People Of Color Are More Likely To Call Sexual Harassment “Serious” Than White Women

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The #MeToo Movement has proved to be a powerful tool in exposing the problem of sexual harassment and assault in every industry in this country and around the world. As the movement grows, more people have opinions about the attention sexual harassment in the workplace has received. On Jan. 29, The Washington Post published a survey that asked people about their opinion on sexual harassment, and the results say that people of color are more likely to call sexual harassment “serious” than white women.

The survey, which polled a random sampling of 1,005 adults, found that women of color (86 percent) were more likely than white women (72 percent) to say sexual harassment is a serious problem. The stark difference between white women and women of color isn’t unique to women, either. When asked if sexual harassment was a serious problem, men of color were more likely than white men and white women to say it was: The Washington Post reported 74 percent of men of color view the problem of sexual harassment seriously, compared to only 63 percent of white men and 72 percent of white women.

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The Washington Post conducted a similar survey in October of last year, which showed that the majority of Americans view workplace sexual harassment as a "serious problem." Since that survey, the percentage of women who view this problem seriously has gone up, but white women still lag behind women of color — despite the fact that many of the high-profile accusations of sexual harassment have come from white women.

Other survey questions included “Do you think recent attention on this issue (has not gone far enough), has been about right, or (has gone too far)?” and “Do you think recent attention on the issue will create a lasting change in the way U.S. society deals with the sexual harassment of women, or do you think things will end up going back to the way they've been in the past?” Compared to people of color, a larger percentage of white people believe the attention has gone too far, but will create a lasting change in society.

Scott Clement, The Washington Post’s Polling Director, said in a poll write-up, "Encouraged by news coverage and the #MeToo campaign on social media, more women have come forward, resulting in the resignations of several high-profile men in entertainment, the news media and politics. In The Post-ABC poll, majorities of both nonwhite and white women expressed optimism that attention to the issue will create lasting change in the way society deals with harassment of women."

But is optimism enough? The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging its existence, according to Richard Fossey, a professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The Washington Post-ABC poll focused on the perception of sexual harassment in the workplace, but according to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace Study, white women receive more support and opportunities for advancement than men and women of color. The study also found that “the workplace is especially challenging for women of color” as Black and Latina women are less likely to feel supported by managers, less likely to receive a promotion, and more likely to leave the company. White women, on the other hand, reported feeling supported and treated equally.

The writers of the McKinsey study said, “Progress will remain slow unless we confront blind spots on diversity — particularly regarding women of color, and employee perceptions of the status quo.” The #MeToo movement has shown us something we’ve known for a long time — sexual harassment in the workplace is happening in most industries. For real change to happen, white women will need to use their privilege to protect their colleagues of color and speak out against sexual harassment in their everyday lives.