceptable list, young people (those ages 18-34) of both genders are much more laissez-faire. However, on the less acceptable items on this list, young women’s views are in line with the general population, while young men continue to say that each behaviour is acceptable at a much higher rate.
Challenging some of the conventional wisdom surrounding the #metoo conversation, and indeed, many of the most high-profile cases of harassment and assault, older men are not more likely to say that these behaviors are permissible. As the table below shows, young men are in many cases twice as likely as the rest of the population to say a behaviour is acceptable, while the oldest group of men, those 55 and over, are among the least likely cohort on several of them:
For a full list of behaviours and responses by gender and age please view the appendix below.
When it comes to the question of who must ultimately take responsibility around workplace harassment, much ink has been spilled and much oxygen expended over a narrative that sees opinion divided along generational lines. Actress Angela Lansbury, 92, and U.S. Congressional Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, 82, provoked both backlash and support for expressing the view that women were ultimately responsible for preventing sexual harassment.
This study reveals some instructive data on the views of Canadian women across all age demographics. The more than four-in-five women who reported taking some kind of action to prevent or avoid sexual harassment belong to one of three general mindsets on the issue:
Notably, while there are generational differences on a host of attitudes and issues in this study, the generations are not significantly far apart on this question:
Some of the deepest divisions in Canadian society on this issue of workplace sexual harassment are between men and women of the millennial generation.
Younger women appear to hold stronger views on both attitudes and behaviors: they want men to change, have less patience for excuses, and less room for forgiveness.
Young men, meanwhile, are divided almost evenly on the notion that new rules about workplace conduct precipitated by #metoo are “killing the human element,” a view that puts them largely at odds with the women of their generation:
Similarly, a majority of men ages 18-34 agree with the statement, “some people have definitely behaved like jerks, but they shouldn’t lose their jobs or reputations for it,” while almost two-thirds of women that age disagree.
Young men have vastly different views on this question than even men of older generations, as seen in the following graph:
On other sentiments – particularly those relating to the perceived ambiguity of definitions of sexual harassment – we find the largest gulf in opinion is between young women and older men.
The statement “it’s hard to tell where ‘the line’ is these days,” for example, draws notably different views between women aged 18-34 and men 55 and older:
Likewise, while most young women say “no one has a right to question a woman’s stories” on the issue of sexual harassment, a large majority of older men disagree with this perspective – though it should be noted that men of all ages are more likely to disagree than to agree, as seen in the following graph:
Responses to the full list of statements asked about in this survey can be found in part five of this report.
Numerous statements elicit widespread agreement – including across the various age-gender groups. For example, fully nine-in-ten Canadians agree that “women are right to come forward and share their stories, even if it was in the past” (90% agree), and that “men need to take more responsibility for the way they behave towards women” (93% agree).
Among the many statements that are widely agreed-upon are a pair that appear to be in conflict with each other.
Slightly fewer than three-in-four Canadians (73%) agree with the statement “people’s careers are being ruined without due process or a chance to defend themselves,” and slightly more than three-in-four (77%) agree that “there is no forgiveness for sexual harassment – the people who did it should suffer the consequences.”
These two statements are somewhat contradictory. One takes a hard line on consequences for offenders, while the other laments that accused offenders are not given sufficient opportunity to respond to the accusations against them – and presumably avoid consequences as a result.
The question underlying this tension is about where one places the burden of proof. Is a credible accusation of sexual harassment against someone in a position of power sufficient evidence for them to be removed from that position? Or must the accusation be proven in court before action can be taken? What if there are multiple credible accusations?
While the vast majority of Canadians agree that there should be “no forgiveness” for sexual harassment, it seems clear that many of them are uneasy with imposing such a zero-tolerance policy without absolute certainty that it is deserved.
A key narrative driving #metoo conversations has been that every woman shares experiences similar to those being made public under the hashtag.
Out of respect for their privacy, the institute offered all respondents the opportunity not to answer any questions about sexual harassment or unwanted contact.
