Sexual harassment rife in the legal profession

By Kate Gibson

/ MoneyWatch

Women still face sexual harassment at work

When it comes to sexual harassment at work, Hollywood and the media world have drawn much of the spotlight. But the problem may be even more widespread in another field: the legal profession.

While 40 percent of women respondents said they had encountered sexual harassment on the job, 59 percent of females who work for a law firm reported such behavior, a survey of more than 8,000 job-seekers by ZipRecruiter found.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the next industry to see a #MeToo movement would be in the legal industry," Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the online employment marketplace, told CBS MoneyWatch.

"Old boys"

Given the potential legal peril surrounding harassment cases, one might think lawyers would be the least likely to engage in the behavior, or as Pollak put it: "Why would you mess with a female attorney?"

The answer, it seems, is that sexual harassment is more pervasive in male-dominated professions, and law remains "a bit of an old boys' club," said Pollak, who noted that male attorneys had far more favorable impressions of their work environment than their female colleagues.

American Psychological Association on harm of toxic masculinity

Harassment was also more prevalent in other male-dominated professions, according to ZipRecruiter. The firm also found that 52 percent of women in transportation industry and warehouse jobs had faced such abuse, while half of females in architecture and engineering had experienced harassment.

The main reasons women don't report harassment on the job include fear of getting fired or otherwise retaliated again, as well as concern that complaints won't be taken seriously. "In law, women were afraid the consequences would be even more severe," said the economist.

The scenario could well change in coming decades, as the number of women in law school overtook men for the first time in 2016, according to the American Bar Association. But as things stand today, men are more likely than women to be partners at law firms, and also more likely to be in positions of power in other fields.

Companies should be doing more to fight sexual harassment, including training that spells out the negative consequences of engaging in the behavior, Pollack said. Many programs talk about the need to believe victims, but lack actual punitive steps to deter would-be harassers, she added.

First published on February 5, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

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