In 2017, several highly publicized reports of sexual harassment by men in politics, entertainment, and other industries opened up a national discussion on sexual assault and gender discrimination. The dialogue has led to widespread public acknowledgement of the pernicious role these issues continue to play in society and at work. According to a recent SurveyMonkey poll, two-thirds see sexual assault or harassment as a large problem in the U.S., and four out of five Americans say sexual harassment occurs in American workplaces today.
The reports not only brought greater national attention to the issue of sexual harassment, but also inspired action. This included the rise of the #MeToo movement, the formation of the TIME’S UP advocacy organization, and a new moniker as TIME’s Person of the Year. In our recent survey with TIME, over half (56 percent) said the #MeToo movement will lead to meaningful changes and already a third of women (32 percent) said they are now more likely to report such incidents.
But there has also been a backlash to national discussion on how to stop sexual harassment. Over a third (36 percent) see the reports as a distraction. The pushback against the movement has also been trickling through the media—from the debate over the accusations against Aziz Ansari to Catherine Deneuve’s controversial comments about #MeToo.
This negative reaction is also evident in U.S. workplaces, particularly among men who are in more senior roles. In a survey conducted in partnership with Lean In, nearly half of male managers (45 percent) now report being more uncomfortable participating in at least one common work activity with female colleagues or subordinates, such as going to a work-related event, working alone in an office together, socializing outside of work, and providing or receiving mentorship.
Specifically narrowing in on senior men’s interaction with junior women in the workplace, men who are at the Director level or above are more likely to hesitate to have a work dinner with a junior-level woman (39 percent) than a junior-level man (11 percent). They are also five times more likely to say they would hesitate to travel for work with a junior woman than a junior man (29 versus 6 percent).
As a man’s seniority rises, the divide between how they treat men and women becomes even larger. Men who are Vice Presidents or above at companies larger than 10 individuals, 34 percent say they would hesitate to travel with a junior colleague who is a woman, nearly seven times the share who would say the same for a junior colleague who is a man (5 percent). Over four in 10 male executives (43 percent) report hesitating to have a work dinner outside of the office with a junior woman, compared to under one in ten (8 percent) who hesitate to have dinner with a junior man.
As men, particularly those in leadership positions, begin to step back from supporting women in the workplace, research suggests that this may actually exacerbate the issue, not prevent it. In a 2009 study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto, sexual harassment was found to be lower in women-dominated companies. Not only are reports of harassment lower, but business units with more gender diversity were also found to have better financial outcomes according to a 2014 Gallup study.
But the recent media attention continues to influence the actions of senior men in the opposite way: one in six (16 percent) male managers say they are uncomfortable mentoring women today, three times higher than the share who said they were uncomfortable doing so before the reports of sexual harassment were made public in the media (5 percent).
To fight this trend and encourage mentorship of women in the workplace, Lean In has kicked-off the #MentorHer campaign. Instead of stepping back, Lean In is encouraging men to step up, supported by some of the most influential voices in business who are pledging their commitment to mentor women. You can read about the commitment from SurveyMonkey’s CEO, Zander Lurie here, and to learn more about the campaign and find tips on mentorship, check out: leanin.org/mentorher.
To dig deeper and see the topline results of our survey collaborations with Lean In, TIME, and and NBC News on this topic, check out the information here.
Methodology: The data from the Lean In/SurveyMonkey partnership comes from two separate online polls. The first was conducted January 23-25, 2018 among 2,950 adults who are employed. The modeled error estimate for this survey is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. The second was conducted February 1-4, 2018 among 5,907 employed adults. The modeled error estimate for the second survey is plus or minus 2 percentage points. Respondents for both surveys were selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over.