UWLP publishes latest study on sexual harassment in Utah

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a widespread problem and the costs to women, families and businesses are real and enormous.

In 2017, Utah State University's Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) released a study on sexual harassment in the workplace. The study recommended that Utah companies implement comprehensive programs to curb the problem. A 2024 report released Monday updates the 2020 study.

According to the report, a 2018 nationwide study found that 81% of women and 43% of men say they have been sexually harassed in their lifetime. Incidentally, about 87 to 95% of those who have experienced sexual harassment have not filed a formal complaint. In fact, studies show that about 70% have not reported the incidents within their own organization for fear of reprisal.

In Utah, the number of sexual harassment reports has declined over the past two years. The rate of formal reports is roughly in line with the national average of three to four sexual harassment reports per 100,000 residents and has remained consistent over the past four years.

However, in Utah, sex discrimination claims (which include sexual harassment) make up a larger share of the total complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Utah's claim rate is 38.3%, while the national average is 30.4%. Only New Hampshire (49.2%) and Wyoming (43.3%) have more complaints than Utah.

Sexual harassment can happen anywhere and to anyone, but certain populations and settings are at increased risk. Women of color are more likely to be victims of sexual harassment and are also vulnerable to intersectional harassment, where they are abused based on both their gender and their race/ethnicity.

Teens and young women are more likely to report experiencing sexual harassment than older women. In Utah, college and university campuses are particularly concerning. Members of the LGBT+ community are also frequently victims of harassment based on their sexual orientation/sexual identity.

“At its core, harassment of any kind thrives in situations where there is a power imbalance such as gender, race, economic or educational inequality, and age or sexual orientation,” said Susan Madsen, founding director of UWLP and author of the report. “These individuals may lack the knowledge or ability to seek legal redress, allowing the abuse to continue unchecked. And unfortunately, research shows that 75% of women who report workplace harassment experience some form of retaliation.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that between 2005 and 2015, more than half of the complaints came from four industries: accommodation and food services, retail, manufacturing, and health and human services. These industries represent two extremes—either women make up the majority of the workforce or are in the minority.

Companies have an incentive to address sexual harassment in the workplace because it not only harms employees, but also affects their productivity and morale. Loss of productivity due to harassment or witnessing it affects the bottom line of companies where sexual harassment occurs.

The report includes recommendations for a multi-faceted approach that goes beyond traditional anti-harassment training and interventions, including:

  1. Developing ethical leadership skills.
  2. Bystander intervention training.
  3. Training on etiquette in the workplace.
  4. Developing programs to create a healthy workplace culture.

“Encouraging staff to intervene is an effective measure,” Madsen said. “Parents and teachers can teach and model respectful behavior and attitudes to young people as they enter public life, including the workplace. And open discussions about harassment cases in the media can reduce stigma and empower those who may have been afraid to speak out about their experiences.”

Madsen concluded that companies need to recognize the value that diverse perspectives can have in shaping workplace policies and culture.

UWLP research fellows Maria Blevins and Ariell Hardy are co-authors of the report.

Anna Harden

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