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2 in 10 Canadians have been sexually harassed in the workplace: Ipsos poll

Global News with Anuradha Dugal 28 December 2017

Two in 10 (22 per cent) Canadians have been sexually harassed at their place of work, according to an Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News. The poll found three in 10 women were sexually harassed at the workplace, and one in 10 men.

And in the majority of cases for women, most perpetrators were senior at their companies. Male employees were more likely to get sexually harassed by a colleague at their level or someone in a junior position.

The poll, which surveyed 2,098 Canadians between Dec. 10 and Dec. 14, also found only one in four (23 per cent) of survivors complained to management, and those who remained silent feared repercussions or losing their jobs.

The poll notes of the 77 per cent of people who didn’t report the harassment, 50 per cent thought it wasn’t “serious enough,” and 26 per cent of respondents thought their company wouldn’t do anything about it. Ipsos notes when people did make complaints, a slim majority (57 per cent) were not satisfied with the results.

Bigger problems at hand

“That’s a significant problem,” says Sean Simpson, VP of public affairs for Ipsos. “If you look at something like two in 10 Canadians are being sexually harassed, that’s not ‘high,’ [but] if you look at [the population], that’s millions in Canada sexually harassed in the workplace.”

He notes the definition of what sexual harassment is continues to change, which could be a reason some survivors were unsure if they were even being harassed in the first place.

In November, the federal government introduced wide-ranging legislation to prevent and eliminate workplace harassment. The legislation notes employers would be legally required to investigate any complaints by employees.

In Ontario, Bill 132 also changed the current definition of sexual harassment, hoping more people have a clearer idea of what constitutes such behaviour.

Simpson says another standout statistic from the poll was how many respondents (26 per cent) thought their workplace wouldn’t do anything if they did come forward and file a complaint.

“That is significant and that is a scary finding,” he tells Global News.

“It suggests workplaces aren’t creating environments that are free of harassment or an environment where people feel comfortable to tell management or HR.”

More people coming forward

Anuradha Dugal, director of violence prevention programs at the Canadian Women’s Foundation, says it is not surprising sexual harassment continues to exist in Canadian workplaces.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the number was higher, since we know that one in three women experience some form of violence in their lifetime,” she says.

And with social media campaigns this past year like #MeToo, more and more people were more open to talking about their past experiences of sexual assault, harassment and abuse.

“We know that women often don’t come forward because they don’t think they’ll be believed. Movements like #MeToo have helped raise and address the issue of believability,” Dugal says.

“But still, women are so often afraid they won’t be believed by friends, family, the public, law enforcement, and the courts. And that’s because history shows they haven’t been believed in those spaces. We need to believe them.”

She adds people may also lack the tools to report the harassment, or are unaware of the policies and procedures in place. “There is a very real fear that speaking out will negatively impact, or even end, the survivor’s career.”

Survivors of sexual harassment and assault are often silenced in the workplace in particular, Dugal says.

“They may know that those senior to them would be protected and that the protocols would not result in action that will end the harassment. That’s why they may not be able to come forward immediately after an incident, or at all.”

On top of that, she says, survivors are often blamed for drinking, dressing a certain way, or accused of wanting to advance their careers.

“That false narrative can make survivors feel like it was their fault when it was not,” Dugal notes. “We need to place the blame where it truly belongs — squarely on the perpetrator, not the survivor.”

She also points out that speaking up on a public platform like Twitter or Facebook isn’t the right answer for everyone.

“The path to healing is unique for each individual. Some may choose not to speak out. Some may choose not to involve the justice system. Some may look for alternative ways of healing, like restorative justice options, or therapeutic support. No matter what, survivors should be supported on their way to healing.”

It begins in the workplace

In light of all the attention in Hollywood this past year on sexual assault and harassment, it’s clear that changing the culture so that victims feel comfortable speaking out and reporting an abuser will still take time.

“Policies and protocols are essential, as is changing the culture so survivors can speak out and perpetrators are held accountable,” Dugal says. “Too often, women leave their places of work or have to avoid certain situations. Action is only taken when the harms become egregious and impossible to ignore.

“The responsibility to make workplaces safe rests firmly with employers, and needs to be preventive as well as dealing with existing infractions.”

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between December 10 and 14, 2017, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 2,098 Canadian aged 18+ from Ipsos’ online panel was interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ±4.0 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Ontarian adults been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.