In this survey, among the vast majority who were willing answer questions about this often-sensitive topic, slightly more than half (52%) of Canadian women say they have experienced sexual harassment at work in their lifetimes. Men were also asked this question, and more than one-in-five (22%) who answered say the same.
Asked about experience with non-consensual sexual touching in the workplace – a broad category that includes everything from rape to lesser forms of sexual assault such as molestation – more than one-in-four women who were willing to answer the question (28%) say they have been the victim of such behaviour at work in their lifetimes. Half as many men who answered the question (14%) say the same.
Older women are more likely to say they have been harassed or assaulted, a fact that reflects the greater number of years they’ve spent working, relative to their younger counterparts:
These two behaviours – sexual harassment and sexual abuse – are correlated. Half of the women who have reported facing sexual harassment in the workplace also say they have faced sexual assault in the workplace. On the other side of the spectrum, among those who have not faced any harassment at work, sexual assault is almost non-existent.
This correlation is, perhaps, obvious, but it bears highlighting. It reinforces the intuitive conclusion that work environments that tolerate or foster harassment also foster abuse.
Looking at the recency of harassment experiences, it becomes clear that – though they are less likely to say they have ever been harassed – younger women are more likely to have been harassed within the last year, while older women’s experiences mostly occurred six or more years ago. This same pattern holds for experiences with non-consensual sexual touching, which are not shown in the graph that follows (see comprehensive tables for greater detail).
While some might be tempted to conclude that these findings refute the notion that every woman has a #metoo story, one point is worth noting: this survey asked specifically about harassment that took place in a workplace context, which would preclude women from responding based on experiences that took place elsewhere.
Still, the fact that one-in-two women who responded to the question say that they have experienced sexual harassment at work helps to underscore just how prevalent these experiences are.
Accounting for the women who chose not to answer the harassment question, the 52 per cent who have experienced harassment in their working lives extrapolates to at least 6 million women. Moreover, the 8 per cent who say they experienced harassment in the last year represent the equivalent of more than 900,000 women – a total that represents a minimum number of harassment victims, assuming all of those who skipped the question were not harassed.
Despite the widespread nature of the phenomenon, however, experience with harassment appears to have minimal impact on attitudes about it. Women who have been harassed or assaulted at work are not especially different from women who have not been targeted in terms of their responses to the 14 statements about #metoo included in this survey:
Most of the respondents who say they faced workplace sexual harassment and assault did not report it, a finding that mirrors other data that shows victims often don’t report their experiences – either to police, when appropriate, or to their employers.
In this survey, nearly three-quarters of women who say they experienced harassment (72%) – and roughly the same number who say they experienced assault (73%) – say they did not report it.
Only about one-in-ten of those who were sexually harassed or assaulted say they reported the incident and got a satisfactory resolution. The rest either found their employer dismissive, or did not see any concrete action taken:
Younger women are more likely than older ones to have reported both sexual harassment and non-consensual touching when they experienced it, though on balance, the majority did not report:
As to why those who experienced harassment or non-consensual touching didn’t report, this question is subject to further investigation and follow up. This is not the first time the Angus Reid Institute has sought to measure the scope and impact of sexual harassment in the workplace, however. Some clues may be found in the results of the institute’s comprehensive survey on these important issues from December 2014.
At the time, the single biggest reason selected by both those subjected to harassment or unwanted contact was that they “preferred to deal with it on their own”; indeed, more than four-in-ten said so then. Other reasons offered ranged from feeling the issue was too minor, lack of faith in the employer to respond well, lack of certainty as to whether what happened really was harassment or assault, and fears over negative impacts on their job and/or career. More details can be found here.
The proportion of women who reported harassment or assault to their employer has increased slightly since 2014.
At that time, the percentage of women who had experienced sexual harassment who reported it to their employers was less than one-in-four (23%), and the percentage who had reported sexual assault was similarly lower:
Largely unchanged in the last three-plus years? The perception among women who have not experienced harassment or sexual assault at work that they would report it to their employer if they did. Then, as now, the number of women who believe they would report harassment if it happened to them far outpaces the number who have actually experienced it and reported it.
