Boston — Feb. 26
One in three employees heard a sexually inappropriate comment made in the workplace last year, according to a national telephone survey by Novations Group, a global consulting organization based in Boston.
Overheard by 34 percent of employees, improper sexual remarks were the most frequent type of ridicule, followed by ethnic and racial slurs, which were reported by 30 percent and 26 percent, respectively.
Men were twice as likely as women to hear any kind of workplace ridicule, especially in regard to sexual comments, where the gap was 44 percent to 22 percent.
The following are the percentage of people who answered “yes” to the question, “Did you hear or one more colleagues at work do any of the following during 2006?”
- Make a sexually inappropriate comment
- Total: 34 percent
- Men: 44 percent
- Women: 22 percent
- Use an ethnic slur
- Total: 30 percent
- Men: 39 percent
- Women: 20 percent
- Use a racial slur
- Total: 26 percent
- Men: 32 percent
- Women: 18 percent
- Ridicule someone based on their age
- Total: 24 percent
- Men: 30 percent
- Women: 15 percent
- Ridicule someone based on their sexual orientation
- Total: 21 percent
- Men: 25 percent
- Women: 17 percent
- Ridicule someone because they are disabled
- Total: 6 percent
- Men: 9 percent
- Women: 4 percent
“Some employers’ attitude seems to be, ‘Boys will be boys,’” said Novations Executive Consultant Tom McKinnon. “Aside from their possible legal liability intolerant wisecracks or banter, even if innocently intended, are corrosive to employees’ individual’s sense of safety and acceptance. They undermine productivity, and this ought to hit home among senior management.”
Among the survey’s other findings:
- Ethnic slurs were more likely to be overheard by Southerners than Westerners, by 37 percent to 21 percent. Likewise, 34 percent of Southerners reported racial slurs compared with just 16 percent of Westerners.
- There were no significant differences between white and black employees, except for sexual comments, which were heard by 36 percent of whites and 25 percent of blacks.
- By 34 percent to 11 percent employees ages 18 to 34 were more likely to overhear age-related ridicule than their colleagues older than 55.
- In general, employees with more education or higher income were less likely to hear workplace ridicule.
Novations Groups conducts the workplace ridicule survey annually, McKinnon said.
“We find consistency from year to year but have an obligation to help raise awareness that ridicule and slurs aren’t funny, but hurtful, even if the object of the humor plays along,” he said.
The national telephone phone survey of 610 employed Americans was conducted for Novations Group Feb. 8-12 by International Communications Research.