If you think sexual harassment is a problem limited to Hollywood, Silicon Valley or even U.S. politics, think again. Fresh research shows that people around the world agree that sexual harassment is the most important issue today that women and girls face, followed by sexual and physical violence. Yet nearly half of people say we’ve done enough to give women equal rights.
In the U.S., women say equal pay and sexual violence are their next biggest concerns after sexual harassment. These are the results of a global study on gender equality by Ipsos in collaboration with International Women’s Day. While awareness of equality issues has grown, the study also shows that there’s still a lot of work to do.
To be sure, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements which originated in the U.S. have resonated with people. Slightly more Americans and Canadians list harassment as their leading concern (36% each) than the global average. Canadians overall put pay equity next, then sexual violence.
“The issue has really transcended geographic country borders and so we’re seeing elevation of sexual harassment to the top of this list,” says Julia Clark, senior vice president of Ipsos Public Affairs. “This is in part a reaction to the MeToo movement and the allegations against Harvey Weinstein and dozens of other males in positions of power in the U.S. and globally.”
Americans in general have an accurate sense of how many women have experienced sexual harassment although American men underestimate the problem. They guessed that 49% of women have experienced sexual harassment as adults, well below the 60% that women have reported. But Clark found men’s awareness surprisingly high.
“If we had done this six months before, we’d see a much lower number,” Clark says, noting that the study was conducted after the Weinstein and other allegations were publicized. “I bet it would have been closer to 30% six months ago. I would guess that American men and men globally do have an improved understanding – but there’s still a way to go.”
That’s also true when it comes to pay equality. The fact that American women ranked equal pay second while American men ranked it fourth highlights the persistent pay disparity across all markets and levels of education, as well as the importance of pay equality in the national dialogue, according to Clark.
“Perhaps even the TimesUp and MeToo movements are helping to elevate the issue of women in the workplace and in their own lives in ways that mean issues around equal pay resonate more strongly with American women right now,” she says.
Women still have a long wait before their paychecks will match those of their male peers. Yet people are overly optimistic of when that will happen. In the survey, Americans estimate pay equality will come in 2028, but the actual predicted year is 31 years later.
While five years have passed since Sheryl Sandberg wrote her book urging women to “lean in” to boost female leadership, Americans are way off in their estimates of how many women are running the world’s biggest companies. In the U.S., people think that 18% of CEOs in the largest 500 companies around the world are women. The actual figure is 3%.
“There’s a great deal of peril in this perception because if we think progress is being made against this metric, we may stop trying to change the infrastructure profoundly in the ways that things would need to change to create more balance,” argues Clark.
It doesn’t help that almost half of people worldwide think that enough has been done to improve women’s equality. Americans are more dubious about that, but American men and women were far apart on this. About a quarter of women in the U.S. agreed while 43% of their male peers agreed. In Canada, men and women were similarly split. To Clark, this is a red flag.
“That two of five American men think things have gone far enough is not encouraging given the fact that a pay gap still exists and that women are almost exclusively the victims of sexual harassment in the workplace,” she said.
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