An October 2017 poll conducted by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal indicated that 48% of currently employed women in the United States say that they have personally experienced an unwelcome sexual advance or verbal or physical harassment at work. And the issue is not confined to women: According to an ABC News/Washington Post survey, 10% of men have also experienced sexual harassment at work.
Does the problem exist in the accounting profession as well? To answer this question, IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) recently conducted a survey of a sample of its members on the topics of sexual harassment and gender inequality. One hundred sixty-four responses were received (123 women, 41 men).
With regard to harassment, our results are remarkably similar to those mentioned above: 48% of women and 7% of men in our study reported having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Much of this harassment is unobserved by others: 64% of respondents (60% of women, 78% of men) hadn’t seen sexual harassment at their place of work. Another 28% (31% women, 20% men) have occasionally seen harassment.
The perception of the ability of companies to minimize harassment varies by gender, with most (56%) men believing their companies have been very successful, while only about one-third (33%) of women believe so. In order to prevent sexual harassment, organizations need to have adequate policies or practices in place. For each policy or practice listed in our questionnaire, men were more likely than women to believe it was in place. Most strikingly, only 31% of women thought that perpetrators of sexual harassment would be punished, as opposed to 61% of men.
Gender inequality appears to be present with regard to both advancement and salary, although one’s gender affects the extent to which one believes it exists. With regard to career advancement, 35% of women and 10% of men indicated their advancement had been negatively affected by their gender.
In answer to the question, “To what extent do you believe women in your organization are paid less than men for comparable work?” women were very likely to agree and men to disagree (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: To what extent do you believe women in your organization are paid less than men for comparable work?
There was also a great deal of disagreement regarding employment policies and practices that might foster an equal work environment. Women were much less likely (37%) than men (78%) to agree that their organization had standard pay scales. They were also less likely to agree that there were appropriate recruiting practices (50% vs. 85%), effective training programs (28% vs. 59%), and paid family leave and subsidized childcare (27% vs. 44%) at their organizations.
The results of this survey indicate that sexual harassment and gender inequality in the accounting profession must be addressed. On the positive side, a slight majority of respondents (53% of women, 51% of men) believed the increased attention paid to sexual harassment in the workplace has clarified what’s appropriate behavior. With continued attention to these issues and a commitment to building equitable workplace environments, the accounting profession will continue to be able to attract top-notch talent regardless of gender (or any other attribute).