Half of women aged 28-40 claim that they experienced bullying or harassment at work over the past three years, according to a survey of 25,000 women in the UK carried out for a report by the charity Opportunity Now and professional services group, PwC .
A further 12 per cent said they had been sexually harassed – defined in the report's authors as "unwelcome comments of a sexual nature" - although fewer than one per cent said they had reported it.
In an attempt to minimise the self-selecting nature of such surveys, the report defined bullying and harassment as being blocked from training or promotion opportunities, being deliberately undermined, overbearing supervision, unfair treatment, exclusion or victimisation.
But the most common form of bullying experienced by women at work is harassment by other women. Many women who had been bullied by other women said that more senior colleagues felt threatened by their abilities.
"Women often experience bullying by female colleagues and line managers," the report says, "a point echoed by focus group participants who thought female bullies felt threatened by potential and ability and so exploited their position or authority to undermine."
A quarter of women said that their boss overloaded them with work and constantly criticised them, while a similar proportion said they had suffered from "over-bearing supervision or other misuse of power or position".
Even women at board level reported issues, with 52 per cent saying they had experienced some form of harassment.
On the rare occasions where incidents were reported, the response from employers was generally wholly inadequate, the report found. "Bullying will always happen – but there needs to be an effective and open way of dealing with it,' one woman is quoted as saying.
"In mishandling what happened to me so badly, the organisation completely destroyed my faith in it and any belief I had that such a situation would not happen again."
Only four out of 10 women surveyed for the report felt that they have the same opportunities for advancement as men in their workplace, while six out of 10 said that their organisation is too male dominated.
The report urged companies to "recognise that harassment and bullying still occurs, despite well-meaning policies. Call it out, deal with perpetrators, and make it simple and straightforward to report."