BuzzFeed News received a trove of data on every sexual harassment claim filed between fiscal years 1995 and 2016 with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that enforces laws meant to protect workers from discrimination.
The more than 170,000 claims, which didn’t include identifying details, represent just a sliver of the countless incidents in the everyday workplace that don’t receive prominent attention or go unnoticed. Overall, women filed 83% of the claims; men filed 15%. The remaining 2% didn’t specify a gender. BuzzFeed News has published the data here.
First, let’s break it down by workplace type. Search below to find an industry — you can get as specific as, say, “bowling centers” — and you can see the average hourly pay, percentage of women workers, and more.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Notes: Of all the claims given to BuzzFeed News, more than 64,000, or 38% of them, did not specify an industry. When wage and gender breakdown were not available for specific industries, data from larger umbrella industries (on various levels of granularity) were paired with sublevel industries. “Other Services” does not include public administration jobs.
The Harvey Weinstein scandal shows that a skewed power dynamic can allow a few powerful “gatekeepers” in “high-stakes” industries to behave inappropriately toward others without being called out, said Sahar Aziz, a law professor at Rutgers University who was part of the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. In these industries, she said, the fear of being blacklisted may prevent victims of sexual harassment from speaking up.
The current public discussion is focused on industries like entertainment, media, and politics — rife with the power dynamics Aziz describes. But sexual harassment happens across all industries — and the EEOC data represents just the tip of a massive iceberg. Some “work settings are just more fertile ground” for inappropriate behavior, said Meg A. Bond, director for the Center for Women and Work at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. She was also part of the EEOC task force.
Wages can play a big role. In restaurants, where people are dependent on tips to make a living — and also rely on superiors for shift assignments — many waiters experience a disproportionate amount of sexual harassment from both customers and superiors. “And those who do the harassment know that,” Aziz said.
Workers in industries where there aren’t many bystanders — like janitorial work or agricultural work — have an increased likelihood of experiencing sexual harassment. The same goes for environments where women are largely in the minority, Bond said.
The chart below shows data for the first nine months of 2016 sorted by claims filed per 100,000 workers and grouped by major umbrella industry. The size of the bubbles corresponds to the number of claims filed.
The bubbles themselves are charted horizontally (the x-axis) by average hourly earnings or percentage of workers who are women — pick either one below. The bubbles are represented vertically up or down (the y-axis) based on the number of claims relative to the size of the industry.
When employees were asked in randomly sampled surveys whether they had experienced sexual harassment at work, 25% answered yes, according to the EEOC task force’s study. That number rose to 40% when they were asked whether they had experienced “unwelcome sexually based behaviors” like unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion.
Many workplace complaints are filed internally or are resolved without public documentation. The claims that the EEOC receives are often filed by people who had tried other channels. And, of course, scores of incidents are never reported.
Between 2010 and 2016, the EEOC found that roughly 50% of the claims filed were found to have “no reasonable cause” based upon the “evidence obtained in the investigations.”
“It’s difficult because sexual harassment claims are allegations,” Aziz said. “It’s a broad term and it’s not as clear-cut … there are subjective components.”
Whether or not a specific instance of inappropriate sexual behavior is lawful, it still has an impact on workers who experience it — the vast majority of whom are women. And employers largely concentrate on avoiding legal liability rather than changing a work culture, said Aziz.
“We should not trip over ourselves to define the difference between what is legally sexual harassment and what is problematic behavior,” said Bond. “It’s about identifying where the more egregious types of harassment happen.”
Below is a visualization of every sexual harassment claim filed with the EEOC between October 1995 up to September 2016. Every dot represents the claim of one individual.