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Contact: Amber Cruz Mohring
New study finds female interns particularly at risk of workplace sexual harassment and explores the toll it takes on our future workforce
The B.A. Rudolph Foundation releases a white paper and fact sheet that shares new survey data on the experience of sexual harassment by former interns, offers guidance for those experiencing or witnessing sexual harassment, and highlights opportunities for individuals and organizations to build safe and inclusive workspaces.
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the B.A. Rudolph Foundation released Rise Up: Interns, their Workplaces, and the Tools to End Sexual Harassment, a white paper and fact sheet that explains why female interns are particularly at risk to sexual harassment and shares new data from a 2018 survey conducted by the B.A. Rudolph Foundation. The fact sheet offers this year’s estimated 750,000 U.S. women with internships, as well as all women and men currently in the workforce, strategies on how to navigate the workplace and protect themselves and their colleagues from sexual harassment.
According to Mary Bruce, Executive Director of the B.A. Rudolph Foundation, “This study reinforces what too many of us already know because we have seen or experienced it ourselves: women are sexually harassed at work, including at the start of our careers. This is when many women are most at risk, with fewer rights as interns, and when they don’t yet know what to do or where to go when harassment happens. It’s intolerable. Now is a critical time—especially as thousands of young people start their internships in our city and across the country—to provide tangible resources for interns and the organizations where they work to eliminate sexual harassment.”
With the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, now more than ever, individuals are empowering each other to defend their right to live free of sexual violence and harassment—and the world is paying attention. However, little research has been devoted to the unique situation for interns, who are not universally covered by protections of federal laws (such as Title VII which prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace) and in some states are not considered “employees”—and therefore do not have the same protections, including against sexual harassment.
Survey Findings. According to the 2018 survey of former interns supported by the B.A. Rudolph Foundation:
- More than four in five former interns (82 percent) who identify as female report they have been aware of their colleagues experiencing sexual harassment—most commonly against female colleagues in their mid 20s. Based on the Foundation’s findings, with nearly 750,000 female interns annually, that means an estimated 615,000 women entering the workforce this summer may witness sexual harassment as they launch their careers and nearly 400,000 will experience it themselves.
- Less than one in five (18 percent) interns report they were “completely aware of the anti-sexual harassment policies and the procedures for addressing complaints.”
- The impact of this harassment—on those who experienced it as well as those who witnessed it—made interns “feel unsafe and alone in the workplace,” it “affected their openness to give opinions,” made it “harder to concentrate on working and getting the job done,” and resulted in “difficulty completing tasks.” Women who have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment report feeling unsafe and isolated in the workplace, unwilling to voice their opinions, and unable to concentrate on and complete their work. Individuals suffer psychological, physiological, and professional effects, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as feeling forced to change jobs.
One 2018 survey respondent said, “It definitely makes it harder to get the job done when men keep trying to make passes on you, make unwanted remarks about your outfits, and question your abilities to get the job done.”
Maggie Moore, a goddaughter of B.A. Rudolph and founding board member of the Foundation with her name, shares, “We are committed to empowering young women to rise up, both as professionals in the careers of their choosing, and as a core part of the solution to this systemic problem.”
Characteristics of Interns. Of the 1.5 million internships that are filled in the United States each year, half are held by women. Rise Up posits that these 750,000 women are even more at risk of sexual harassment than the larger female workforce because:
- They are typically under the age of 35, a group that is 12 percentage points more likely to experience sexual harassment than other age groups, and are also more likely to be unfamiliar with workplace policies and confidentiality documents, which can lead to uncertainty about their workplace rights.
- They tend to be temporary workers, which may reduce the perceived risk of repercussions for perpetrators of sexual harassment.
- They are often unpaid. Though women hold half of internships in the US, they are 20 percent more likely than men to take unpaid internships which means in many states they are not covered under employment laws. They hold the least power in their workplaces, which may make them targets for harassment and the least likely to report incidents when they do occur.
- Note: The EEOC states that harassment can be based on race, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, and sex—the latter of which includes actions against an employee due to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, and pregnancy. Each of these types of harassment, separately and in combination, cause harm. The focus of this white paper and fact sheet is on individuals who identify as women, and specifically on harassment against unpaid female interns, although the B.A. Rudolph Foundation acknowledges the intersectionality of identities and that anyone can experience harassment.
Resources and Recommendations. The fact sheet includes a list of clear steps for interns to follow if they experience or witness sexual harassment in the workplace, including documenting instances of harassment, identifying the point of contact in their office, talking with a superior, consulting their employee handbook, being clear with the harasser about their unacceptable behavior, finding support and resources, and meeting with the EEOC to file a complaint and/or a lawsuit. The document also directs interns to organizations that offer support and legal guidance, including the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC, which hosts the Time’s UP Legal Defense Fund), the Powershift Project at the Freedom Forum Institute, the Purple Campaign, RAINN, the Society for Human Resource Management, the Women’s Bar Association, Women in Government Relations, and the Women’s March.
These actionable tools empower women to end sexual harassment in the workplace for themselves, their colleagues, and their employers.
Full Report. To read the full white paper and fact sheet, visit: http://barudolphfoundation.org/riseup.
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About the B.A. Rudolph Foundation
Established in 2011, the B.A. Rudolph Foundation champions the educational and professional development of women for whom a small amount of support makes a significant difference. It envisions a society in which all women, especially women from traditionally un/underrepresented communities, have equal access to the profession of their choice. The B.A. Rudolph Foundation is committed to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In the spring of 2018, the B.A. Rudolph Foundation surveyed former recipients of its internship scholarship: 57 women who had held internship positions within the past seven years. Survey questions were designed by the staff of the B.A. Rudolph Foundation and were informed by a focus group of 5 former internship scholarship recipients. The women who received the survey held summer internships in academia (n=7), nonprofits (n=25), the government (n=23) and the private sector (n=2) as undergraduate and graduate students. 87.5 percent of scholarship recipients were between the ages of 19 and 25 at the time of their internship. The survey had a response rate of 39 percent, with 22 women responding; of those, 64 percent were undergraduates at the time of their internship and the remainder were recent graduates or in graduate school. The majority of respondents (72 percent) identified as white. The data from the survey were based on self-reported responses, and the survey was a reflexive design. Further, the report was informed by an exhaustive Literature and Landscape Review of the most current research on sexual harassment in the workforce, as well as discussions with key leaders in human resources and gender equity, including the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the National Women’s Law Center (which hosts of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund), the Powershift Project of the Freedom Forum Institute and hosted by the Newseum, the Purple Campaign, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Women in Government Relations (WGR), and the Women’s March.