A Summary of “Us Too?  Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession”

The report is based on survey results from 6980 respondents from 135 countries in six different languages.

Headline points

Sexual harassment and bullying were found to be significant issues for men and women.

“Targets” do not report in 75% of sexual harassment cases and 57% of bullying cases mainly due to the status of the perpetrator and fear of repercussions.

70% rated the response to bullying to be insufficient or negligible.

67% rated the response to sexual harassment to be insufficient or negligible.

 

Bullying Sexual Harassment
1 in 2 women

1 in 3 men

 

1 in 3 women

1 in 14 men

In the workplace In the workplace and at social events, conferences and during travel

 

Most commonly perpetrated by line manager or supervisor

 

Most commonly perpetrated by a non-supervisor senior colleague
Disproportionately affects young workers

 

Disproportionately affects young workers

 

90% bullied more than once

 

84% sexually harassed more than once
Bullying by social media affects young people most Technology-based harassment on the rise
40% always or sometimes reported

 

21% always or sometimes reported
Most reported at large law firms Most reported at small law firms

 

70% felt the response to reporting was insufficient or negligible 66% felt the response to reporting was insufficient or negligible

 

75% of perpetrators not sanctioned 75% of perpetrators not sanctioned

 

Profound negative personal impact including suicidal thoughts reported

 

Profound negative personal impact including suicidal thoughts reported
More than half of targets left or considered leaving the workplace

 

One third left or considered leaving the workplace (50% + of under 35s)

 

One in ten considered leaving the profession

 

 

Methodology

Two-thirds of respondents were women and one third men.  Overall it was assumed that the ratio of women to men in the profession globally is 1:1, although there are clearly regional differences.  Respondents came from different types of legal workplace with most from law firms (73%) and least from the judiciary (3%).  The majority of respondents were under 40 with a total of three-quarters under 50.  Personal characteristics other than gender were not recorded due to data protection restrictions.  The report notes that other characteristics such as, sexual preference, ethnicity, parenting responsibilities and physical ability will have impact on sexual harassment and bullying.

The perception paradox

Jurisdictions in which awareness is likely to be highest also report the highest levels of abuse, not perhaps because abuse is relatively higher in these places, but because it is recognised more readily.  The research addresses this paradox in terms of cultural bias by considering results in the light of known levels of gender equality.  Norway, Australia and Russia rank respectively high, average and low in terms of gender equality index scores.  However, Russian respondents reported similar rates of bullying and lower rates of sexual harassment than to those of Norway.

Bullying (p32 – 49)

There are moral and business imperatives to address bullying.  The impact on individuals and organisations is profound with lives damaged, effectiveness at work impaired and staff turn-over increased.

Bullying is “rampant” and the legal profession has a “chronic” bullying problem.  It is most prevalent in large law firms and government legal departments.  It is rarely reported.  More than half of targets of bullying have left or considered leaving their work.

Half of female respondents reported being bullied and one in three men.

High levels of bullying reported in government workplaces (69%) may be due to the perception paradox, with policy initiatives and training contributing to awareness and thus reporting.    The size of the law firm has impact on reported bullying; firms with more than 100 partners had higher rates of bullying at 45.6% with the lowest being for 11 – 50 partner firms at 35%, so not a huge over-all range.

Oceania and Africa had the highest rates of bullying with women significantly more likely to be bullied in both.

Bullying affects young legal professionals most with 32.8% of respondents under 25s experiencing bullying.  The age profile of targets decreases, suggesting that the older you are the less likely you are to be bullied.  This supports the connection between hierarchy based on seniority and bullying.

Partners are slightly less likely to be bullied than other functions.  This may be because they are protected by seniority.  It is possible that targets tend not to head for the top, so the experience of bullying may be under-represented at that level.

Types of bullying

The types of bullying most reported were:

  • Ridicule or demeaning language (57%)
  • Overbearing supervision including unproductive criticism (55.4%)
  • Being given too much or too little work (47.3%)

(NB.  People could report more than one type of bullying, hence totals over 100%)

Who bullies?  When and where?

Line managers and supervisors were the highest reported group of bullies at 60.5%.  Again, this supports the association of hierarchy and bullying.

90% of respondents had been bullied more than once with the vast majority of bullying happening in the workplace.

Reporting & response

Bullying is rarely reported.  The most common reasons for non-reporting was the profile or status of the perpetrator and fear of repercussions.  57.3% of respondents said that they never reported bullying.  Large firms have higher reporting rates possibly due to the provision of policies and procedures.  87% reported within their organisation with 3% reporting to a regulatory body or the police.

Less than 10% of respondents felt the response to reporting was good or excellent.

70% thought it was insufficient or negligible.

More than half of bullied respondents left their workplace.

Sexual harassment (p49 – 67)

Sexual harassment is “alarmingly common-place” and is having a “considerable negative impact” on the legal profession.  It affects women disproportionately, although men are affected.  The perpetrator is most often a non-supervisor senior colleague.  Abuse happens at work, at social and off-site events.  One third of respondents reported leaving or considering leaving their job; one in ten considered leaving the profession.

Government legal departments have the highest rates of reported sexual harassment (35%) with men twice as likely to report sexual harassment than average.  Law firms have the lowest rate (20%).  The size of the firm had no impact on reported levels of sexual harassment.  There appears to be a correlation between bullying and sexual harassment levels.

Where, who and what?

Oceania, Africa and America had the highest prevalence of sexual harassment at around the mid 40% level in each.  Non-line manager colleagues (54%) and colleagues of the same seniority (36.6%) are the most likely perpetrators, although young people are most often sexually harassed by more senior colleagues.  In North America clients are responsible for relatively more sexual harassment than elsewhere.

Sexual harassment is reported most from young people.  A shocking 16% of women under 25 reported sexual harassment with 35% 25 – 35 year olds being affected.  Prevalence is roughly equal across functions.

Sexual, sexist and suggestive comments were the most likely type of sexual harassment accounting for a stunning 67.9% of reported sexual harassment.

66.8% reported inappropriate physical touching and sexual propositions.

Incidents were reported to be rarely isolated, although it was less likely to be a concerted course of action than bullying. 84% reported sexual harassment happened more than once.  The workplace is the most likely place for abuse to happen.

Reporting

“Sexual harassment is chronically underreported”

75% of respondents did not report sexual harassment

Reporting rates are highest at small firms, in contrast to bullying in which most reporting is at large firms.  Reporting is through internal channels.  It is noted that the severity of the sexual harassment reported did affect the likelihood that it be reported.

The reasons most often given for non-reporting were status and seniority of the perpetrator and fear of repercussions.  This last was most prevalent in the judiciary.

Qualitative responses indicated that targets were concerned about the punishment for perpetrators being disproportionate.

Response

25% felt the response to reporting was sufficient or better

66% felt it was insufficient or negligible

75% of perpetrators were not sanctioned.  In more than half of cases the situation was unchanged or deteriorated after reporting.

Impact

One third of sexually harassed respondents have left or are considering leaving their workplace; 1 in 10 have left or are considering leaving the profession.  Young women are most likely to leave or consider leaving the profession (50% of women 25 – 29 years old).

You can download the full report here:

https://www.ibanet.org/bullying-and-sexual-harassment.aspx