In this time of #MeToo, there’s a growing narrative that sexual harassment in the workplace is rampant and that gender discrimination is pervasive. However, new analysis of survey data suggests that while gender discrimination may be a problem for many women, it’s not universal.
Pew Research Center surveyed thousands of American workers early this summer about gender discrimination. Overall, four in ten working women (42 percent) said they experienced gender discrimination. This ranged from perceptions of pay gaps to receiving less support from senior leaders to being denied a job or turned down for a promotion.
- #1 area of reported inequality was earning less than a man doing the same job (25 percent)
- #2 area of inequality was being treated as if they weren’t competent (23 percent)
- Just 7 percent of women said they had been denied a job or a promotion.
On sexual harassment in the workplace the numbers are sizeable, but less than you might expect:
- 36 percent of women say sexual harassment is a least a small problem in their workplace (versus 35 percent of men)
- 22 percent of women have experienced it personally while at work (versus 7 percent of men)
When we compare this data on sexual harassment with recent polling on the issue, we see notable discrepancies.
- ABC News/Washington Post survey (Oct. 12-15), 54% of women said they have received unwanted sexual advances from a man that they felt were inappropriate whether or not those advances were work-related; 30% said this had happened to them at work.
- NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll (Nov. 13-15), 35% of women said they have personally experienced sexual harassment or abuse from someone in the workplace
What accounts for the differences in polling? It could be how the questions are asked or it could be a bit of hysteria based on recent events. Pew conducted their survey before the latest wave of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations against prominent men in Hollywood, media, and politics like Harvey Weinstein dominated national news. This might give us a more accurate picture of what women and men are experiencing.
Another big takeaway from this Pew survey is that education matters. Women who are more educated tend to report gender discrimination at work at a higher level:
- 57 percent of working women with a postgraduate degree versus 40 percent of women with a bachelor’s degree and 39% of those who did not complete college
- 29 percent of women with postgraduate degrees say they have experienced repeated small slights at work because of their gender versus 18 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree and 12percent with less education
- 27 percent of postgraduate women say they have received less support from senior leaders than a man doing the same job versus 11 percent of women with bachelor’s degrees and 13 percent of women with less education
This data – though self-reported – gives us important insights into how women feel they are being treated in the workforce and it tells us that we have work to do.
Gender discrimination is illegal. Where found it should be called out and prosecuted. Employers should also realize that discrimination is costly. Good employees will not stick around and they will tell others about it too.
We caution against taking this as more evidence to support some false claims about gender discrimination. For example, on perceptions of a wage gap, a woman may not be privy to all of the factors behind how much a man working the same job may be getting paid such as his level of education, previous salary, and negotiated time-off. As women, we have to be savvy about negotiating what we want. Overall, that may mean that women choose to take less pay for greater flexibility. There’s nothing inherently discriminatory about that though.