Over half of surveyed Milwaukee businesswomen say they have experienced workplace harassment

Poll shows incidents happen most prominently at the entry level

Margaret Henningsen shared her own experiences with harassment in the workplace.

Professional Dimensions, a Milwaukee-based network of professional women, on Thursday released the results from a recent survey in which more than half of its members said they have experienced sexual harassment at work.

Margaret Henningsen shared her own experiences with harassment in the workplace.

Among the respondents, which included women in all stages of their careers, 54 percent said they have experienced workplace sexual harassment as defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Those incidents happen most prominently at the entry level, the survey showed.

Professional Dimensions’ members include four generations of women from more than 300 companies.

Survey respondents described situations including male coworkers ogling women, making inappropriate comments and unwanted advances, including physical contact. Meanwhile, 56 percent of respondents said they had witnessed harassment happen to someone else.

The release of the Professional Dimensions survey results Thursday kicked off a three-part series on confronting sexual harassment in the workplace. The next two programs will be held on May 9, at 11:30 a.m. at the Wisconsin Club, and on May 22, at 5:30 p.m. at the Wisconsin Club. They are open to the public. Click here for registration information.

The Professional Dimensions survey comes on the heels of a survey from another professional women’s group, TEMPO Milwaukee, in which 68 percent reported having experienced workplace harassment. The two organizations distributed the same survey questions to their members to add diversity to the data set.

Rebeca Lopez of Godfrey & Kahn S.C. shared a history of workplace harassment.

Just over half of Professional Dimensions’ survey respondents work for companies with a formal harassment reporting process and 41 percent felt their employer had proactively addressed the issue.

“Even for the members who thought that their employers did have a reporting process in place or a way to take action, many expressed doubt that it would actually change anything,” said Johannah Karstedt St. John, Professional Dimensions director of operations.

Just under 20 percent of respondents to the survey said they are unsure if they would, or wouldn’t report an incident if they were blatantly sexually harassed at work, with members citing fears of having their past mistakes dug up, risking embarrassment or damage to their career, and the time it would require to assemble sufficient evidence.

Karstedt St. John raised concerns with the common advice given to women and employers, including confronting a harasser directly, reporting the incident and putting policies in place. She said the embedded workplace power structures that foster sexual harassment are the same ones that give women pause when speaking up.

“While these are all critically important actions that we need to take seriously, the truth is they are often much easier said than done,” she said. “Historically they have not led to change consistently enough for many women to believe they are worth the risk.”

In light of the current #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, 70 percent of respondents said they expected the media coverage and current conversations to have a positive impact on workplaces.

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.