The Shocking Data Behind Sexual Assault and Harassment in the Workplace

Who experiences sexual misconduct? In which industries? How often is it reported? A new survey has answers.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett
Published in
12 min readJan 29, 2020


Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

SSexual misconduct haunts the corporate world. It’s in the headlines every week, and corporate boards, executives, and rank-and-file employees have begun to realize that it’s a problem they need to fight. But before we can effectively fight the problem, we need to map out — in concrete detail — its scope and span. Here are some of the specific questions about sexual misconduct in the workplace that anyone concerned — whether in leadership or the ranks — needs to be able to answer, to protect themselves and their organizations:

  • How common is sexual misconduct in the workplace?
  • How often is it harassment, and how often assault?
  • Who are the predators?
  • Who are the prey?
  • Are certain ethnic groups or LGBTQ individuals especially at risk?
  • How closely related is sexual misconduct to seniority and abuse of power?
  • How often are harassment and assault reported — and how often ignored?
  • How does it impact employee engagement and flight risk — including for bystanders?
  • Are consensual sexual relationships in the workplace a problem, too?
  • How does workplace sexual misconduct impact women’s professional opportunities?
  • In what sectors and industries is the problem most severe?

To find out the answers, in 2018 the Center for Talent Innovation, a New York-based think tank that I founded, fielded a nationally representative survey of 3,213 college-educated employees between the ages of 21 and 65 currently working in full-time white-collar jobs.

Some of the results are surprising.

Harassment vs. Assault

Neither is ever acceptable, but there is a difference between sexual harassment (unwanted sexual advances) and assault (unwanted sexual contact). Both terms are broad. Harassment may include anything from inappropriate e-mails to stalking, while assault…



Sylvia Ann Hewlett
Writer for

Sylvia Ann Hewlett is an economist and the CEO of Hewlett Consulting Partners, as well as the founder and chair emeritus of the Center for Talent Innovation.