NEW YORK: A majority of women employed in the US ad industry have experienced sexual harassment at work and feel vulnerable to suffering discrimination in their professional lives, according to a poll by the 4A's (American Association of Advertising Agencies).

The trade body surveyed 375 women working in the advertising industry, with 43% occupying middle-management roles and 33% holding senior-management positions. Another 12% were in the C-suite, while 2% were interns.

And it discovered that more than 50% had "experienced sexual harassment at least once" at work – a statistic following in the wake of Kevin Roberts' resignation as Executive Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi last week after suggesting the "debate is over" concerning gender equality.

Fully 39% of the 4A's contributors felt "somewhat vulnerable" to being on the receiving end of unfair treatment at work due to their gender, and 15% believed they were "very vulnerable".

The study also found that a majority of respondents had been discriminated against in the past without realising it at the time. More specifically, the 4A's stated that 40% of its panel "somewhat agreed" with this statement, and 19% "totally agreed".

"The stats show conclusively what many of us believed to be true; that harassment and discrimination are more prevalent than what the leadership at agencies would like to admit," said Nancy Hill, President/CEO of the 4A's

A further 33% of participants had "not received desired assignments or promotions because of discrimination", the organisation's analysis revealed.

Forty-two percent of interviewees reported being omitted from making decisions they should have been involved in for the same reason.

"We must create environments where women and other people of diversity feel comfortable and safe – and where those people know that it is OK to call out bad behaviour when it happens," Hill said.

Data sourced from 4A's; additional content by Warc staff