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Sexual and physical harassment in the workplace is widespread around the globe and could be increasing. Nearly 10 percent of workers responding to a global survey conducted by Reuters/Ipsos reported that they had been harassed sexually or physically at work.
The poll of approximately 12,000 people in 24 countries revealed that workers in India faced the highest rate of sexual and physical harassment incidents. More than one-quarter of the respondents (26 percent) from India reported that they had been harassed sexually by a co-worker or supervisor, while 25 percent of Indian workers said that they had been assaulted physically in their workplace.
China followed India with 18 percent of respondents reporting that they had been victims of sexual harassment. Saudi Arabia was third with 16 percent of respondents reporting incidents.
According to the survey, Europe had the lowest rate of workplace sexual harassment, with approximately 5 percent of workers in Great Britain, Belgium, Germany and Poland reporting incidents. Approximately 8 percent of respondents in the United States reported that they had been victims of sexual harassment.
According to the survey, workers in Sweden and France faced the lowest incident rate of sexual harassment (3 percent), and only 1 percent of respondents from Sweden reported that they had been assaulted physically while working.
Recent high-profile reports of sexual harassment by senior-level executives could indicate that the problem is increasing around the world rather than abating or that employees feel more empowered to report incidents, according to experts.
Mark Hurd, CEO of computer giant Hewlett-Packard, resigned abruptly in August 2010 when allegations arose that he had made inappropriate advances to a contract worker for HP. Mark McInnes, former CEO of a large Australian retail chain, quit in June 2010 after confessing that he was guilty of “unbecoming behavior” and had made sexual advances toward a female employee.
“When senior-level managers try to have sex with employees because they work for them and not because they wanted a true relationship, that’s not simply harassment, it’s exploitation,” said John Wright, a senior vice president for the market research company Ipsos.
According to Wright, researchers for Ipsos found that people age 35 and under were most likely to report that they were being sexually harassed at work. The survey found that a surprising number of workers—more than 7 percent—reported they had been intentionally physically assaulted out of anger by a co-worker or manager.
“A workplace culture that either condones or leaves unchecked any employee being slapped, punched, kicked or shoved by a co-worker or manager creates an atmosphere of productivity out of fear and intimidation and is simply another form of exploitation,” Wright said.
Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM.
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