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Study finds alarming ambivalence about gender discrimination in the workplace, despite evidence that compensation inequality and harassment exist

Randstad US has released results of a survey examining American workers’ feelings and experiences related to gender equality in the workplace. The data reveals a sharp disconnect: Employees acknowledge that forms of discrimination and harassment exist in the workplace, but they aren’t sure what they’re supposed to do about it. For example, while 51 percent of both men and women surveyed say they know a woman who has been sexually harassed at work, 50 percent admit they haven’t spoken up after hearing a colleague make an inappropriate comment about a person of the opposite sex.

“Despite the serious conversations we’re having around gender in the #MeToo era, our data shows most workers are not as alarmed about these issues as we might think,” said Audra Jenkins, chief diversity and inclusion officer, Randstad North America. “The exceptions appear to be Millennials as well as minorities, who were more likely to recognize and report gender discrimination.”

Fewer women than men believe they are paid fairly—but most don’t care as long as they feel adequately compensated for their work.

  • Fewer women (73%) than men (85%) believe they are paid fairly compared to workers of the opposite sex.
  • While most women (61%) would leave an employer if they learned a male counterpart was making more than them, 71 percent of women say they don’t care as long as they personally feel they’re fairly compensated.
  • Nearly four in 10 men (36%) feel women should not necessarily earn equal pay if their employers give women more time off than men for family leave.

Overall, workplace gender discrimination and harassment have a greater impact on racial and ethnic minorities of both genders.

  • Diverse employees were more likely to report their careers have suffered because they turned down romantic attention from a direct supervisor (42% of African Americans and 36% of Hispanics, versus 24% of Caucasians).
  • Diverse workers are more likely to know a woman who has experienced workplace harassment (65% of Asian American/Pacific Islanders and 59% of African Americans, versus 49% of Caucasians).

Power and authority often play a role in gender dynamics and sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • Over a third of employees (36%) have seen a person in a position of power take advantage of subordinates of the opposite sex.
  • Twenty-nine percent of women have received unwelcome romantic or sexual attention from someone they report to, versus 20 percent of men. This number increases to 35 percent for 18–34-year-olds of both genders.
  • Nearly a quarter of women (24%) believe their careers have suffered because they turned down romantic attention from a direct supervisor.
  • Over half of women (57%) say they’d quit their jobs if a company executive was accused of promoting or providing bonuses, commissions or career privileges to employees of the opposite sex in exchange for sexual favors, versus 39 percent of men.

Younger employees and male employees are generally less comfortable around the opposite sex at work.

  • Thirty-two percent of 25–35-year-olds report feeling more uncomfortable interacting with the opposite sex at work over the past year, versus 23 percent of all respondents.
  • While 22 percent of all employees find it more difficult to take direction from a superior of the opposite sex, that difficulty is more pronounced among 25–34-year-olds (39%).
  • Almost half (46%) of men no longer understand what’s an acceptable compliment to give a colleague without it being potentially misinterpreted as sexual harassment.
  • Forty-six percent of men hold negative views of movements like #MeToo and #FeministMovement.

Most employees aren’t sure how to improve gender equality at work, but cite male advocacy for gender equality and mentorship programs as important steps.

  • Over half of all employees (53%) are unsure of what they can personally do to improve gender equality at their workplace.
  • Nearly half (49%) say their employers are not offering mentorship/leadership programs geared toward women, and 51 percent believe their employers could do more to promote gender equality in general.
  • Seventy-five percent think having more men who are willing to be vocal about gender equality issues will help create a more equal workplace.


“While there may be some disparate opinions regarding the severity and impact of gender issues in the workplace, it is encouraging to see the vast majority recognize the role supportive male allies can play,” said Jenkins. “Employers should take steps to ensure they’re fostering an inclusive environment where candid but respectful conversations around gender issues can take place and be led by either sex.”

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