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One-fifth of all employees have experienced sexual harassment

As more women come forward to identify men in politics, media and entertainment as perpetrators of sexual harassment, it is worth looking at how this problem appears to affect the average worker.

A recent CNBC All-America Survey found that 19 percent of American adults said they have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace at some point or another. Among men, 10 percent identified themselves as victims and among women, it was 27 percent.

Among age groups, 16 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds said they had been victims and 25 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds said the same thing. Of the women who said they had experienced sexual harassment, 39 percent were Baby Boomers, 36 percent were Generation Xers and 25 percent were Millennials.

Why the focus on women?

The common factor among sexual harassment claims is that the accused are men and the accusers are women. One of the reasons the common dynamic of man-on-woman sexual harassment exists is that, historically, the people in upper management have been male and many of the associate-level employees were female.

However, the data from the CNBC poll shows that while women are more likely to experience sexual harassment, men are not unaffected. There are certainly cases of man-on-man sexual harassment, as evidenced by the claims against actor Kevin Spacey, and there are cases of woman-on-man sexual harassment, such as the recent Democratic Congressional candidate from Kansas accused of harassing a male subordinate.

There are few numbers available on these male victims, which can contribute to the focus on man-on-woman sexual harassment – there is more data available. Some believe the reason there is a lack of data on male victims is because men are not as comfortable coming forward and admitting they were harassed. But even for the numbers that are available, they do not state whether the person who did the harassing was male or female.

The role of employers

As employers, it is important to take all claims seriously and make sure everyone feels comfortable reporting harassment. Even if an employee reporting sexual harassment doesn’t appear to be the typical victim or the accused doesn’t fit the model of a standard perpetrator, that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

It is encouraging to hear that employees have confidence in their employers if the time comes to report. In the CNBC poll, a majority of those surveyed said the management at their companies takes sexual misconduct seriously. Seventy-four percent of all adults said the company takes these claims “very seriously,” while only 5 percent said their company doesn’t take claims seriously at all.

As you are reviewing your internal sexual harassment policies and dealing with incidents on a case-by-case basis, aim to be in that 74 percent pool and not the 5 percent. You can talk to an employment law professional if you need assistance crafting an internal policy that meets the legal requirements.

The statistical likelihood is that you have employees – male or female – who have experienced sexual harassment in their careers. It’s important to be sure those experiences don’t come from their employment at your company, and that if they do they are taken seriously.

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