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A male colleague grabbing her leg. Another one suggestively rubbing her back. Others at work dinners discussing who they’d want to sleep with.
Jane Park talked about experiencing all of this behavior in her career in business consulting and strategy. Never has she reported any of it to human resources or management.
“It’s made into such a big deal that you have to make a decision: Do you want to ruin your career? Do you want this to be everything that you end up being about?” said Ms. Park, who is now chief executive of Julep, a beauty company she founded. “What you really want to happen is that it doesn’t happen again.”
Her choice is more common than not, social science research shows.
Employers, judges and juries often use women’s failure to report harassment as evidence that it was not a problem or that plaintiffs had other motives. But only a quarter to a third of people who have been harassed at work report it to a supervisor or union representative, and 2 percent to 13 percent file a formal complaint, according to a meta-analysis of studies by Lilia Cortina of the University of Michigan and Jennifer Berdahl of the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business.
Mostly they fear retaliation, and with good reason, research shows.
In response to a New York Times report this month of payouts to women who had accused the Fox news host Bill O’Reilly of sexual harassment, 21st Century Fox, Fox News’s parent company, said: “No current or former Fox News employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly, even anonymously.”
In interviews, women who worked at Fox said they didn’t complain to human resources because they feared they would be fired.
Some women who experience harassment confront the perpetrator or confide in friends or family, the meta-analysis found. But the most common response is to avoid the person, play down what happened or ignore the behavior.