KC Wagner

KC Wagner

A recent study published by researchers at Cornell University shows that while workplace sexual harassment has been an extremely prominent topic over the last few years, it still remains a significant problem across New York State. 

The study, titled “Stopping Sexual Harassment in the Empire State: Past, Present, and a Possible Future” was led by Cornell’s KC Wagner, Sanjay Pinto, KC Wagner and Zoë West. Through extra questions attached to the 2018 Empire State Poll survey, it explored the frequency with which adults are still experiencing sexual harassment circumstances in the workplace and in what way those instances of harassment would occur. 

It found some fairly surprising numbers in terms of what people routinely face in the workplace, including that 10.9 percent of New York residents who responded (a sample size of about 800 people statewide) reported having experienced sexual harassment in the form of a quid pro quo offer in the workplace. That includes 13.9 percent of minorities who responded, compared to 8.5 percent of non-Hispanic whites, and 12.2 percent of women versus 9.5 percent of men.

Overall, the study showed that 21.9 percent of workers have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their workplace, with over 31 percent of women reporting so. Nearly 40 percent of respondents said the sexual harassment they experienced impacted their careers. 

Wagner calls the necessary approach “holistic, multi-dimensional and intersectional,” and one that attacks sexual harassment behaviors early on, at the beginning of their “life cycle.” The latter part can be hopefully attained through education and training, lessons that can start young to undercut the root problems to make sure the attitudes that breed sexual harassment don’t have time to fester. 

“The magnitude of our findings means we have to move beyond a compliance focus and get at the roots of the problem and advance prevention,” Wagner said. “A critical part of prevention is cultural change, so we’d have to really shift the norm. [...] Going beyond the workplace, to look at different forms of harassment and gender based violence.” 

She also mentioned the importance of allowing and supporting survivor leadership, encouraging those who have lived through and dealt with their trauma to be involved in the long-term solutions to the problems they were forced to encounter. Emphasized too was the need for working with community organizations that are building a framework to defeat such cultures instead of competing with them. 

Like other common knowledge now, Wagner discouraged treating instances of sexual harassment in the workplace as the result of a “few bad apples,” but more likely a symptom of larger structural issues that need to be dealt with in order to have a lasting impact on the harassment. 

“Harassment doesn’t just appear in the workplace overnight,” Wagner said. 

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