More than a quarter of men think it is acceptable to tell sexual jokes at work, study finds

'The workplace is one of the most important battlegrounds in the fight for equality between women', says former prime minister of Australia

Sarah Young
Thursday 05 March 2020 18:43

More than a quarter of men think it is acceptable to tell sexual jokes in the workplace, according to a new study.

A survey of more than 20,000 people in 27 countries was carried out by the Global Institute for Women's Leadership at King's College, London, to mark International Women's Day.

The data showed that 28 per cent of men thought that stories of a sexual nature were acceptable in work settings, compared with 16 per cent of women.

The figures for Britain mirror these global proportions, however researchers state that British men are much more accepting of such behaviour than their counterparts in countries including Turkey, Mexico, Australia, Canada and the US.

In the UK, nine per cent of men said they thought it was acceptable to display material of a sexual nature at work, compared with four per cent of women. Globally, this rises to 13 per cent of men and seven per cent of women, the report said.

The study also asked participants how they would react to unacceptable behaviour in the workplace, with more British men (58 per cent) than women (48 per cent) saying they would be confident to call out a senior colleague for making a sexist or comment.

However, 69 per cent of both men and women said they would be comfortable reprimanding a junior colleague. And, of all the countries surveyed, British people felt most confident (78 per cent) in telling off a family member or friend for making a sexist comment, the study said.

The authors also found that, in Britain, people think women's careers are much more likely to be damaged than men's because of certain work-related choices.

Nearly a third (32 per cent) of people thought that rejecting a colleague who wanted a date or romantic relationship is more likely to damage the career of a woman, compared with just five per cent for men.

Similarly, 17 per cent of people thought a woman who talks about her family life is more likely to have her career harmed – compared with four per cent for men – and 27 per cent thought a woman's career would be impacted by part-time working compared with eight per cent for a man.

Julia Gillard, former prime minister of Australia and chairwoman of the Global Institute for Women's Leadership, said: “The workplace is one of the most important battlegrounds in the fight for equality between women and men, and these findings show we still have some way to go.

”While those who help fuel toxic work environments are in the minority, it's nonetheless a significant one - and their views can make people's working lives a misery.

“If employers want to pay more than just lip service to gender equality, they need to invest in creating cultures that value diversity and inspire respect for all.”

Kelly Beaver, managing director of Ipsos MORI Public Affairs, added: “International Women's Day is a great reminder each year to think about where we are headed, and how far we have come, in the fight for gender equality.

”Our new research shows that we still have a way to go when it comes to levelling the playing field, especially in the workplace. Our data shows that people feel women's careers are significantly more at risk then men's if they turn down a romantic advance, if they talk about their family life or don't take part in social activities with colleagues.“

The research follows comments made earlier this year by Chartered Management Institute head Ann Francke, who said that sports banter in the workplace can exclude women and lead to laddish behaviour.

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