Half of Working Women in Canada Have Endured Sexual Harassment

But fewer than three-in-ten chose to report these incidents to a superior or human resources department.

Vancouver, BC – At a time of enhanced discussions about workplace etiquette and the #MeToo phenomenon, a sizeable proportion of working women in Canada say they have faced sexual harassment during their careers, a new Insights West poll has found.

The online survey of a representative national sample of women who have worked during their adult life also shows that many of these incidents were never reported to a superior or human resources department.

The Canada Labour Code defines sexual harassment as “any conduct, comment, gesture, or contact of a sexual nature that is likely to cause offence or humiliation to any employee; or that might, on reasonable grounds, be perceived by that employee as placing a condition of a sexual nature on employment or on any opportunity for training or promotion.”

When provided with this definition, 50% of working women in Canada say they have experienced a “significant amount” (5%), a “moderate amount” (12%) or a “small amount” (33%) of sexual harassment over their careers.

Looking at the two different aspects of sexual harassment as defined by the Canada Labour Code, more than half of working women in Canada (54%) say they have experienced conduct, comments, gestures or contact of a sexual nature that caused them offence or humiliation, while three-in-ten (30%) experienced conduct, comments, gestures or contact of a sexual nature that they perceived as placing a condition of a sexual nature on their employment or on any opportunity they might have for training or promotion.

However, only 28% of working women in Canada who endured behaviour that placed a condition on their employment or future career reported it to a superior and/or human resources department. Even fewer (22%) filed a complaint after being offended or humiliated by somebody else’s behaviour.

Among the working women in Canada who chose to report the unwanted activity within their workplace, almost half (46%) say that the employees who behaved improperly were penalized or reprimanded.

Among the reasons cited by the working women in Canada who decided not to report the sexual harassment incidents are thinking it wasn’t a big enough deal to bother (41%), the notion that they would be perceived as trouble makers (34%), thinking their employer would not do anything about what happened (30%), or dismiss it as unimportant (also 30%) and feeling too embarrassed (also 30%). In addition, 27% say they feared retaliation from the person who behaved this way.

“It is evident that many working women in Canada have faced unwanted situations during the course of their careers,” says Mario Canseco, Vice President, Public Affairs, at Insights West. “However, very few of these incidents have been duly reported, partly because there are low expectations for significant action.”

When asked to detail which incidents they have experienced over the course of their careers, more than half of working women in Canada (55%) listened to unwanted jokes with sexual content from a co-worker and two-in-five (40%) heard them from a boss/manager/superior.

Other incidents reported by working women in Canada are:

  • Unwanted sexual comments, conversation or innuendo from a co-worker (37%) or from a boss/manager/superior (24%).
  • Unwanted physical touching, cornering or patting from a co-worker (33%) or from a boss/manager/superior (20%).
  • Cat-calls, whistles, or being referred to using derogatory or demeaning sexual terms from a co-worker (28%) or from a boss/manager/superior (19%).
  • Unwanted pressure for dates with a co-worker (23%) or from a boss/manager/superior (14%).
  • Presence of pornography, or other sexually graphic images at work (18%).
  • Unwanted pressure for sexual activity from a co-worker (17%) or from a boss/manager/superior (14%).

One-in-five working women in Canada (22%) believe the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace is generally better now than it was five years ago, while 6% believe it is now worse, and more than two-in-five (43%) have followed stories related to #MeToo “very closely” or “somewhat closely”.

About Insights West:

Insights West is a progressive, Western-based, full-service marketing research company. It exists to serve the market with insights-driven research solutions and interpretive analysis through leading-edge tools, normative databases, and senior-level expertise across a broad range of public and private sector organizations. Insights West is based in Vancouver and Calgary.

Most of our surveys are conducted through our Your Insights panel. The Your Insights panel is comprised of 30,000 Canadians who share their opinions on a variety of political, economic, social and other issues while earning the opportunity to get paid and win great prizes. If you’re interested in joining, please register at yourinsights.ca.

About this Release:

Results are based on an online study conducted by Insights West from November 22 to November 29, 2017, among 451 working women in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error—which measures sample variability—is +/- 3.1 percentage points for the entire sample, nineteen times out of twenty. View the detailed data tabulations.

For further information, please contact:

Mario Canseco
Vice President, Public Affairs, Insights West
778-929-0490
mariocanseco@insightswest.com