Poll: 34 Percent of Women in Accounting Say They Experienced Sexual Harassment

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Mar 13, 2018

Sexual Harassment

A recent poll of accounting professionals has found that 34 percent of women in the industry said they have experienced some form of sexual harassment over the course of their careers, and 39 percent of women said they are aware of others who have been similarly harassed, according to Accounting Today. The most common type was “inappropriate jokes or innuendo,” which was cited by more than half of women who said they have experienced or witnessed harassment. One quarter said they faced “persistent unwanted requests.” Much less common were sexual pictures or posters in the workplace, suggestive text messages or emails, or threats of retaliation for not complying with sexual requests. The survey was conducted by SourceMedia.

Despite personal experiences, however, a solid majority of women also believe that sexual harassment in the profession as a whole is rare: 66 percent, just a little lower than the 73 percent of men with the same response. When asked why they believe it’s so rare, the most common response was that “CPAs are governed by strict ethical terms and behavior,” as well as overwhelming job pressure and small firm camaraderie (though the survey found that women in firms under 50 people are more likely to experience harassment, 37 percent versus the 34 percent overall statistic). The study, though, shows that the proportion of female accounting professionals who have experienced harassment in the workplace is comparable to the overall rate across industries (38 percent, according to NPR).

While women believe that harassment is rare, they are not especially confident that harassment cases are dealt with fairly: the poll found that 18 percent felt cases were fairly addressed “never or rarely,” 19 percent said “occasionally,” and 28 percent said “usually or always” with the remainder saying they didn’t know. This is in contrast to men, 50 percent of whom said that such issues were “usually or always” dealt with fairly (versus 11 percent saying “rarely or never” and 18 percent saying “occasionally”).

Of women who believe sexual harassment is more common in the industry, many anecdotally cited the prevalence of men in leadership positions as one reason why more isn’t being done about it. Women make up 22 percent of accounting firm partners overall, and Accounting Today noted that female partners tend to cluster at specific firms with larger number of women, leaving other firms with leadership composed almost entirely of men.

Only 17 percent of women (and 8 percent of men) thought that legislation was the solution to workplace harassment. Professionals overall felt what’s needed was, instead, workplace cultural changes (57 percent), upper management commitment (56 percent) and better HR procedures (50 percent). Anecdotally, many survey respondents also said that the necessary cultural changes will happen when older firm owners retire in larger numbers, letting younger people with different values take the lead.

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