This story appeared in Q&Q’s sexual-harassment survey feature in the May 2019 print edition.
In early February, Q&Q ran a survey hoping to better understand the prevalence of sexual harassment within the Canadian publishing industry. In total, 185 people responded to the anonymous survey; 53.5 per cent reported that they had experienced harassment, most frequently in the form of unwanted touching and staring, verbal remarks, and persistent invitations of a sexual nature. An even larger number (63.2 per cent) say they have witnessed harassment, assault, or predatory behaviour. Seven people reported online or physical stalking, and there were two reports of sexual assault or rape.
The majority of those who reported having been harassed are women (86 per cent), most of whom are currently employed in full-time positions in their early to mid-careers, with nearly half describing their industry experience as between three and 10 years. The accused harassers are most often peers or colleagues (32.1 per cent), followed closely by employers (28.3 per cent). Individuals with influence and authors make up the accused in the remaining percentage of incidents.
“While away at sales conferences, he would try to corner me and get me alone to get me to go out with him. He would stare at me in meetings. It was all so awful that I felt sick to my stomach going in every single day. This went on for years.”
Female employees in sales and marketing, editorial, and publicity roles – all of which demand relationship management and social networking – are most likely to experience harassment. Sixty-three per cent of the executive-level employees at publishing houses and industry-related organizations who took part in the survey report they had been harassed at some point in their careers.
The majority of incidents occurred in the office (36.4 per cent), followed by book launches and other after-hours events (25.2 per cent), conferences, trade shows, or offsite meetings (13.1 per cent). Given that Canadian publishing is a small but social industry, and there is a lot of movement among companies and organizations, it can be difficult for a person to completely avoid their harasser either in the office or outside. This feeling of entrapment is a contributing factor to the high number of respondents (42.5 per cent) who say that the harassment has affected their long-term physical and/or mental health.
“The person in question is often in the office and I do get very angry when I see him, and I am frequently concerned there will be other situations where he will be alone with other young women in the company.”
Some people describe taking medical leaves, anti-anxiety medications, or going to therapy to help cope with conditions such as depression, insomnia, and panic attacks. Others are looking to give up their publishing careers altogether, with one person saying, “I am actively trying to leave the industry because I believe it is profoundly broken and beyond repair.”
An overwhelming majority of these incidents were never reported. Most believe that it wouldn’t make a difference and would lead to negative repercussions on their own careers. One respondent had her concerns confirmed when she was “bullied into accepting that the comments weren’t really sexual harassment [but] just boys’ club” and was told “if I didn’t drop the claim it would limit my opportunities.”
Others speak of coming forward and having their claims downgraded or dismissed entirely by their employers or human-resources staff. In fact, 82.5 per cent say their complaints were not handled to their satisfaction. One person was told “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Another was pressured to keep quiet because her harasser was going through a tough time in his marriage. When it came to working with an abusive but “important” author, one person’s accusations were dismissed because of the author’s social-justice work.
“After 40 years in this business, I can only imagine what my career would have been without harassment. … My experience of sexual harassment, abuse – and one assault from a co-worker – was constant.”