Workplace harassment a common problem, survey of Milwaukee businesswomen shows

TEMPO members describe sexual advances and career setbacks


Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:21 pm

About 68 percent of professional businesswomen in Milwaukee who participated in a new survey by women’s networking group TEMPO Milwaukee say they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

Jennifer Dirks, chief executive officer of TEMPO Milwaukee, welcomes the crowd at a 2015 TEMPO event.

The December survey polled TEMPO’s 350 members, who are in CEO, executive and leadership positions in the Milwaukee area. The final results include the experiences of the 97 members who responded.

The survey defined sexual harassment using the guidelines set out by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

TEMPO distributed the survey as the topic of sexual harassment of women in the workplace has been a point of national conversation via the #MeToo movement. Several men in the film and entertainment industries, as well as the media, have been accused of inappropriate sexual advances on women who work for them. The survey was released a day after the #TimesUp movement saw most of the star-studded attendees of the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday wearing black in solidarity with women who have been sexually abused at work.

“These survey results – and the vivid and shocking examples of harassment our members provided – should serve as a wake-up call to Milwaukee’s business community,” said Jennifer Dirks, president and CEO of TEMPO Milwaukee. “Milwaukee is not immune to its own problems with sexual harassment. This isn’t just happening in Hollywood.”

Respondents to the TEMPO survey described situations including being dragged into hotel rooms at conferences, locked in stockrooms and trapped in offices; being touched indecently or forcibly kissed; and enduring regular sexual innuendo.

“A boss who followed me to my room while at a conference and kept knocking and wanting to come in. It is never appropriate to make a romantic advance on a direct employee,” a respondent wrote.

“Many incidents of comments on my body, my sexual habits, my menstrual cycle, my body changes during pregnancy, etc. I remember one boss in particular who used to regularly refer to me as a ‘real screamer’ in the bedroom,” another said.

The women described switching job duties, quitting jobs, skipping work trips and experiencing negative financial ramifications as a result of these incidents.


Half of the survey respondents reported incidents had happened when they were in entry-level roles. At the middle-management level, 36 percent experienced harassment. And 35 percent reported they were harassed while in upper management positions. About 33 percent of respondents said they would not or were not sure if they would report blatant sexual harassment if it happened tomorrow, out of fear it could damage their career or there may be repercussions.

The survey also found that while 66 percent of respondents feel the #MeToo movement has had a positive effect on workplace culture and policy, they worry about negative fallout, too. Some responses indicated men may exclude women out of fear of accusations, or professional relationships between men and women may be strained.

“I expect some men will become uncomfortable working with women for fear of being accused of something, and some women will use this as a means to advance their careers,” one respondent said.

Dirks said there is nuance when it comes to sexual harassment, so companies should address it openly and set out clear workplace guidelines.

About 37 percent of respondents said their company had not trained employees on or addressed sexual harassment in the past 12 months. But 64 percent said their employers do have a formal reporting process for sexual harassment.

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