Bra-pinging, groping, sexual innuendoes, unwanted advances. It might sound like a scene from the retro television series Mad Men, but this is the reality today for half of all women in the UK workforce, according to a new survey from the country’s Trade Union Congress.

It’s the first time in decades the issue of sexual harassment at work has been researched in such detail, and the findings make for a grim read, says the TUC’s general-secretary, Frances O’Grady: “Sexual harassment is alive and well in the modern workplace.”

Of the 1,533 women surveyed, 52% said they had experienced workplace sexual harassment. The type of behaviour ranged from sexual comments – which 35% of women said they’d heard – to unwanted touching. More than 10% of the survey respondents said someone at work had tried to kiss them or touch their breasts, buttocks or genitals without their consent.

 Sexual harassment at work in the UK
Image: TUC

Perhaps even more worrying, and a reflection of the progress that is still to be made, most women did not report the sexual harassment to their employer.

 Reporting of workplace sexual harassment in the UK
Image: TUC

Over a quarter of those who did not report the sexual harassment said they were worried the complaint would negatively affect their workplace relationships, and almost as many said they feared their allegations would not be taken seriously.

Why women choose not to report workplace sexual harassment
Image: TUC

The TUC research relates to the UK job market, but previous surveys suggest the problem is as widespread in other countries.

The International Labour Organization, for example, has reported that as many as 50% of women in the European Union have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace.

In the anonymous responses that formed part of the survey, many women suggested the behaviour was so widespread that they had resigned themselves to the fact it would continue – in work and beyond.

“I don’t report these behaviours because they are normal. This kind of stuff happens all the time, in every part of life,” one woman explained. It’s a point backed up by 2014 research from the European Union, which found that 52% of women had experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15.

The TUC findings will hopefully go some way to not only confronting this behaviour, but also the idea that sexual harassment is simply par for the course.

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