Sharp Rise Seen in Sexual Remarks in Workplace

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Sexually inappropriate comments were nearly twice as frequent in the workplace in the past year, according to female employees in an annual telephone survey by Novations Group, a global consulting organization based in Boston. Such remarks were heard by 38 percent of women in 2007, up from 22 percent in 2006.

The increase, however, was not noticed by their male colleagues, 45 percent of whom reported such comments in 2007, virtually the same percent as in last year’s survey. When responses for both women and men were combined, the incidence rose from 34 percent in 2006 to 42 percent in 2007.

Improper sexual comments continued to be the most common type of harassment or ridicule followed by racial and ethnic slurs, which were reported by 35 percent and 33 percent respectively.

As in past years, men were more likely than women to overhear any kind of workplace slur.

Did you hear one or more colleagues at work do any of the following during 2007?

Action, Percent total, men, women
Make a sexually inappropriate comment, 42 percent, 45 percent, 38 percent
Use a racial slur, 35 percent, 44 percent, 24 percent
Use an ethnic slur, 33 percent, 40 percent, 25 percent
Ridicule someone based on their age, 27 percent, 31 percent, 22 percent
Ridicule someone based on their sexual orientation, 23 percent, 26 percent, 19 percent
Ridicule someone because they are disabled, 10 percent, 11 percent, 9 percent

“Inappropriate sexual remarks might go up from year to year,” observed Novations CEO and President Mike Hyter. “But the big jump is hard to explain unless it’s also a matter of reporting and that women are becoming more sensitive or impatient in this respect. Whatever the basis, our findings should cause alarm. Any type of wisecrack, taunt or ridicule can threaten another’s self-respect or sense of safety at work. Unchecked, harassment can undermine productivity and lead to all sorts of problems.”

Among the survey’s other findings:

  • Employees 18-34 were more than twice as likely (38 percent) to overhear age-related ridicule than their colleagues over 55 (16 percent).
  • In general, employees with more education and income were less likely to hear any kind of workplace ridicule.
  • On average, westerners heard less workplace ridicule than employees in the north central or southern regions.

Novations Groups conducts the workplace ridicule survey annually, explained Hyter. “We can track some trends, but most of all we hope to raise awareness of the harmful effect of so-called workplace humor. Moreover, the new findings suggest the objects of playful remarks may be less willing to play along.”

The national telephone phone survey of 546 employed Americans was conducted for Novations Group from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3 by International Communications Research of Media, Pa. The margin of error was +/- 4.19 percent. 

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