Today, as in 2014, roughly two-thirds say they would report sexual harassment, and roughly three-quarters say they would report non-consensual sexual touching, as seen in the following graph:
This disconnect between theoretical reporting and real reporting persists even as the #metoo campaign empowers more victims to come forward.
While #metoo doesn’t appear to have had much effect on women’s sense that they would report harassment if they experienced it, the campaign may be having an effect on expectations about what the employer’s response would be. Today, roughly three-in-four expect their employer would be responsive and take appropriate action, compared to two-in-three who expected this three years ago:
Further evidence of the scale of the issue #metoo seeks to address can be seen in the staggering number of women who say they have some specific strategy for avoiding unwanted sexual advances in the workplace.
Nearly nine-in-ten women (89%) – including many women who have not experienced sexual harassment or assault at work – say they do at least one of the things on the list in the graph that follows. This includes three-quarters (76%) of women who say they have actively avoided people in their working life who have made them uncomfortable, and half (49%) who say they alter the way they dress in order to avoid unwanted attention:
While conversations about #metoo were ubiquitous on social media over the final months of 2017, the campaign itself began years earlier. American civil rights activist Tarana Burke, whose non-profit organization Just Be Inc. has been working to help victims of sexual harassment and assault since 2007, first used the phrase “me too” in the context of sexual abuse and assault in 2006. Burke spearheaded the movement, but it rose to prominence after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a call to action on October 15 in the following tweet:
Milano and Burke have been coordinating their efforts since shortly after the tweet. The hashtag #metoo generated more than 12 million posts and reactions in the first 24 hours.
But what is the scale of awareness among the Canadian public? About one-in-five Canadians (18%) say they are following the issue very closely, while more than four-in-ten (44%) say they are following it closely and having the odd conversation about it.
Notably, men say they’re following at a higher rate than women in Canada. Across all male age groups, a higher number say they’re following closely or very closely than the most engaged female age group. Further, it is older women, not their Millennial counterparts, who say they are having discussions about the topic at a greater rate:
One of the unique elements of the #metoo phenomenon is the visible unfolding of accusations in front of a public audience – largely on social media. Since accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein set the wheels in motion, numerous other celebrities, politicians, and public figures in the US, Europe and Canada have faced allegations.
The names have been everywhere in the news, and for many Canadians, it has forced them to consider the way they approach their own life. In fact, two-thirds of Canadians say that the campaign has had at least a minor impact on them and forced them to think about sexual harassment or assault more than they used to. Overall, one-in-five (18%) say that #metoo has had a “major impact” on them, and the way they relate to their co-workers:
Younger men and women appear most likely to be affected by the campaign, as shown in the graph below:
Clearly discussions of sexual harassment and assault are having an impact on Canadian society. But is #metoo a sustained movement or a moment in time?
Most Canadians are inclined to agree with those who say that this is, in fact, a movement, though there is some disagreement about the timeline needed for major change. More than half of Canadians say that they view the movement as a prolonged one, which will take years – if not decades – to culminate, while three-in-ten say that there has already been a major and permanent shift in workplace culture. Just 14 per cent of Canadians say that nothing will really come from the campaign:
That said, younger generations tend to the potential for permanent change with a more jaded eye. Young women (18-34) are substantially more likely than other age and gender groups to say that the movement needs time to bear fruit. Seven-in-ten (69%) say this. They, along with Millennial males, are also the most likely to say that the movement is actually just a moment.
It is in fact, older men who are most likely to say that these discussions have sparked a major, permanent shift in mindsets in the workplace, almost half of them do so (47%).
For Part 5 – Appendix, click here.
For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here.
For detailed results for women by age, region, education, and other demographics, click here.
Click here for the full report including tables and methodology
Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey
Shachi Kurl, Executive Director: 604.908.1693 email@example.com @shachikurl
Ian Holliday, Research Associate: 604.442.3312 firstname.lastname@example.org
Source URL: https://angusreid.org/me-too/
Copyright ©2023 Angus Reid Institute unless otherwise noted.