One in five in NYS face workplace sexual harassment

More than a third of cisgender women and half of respondents who identify as transgender or other gender identities reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, according to a new ILR School Worker Institute report.

Workplace sexual harassment impacts workers in New York state across all gender identities and racial/ethnic groups, according to the findings, which are based on the 2022 ILR School Empire State Poll.

Of the 2,675 people who submitted responses and indicated a gender identity, 589 (22%) said they’d experienced workplace sexual harassment. The report showed that harassment was experienced by:

  • 35.6% of the 981 cisgender women responding
  • 18.9% of the 1086 cisgender men responding
  • 50% of the 66 respondents who identify as transgender, nonbinary, nonconforming, questioning or other gender identities. 

The Worker Institute shared the statistics in a policy brief posted on March 7. It follows an initial report on additional findings from the most recent Empire State Poll, which is part of ILR’s Center for Applied Research on Work.

Public awareness of workplace sexual harassment and violence has increased in the past five years. Still, the authors said, policymakers, employers and unions continue to struggle to respond effectively. 

The well-being and careers of people continue to be damaged by sexual harassment, which often remains hidden, said KC Wagner, director of the Worker Institute’s Equity at Work initiative, and Zoë West, senior researcher at the institute’s Worker Rights and Equity initiative. 

“As sexual harassment and gendered violence are rooted in unequal power relations, the way they are experienced is often shaped by workers’ economic and workplace position and by their race/ethnicity, immigration status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other facets of identity,” Wagner and West wrote. 

For cis respondents who identified as two or more races or ethnicities, workplace sexual harassment rates spiked to: 

  • 63.6% of cisgender women
  • 49.2% of cisgender men 

The sample for respondents who identify as transgender, nonbinary, nonconforming, questioning or other gender identities was too small to report racial breakdowns. 

Of the 510 poll respondents who said they responded to workplace sexual harassment:

  • 27.1% told a co-worker
  • 33% told an employer representative
  • 17.1% confronted the perpetrator
  • 11% reported an incident to a union representative
  • 7.3 % contacted a lawyer or community organization

Although New York state law has expanded in recent years to cover a broader scope of employees with sexual harassment protections, access remains unequal for workers who are not formally considered employees, including gig workers, contractors, vendors and consultants, Wagner and West said. Many workers also may face higher risks for harassment and retaliation due to their job sector, race, immigration status, gender identity, disability or sexual orientation. Immigrant women and women of color who are janitorial, hotel or domestic workers are particularly vulnerable. 

The Empire State Poll also measured intimate partner violence and its impact on respondents’ employment. Among the 402 respondents who experienced violence, 33.2% said it impacted their employment.

Recommendations by Wagner and West include addressing the roots of workplace sexual harassment by confronting workplace sexual harassment through redress, prevention and workplace culture change. 

Workers facing high rates of sexual harassment and violence should be directly involved in developing strategies, Wagner and West said. Many have already led improvements through peer education initiatives and models such as panic buttons won by New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council workers.

Wagner and West also recommend employers enlist an external party to conduct cultural audits and an educational needs assessment before designing training.

Mary Catt is communications director for the ILR School.

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