After noticing a tech industry influencer posting in a start-ups and entrepreneurs’ Facebook group, 18-year-old Lydia Jones sent him a polite message asking if he knew any local members of the tech industry who could mentor her. But his response tried to take the conversation in a totally different direction.
“How young are you?” he asked. When she responded that she was 18—which might ordinarily provide a reason not to make things sexual—he asked her if she was single. Even when she said she was not only in a relationship but also gay, he tried to keep the conversation going by asking, “Are you quite open about your sexuality?” and “So men don’t turn you on at all?” Jones told Mashable the people she reaches out to for networking often seem unwilling to help young women.
It’s not just young women starting out who face this kind of mistreatment though. Engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post in February claiming that she and other female employees routinely faced sexual harassment while working at Uber and Human Resources ignored their complaints. She describes multiple women complaining about harassment from the same manager and being told it was his “first offense.”
Unfortunately, these stories aren’t just common—they’re actually the norm for women in tech, according to a Women Who Tech survey of 950 tech workers, founders, and investors, including 750 women and 200 men. Fifty-three percent of the women surveyed—compared to 16 percent of the men—said they’d experienced harassment while working in tech, and 60 percent said it had happened more than once.
The most common source of the harassment (reported by 63 percent of women who were harassed) was another employee, but 41 percent were harassed by their supervisors. Seventy-two percent said they’d experienced sexist harassment, but offensive slurs (51 percent) and sexual harassment (45 percent) were also very common. Among those who were sexually harassed, 57 percent experienced unwanted touching. And among the 38 percent who were propositioned for sex, 13 percent were propositioned in exchange for a promotion.
Gender isn’t the only source of harassment in the tech industry. Fifteen percent of women and 23 percent of men had experienced racial harassment; seven percent of women and 17 percent of men had experienced homophobic harassment; and seven percent of women and seven percent of men had been harassed for their gender identity. Even if they hadn’t experienced it themselves, 37 percent of women and 38 percent of men said they’d witnessed harassment.
Women also reported coworkers making a variety of sexist comments to them. Thirty-four percent said a coworker had suggested that they might quit to have kids, and 71 percent said a colleague had asked a man a question they themselves were the most equipped to answer. (Only 16 percent of men had experienced the reverse.)
Most of these incidents go unreported. Just 16 percent of women reported their harassment to HR and 23 percent reported it to senior leadership, and it’s easy to see why. Only 46 percent of people who reported their harassment said their companies believed them, and only 12 percent were satisfied with the response. And while 35 percent said they themselves faced repercussions, only nine percent said their harassers did. That’s right: Victims are more likely to be punished for their own harassment than their perpetrators are.
But this doesn’t mean you have to put up with being harassed at work. Workplace harassment is illegal, and if going to HR doesn’t work, many employment lawyers offer free consultations. If you’re facing workplace harassment, the site BetterBrave can tell you more about your options.