The #MeToo movement has drawn attention to sexual harassment in the workplace. Sparked by the exposure of film producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of predatory behavior directed at actresses, #MeToo has drawn attention to discrimination and unwanted sexual advances in industries as wide-ranging as academia, media and tech. Many hoped that the campaign would lead to a new era in which workplace sexual harassment was widely identified as unacceptable and largely eradicated. However, one study indicates that many men have decided to stop interacting with female co-workers rather than simply refraining from harassing behavior. This could point to continued misunderstandings about what exactly constitutes actionable workplace sexual harassment.
Researchers at the University of Houston surveyed men and women in various industries twice in 2018 and 2019 to measure attitudes about #MeToo and workplace sexual harassment. In the 2019 survey, researchers found that 27% of male respondents said they now avoid one-on-one meetings with women. Even more concerning, 21% said that they would be reluctant to hire women in positions that require close personal interaction, and 19% said that they would hesitate before hiring an attractive woman. All of these figures indicate an increase in discriminatory behaviors and attitudes from the 2018 results.
While male respondents said they were afraid that innocent workplace conversation could be misconstrued as sexual harassment, women and men actually agreed about which specific behaviors should be classified as harassment and which should not. Indeed, men were more likely to consider some behaviors to be forms of sexual harassment than women were.
Despite media attention to the problem, women continue to suffer from sexual harassment and gender discrimination on the job. People who have been subject to unwanted advances or retaliation at work may consult with an employment law attorney about their options to seek justice.