Workplaces Haven't Gotten Any Safer For Women In The Last 40 Years

by Christina Marfice
Via Rawpixel

Sexual harassment at work is just as pervasive now as it was in 1976

The Mad Men era is long over, and women are equals in the workplace, not eye candy. Or are they? In 1976, Redbook conducted a groundbreaking survey about sexual harassment in the workplace, and now, 40 years later, repeated it. The results show a shocking truth: When it comes to sexual harassment at work, almost nothing has changed in the last four decades.

In 1976, more than 9,000 people responded to a mail-in survey in Redbook asking them questions about unwanted advances from men in the workplace. Most of them were married, in their 20s to early 30s and working white collar jobs, mostly sales, clerical and secretarial positions. In 2016, 500 online readers responded to the same questions, and again, most were married, in their 20s to early 30s and working in office jobs. In 1976, 90 percent said they had experienced sexual harassment at work. In 2016, 80 percent said they had. Considering 40 years of progress, it’s a marginal improvement.

The most common behavior women reported experiencing both then and now was sexual remarks or teasing — 64 percent of women in 2016 said they had experienced those behaviors from men at work. 51 percent said they had experienced leering and ogling, 43 percent said they had received subtle sexual hints or pressures, and 34 percent said they had actually been touched in sexual ways by male coworkers without their consent. One thing that has improved since 1976 is women’s attitudes about sexual harassment — only 4 percent described it as “flattering,” compared to 15 percent in 1976.

One of the most infuriating findings in Redbook‘s survey is that 22 percent of women say their attractiveness is as important as their actual qualifications for their jobs, and 31 percent say it’s less important for a man to be attractive than it is for a woman.

It’s disheartening that in 40 years we’ve seen next to no improvement in making workplaces safe for women, but we are seeing more and more people becoming aware that sexual harassment is a huge, pervasive problem. As Redbook points out, high-profile cases like those against Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly at Fox News are shining light on the issue. Women’s stories are going viral, like former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, who wrote about the company’s failure to address the sexual harassment she encountered. But is awareness changing anything? We all remember Donald Trump’s infamous “grab ’em by the pussy” tapes, and he went on to win the presidency.

The takeaway from Redbook‘s investigation into sexual harassment is that in 40 years, we’ve made virtually no progress. It’s something we need to recognize, and then move forward, because we can’t let another 40 years go by without change.