WASHINGTON – Barbara Myers started work as an apprentice electrician in 1995, and over the years she learned to shoot back sexual banter on the job site as much as she had to take it from some of her coworkers.
Those days, she says, are starting to change.
“I have worked over the last several years, actually, to really be much more circumspect in my conversation,” Myers said. “And so, basically, I don’t talk about things like that. And I know a lot of the guys are the same way.”
Myers is among the roughly one-third of American workers who say they’ve changed how they act at work in the past year, as the #MeToo movement has focused the nation’s attention on sexual misconduct and highlighted issues of racial and ethnic diversity at the same time, according to a new poll of Americans who are full- or part-time employees.
The survey, conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in collaboration with the software company SAP, also found that about a third of all working adults say they have talked about sexual misconduct in the workplace with coworkers in the past year.
“I have worked construction. And I grew up during that time period, where banter of that type was much more free,” Myers said. “I have had to watch what I say. … If I find that it would be offensive to a woman, I know that there are men that are just as sensitive.”
The poll found American workers view the #MeToo movement more favorably than unfavorably, 45% versus 27%. Half of women had a favorable opinion, compared with 4 in 10 men; just over 3 in 10 men view the movement unfavorably.
Those who say they have been subjected to workplace sexual misconduct are especially likely to view the movement favorably, compared with of those who say they have not been victims of misconduct, 60% versus 42%.
About half of working adults think things will change for the better for working women in general as a result of the recent high-profile sexual misconduct cases. And as a result of recent focus on issues of racial and ethnic diversity, about 4 in 10 working adults think change for the better is likely for African Americans, while about a third say the same for workers of Hispanic origin.
Still, the poll found that few Americans expect positive change will come to their own workplace or for them personally. Count ShaeTiaunna Green, 26, a cashier from Wyoming, Michigan, among them.
Green, who is African American and a lesbian, said she’s hoping for positive change, but she’s not optimistic.
Still, she said she has thrived in diverse workplaces, so when she applied for her current job at a supermarket last year, she made sure it was diverse and had inclusive policies. The poll found diversity and inclusion policies are much more important to black and Hispanic workers than to white workers and are slightly more important to women than to men.
“I wanted to make sure that was an aspect, and so that I knew that everyone had an equal opportunity and I wouldn’t be excluded from certain opportunities,” Green said.
About 4 in 10 working Americans say their employer has established new training on harassment in the workplace, instituted new policies about harassment or introduced new training on workplace diversity in the last two years. Most of those who say their workplace has made any of those changes think it’s had a positive impact.
Jason Phillips, 49, works in Seattle and said employees receive ongoing diversity training that he believes has had a positive effect on his workplace, allowing people to advance their understanding of issues of race and equity.
“We’re all on a different point in that spectrum,” he said. “And so, it provides everyone all these different opportunities to advance their awareness wherever they are on that spectrum.”
In assessing their own workplaces, about 4 in 10 working adults say white people and men experience more advantages compared with others, while about half don’t think they are more or less advantaged, according to the poll.
Robin Knight, a 58-year-old dental technician from Brooklyn, said that when it comes to pay, men often have the advantage, even though she thinks in her female-dominated field, women often have an edge in getting hired.
“For some reason, if a man is writing a check, he’ll write more to his own counterpart than to us, and I don’t know why,” she said.
The poll also shows that people who supervise at least one employee are more likely than non-supervisors to say they have talked with coworkers about sexual misconduct in the workplace in the last year, 41% to 23%, and that they’ve changed how they interact with coworkers, 38% to 27%.
Tom Eisenhauer, 65, of Pocatello, Idaho, manages apartment complexes and oversees 25 to 30 people. His workers often must handle difficult situations with tenants, and he said women in the industry can face harassment and discrimination from tenants and coworkers. Hispanic workers are often pigeonholed by others, with people assuming they are janitors or pool cleaners.
“They have to disprove the stereotype, even to somebody like me who’s more liberal,” said Eisenhauer, who is white.
He added: “All the horrible traps that we fall into, you know, we all do it. I’m as guilty as anybody.”
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