Sex/gender analysis: Are risks of violence at work higher for men or women? It depends on type of violence

Men and women face similar risks of physical violence at work, but the risks of sexual violence at work are four times higher for women

Published: August 6, 2018

When it comes to workplace violence, are women at greater risk than men? The raw numbers would suggest a straight-up “yes”. But the answer is less clear cut when other factors are considered—most importantly, the type of violence in question.

According to an IWH analysis of about 30,000 responses to Statistics Canada’s 2009 and 2014 General Social Surveys focusing on victimization, the risk of physical and sexual violence was 75 per cent higher for women than for men. And after taking into account number of hours worked (an important factor given that women are more likely than men to work part-time) other work factors (occupation, industry and work schedule) and personal factors (age, marital status, education, home province, and rural or urban setting), the risk of workplace violence remained 57 per cent higher for women than for men. The results of the study, led by Smith, are included in a paper published online in July by Annals of Work Exposure and Health (doi:10.1093/annweh/wxy066).

The picture completely changed, however, when the research team analyzed physical and sexual violence separately. Looking only at physical violence at work, and after taking all personal and workplace factors into account, differences in risk by sex/gender essentially disappeared. That is, the risks of physical violence for women and men were about the same.

This tells us that much of what produces differences between men and women in terms of risk of physical violence is due to the differences in the types of jobs, shift schedules and industries in which men and women work, said Smith at an IWH Speaker Series presentation in March, where he discussed these findings.

As for sexual violence at work, women were four times more likely than men to experience this form of violence. That elevated risk held true whether the research team took into account only hours worked, all workplace factors, or all workplace and individual factors. When it comes to sexual violence at work, women are many more times at risk than men, and that’s true regardless of what other factors are taken into account, noted Smith.