Black Women Victimized by Workplace Sex Harassment: Study

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Photo courtesy Center for Employment Equity

Black women account for a disproportionate number of sexual harassment charges in U.S. workplaces, a new research study reveals.

The study examined 46,210 claims filed under  Title VII sexual harassment discrimination charges between 2012-2016 with the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and state Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs).

According to the analysis, released this month by the Center for Employment Equity at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst , African-American women filed 27 percent of  complaints about sexual harassment during that period, even though they account for just 7 percent of the labor force.

The study also found that the majority of individuals who report sexual harassment experience experience retaliation from their employers.

Almost two-thirds—or 64 percent—of those filing sexual harassment charges report losing their jobs as a result of their complaint, said the study, adding that “high instances of job loss and retaliation are present across race and sex categories.”

“Sexual harassment remains a persistent and serious threat to women and men in American workplaces,” the researchers wrote. “While the vast majority of those who experience sexual harassment in the workplace never report this harassment internally nor file a formal discrimination charge, those who do are typically confronted by harsh outcomes.”

The results should come as a wakeup call to corporations and other businesses to take more proactive efforts to discipline managers, the study authors said.

“Sexual harassment, and perhaps discrimination of all types, should be addressed proactively and affirmatively as managerial responsibilities, rather than leaving it to the targets of discrimination to pursue legal remedies as individuals,” said the authors, Carly McCann, Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, and M.V. Lee Badgett—all of them researchers at the UMass Amherst Center.

The harassment complaints represent just the tip of the glacier.

According to the research study, about five million employees are sexually harassed at work every year, but 99.8 percent of them never file formal charges.

“Of those who file formal charges, very few—we estimate less than 1,500 per year—go to court,” the authors said.

Sexual harassment charges filed by women are least common in government, health care and social assistance and finance, the study found. They are most common in mining, warehousing, and transportation. In general female sexual harassment charges are higher in male dominated industries.

The analysis is one of many recent studies published in the wake of the #Metoo and #TimesUp movements. The researchers said they hoped the current wave of activism regarding sexual harassment in the workplace to lead to reforms that promote respectful treatment in workplaces, prevent sexual harassment and create safer, less abusive, workplaces.

Several large companies have already taken action.

CBS is now surveying its employees about workplace culture and implementing new programs to address workplace harassment in the wake of sexual harassment accusations against former CBS host Charlie Rose and former CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, Business Insider reports.

Though a recent study found that men underestimate the level of sexual harassment women face, the researchers in the present study found that almost 20 percent of all sexual harassment accusers are men.

The full report can be found here.

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR contributing writer.

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