Despite being prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, workplace sexual harassment remains pervasive and pernicious. Sexual harassment is one of many manifestations of power imbalances in the workplace. It affects women and men across industries and occupations. And, it can have greater consequences for women who face other forms of discrimination and harassment, such as women of color, LGBTQ women and women with disabilities.National Women’s Law Center. (2018, August). Out of the Shadows: An Analysis of Sexual Harassment Charges Filed by Working Women. Retrieved 22 February 2023, from https://nwlc.org/resources/out-of-the-shadows-an-analysis-of-sexual-harassment-charges-filed-by-working-women/; Kearl, H. (2018, February). The Facts Behind the #MeToo Movement: A National Study on Sexual Harassment and Assault. Stop Street Harassment, GfK, Raliance and University of California San Diego Center on Gender Equity and Health Publication. Retrieved 22 February 2023, from http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Full-Report-2018-National-Study-on-Sexual-Harassment-and-Assault.pdf
While sexual harassment is increasingly being recognized in the national dialogue, it is nothing new – and over time it has negatively impacted women’s workplace opportunities and career decisions, resulting in significant and often overlooked financial consequences. Preventing and effectively addressing workplace sexual harassment is one way to help close the gender wage gap and promote women’s financial security.
Sexual harassment can impede a woman’s job performance, workplace advancement and earnings.
- One in three women say they have experienced sexual harassment or abuse in the workplace.Marist Institute for Public Opinion. (2017, November). More than One in Three Women Report Sexual Harassment In the Workplace. Retrieved 22 February 2023, from http://maristpoll.marist.edu/1122-more-than-one-in-three-women-report-sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace/; Morning Consult/Vox Media. (2018, March). National Tracking Poll. Retrieved 22 February 2023, from https://morningconsult.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/180313_crosstabs_VOX_ALL-WOMEN-1.pdf Women who experience sexual harassment at work often avoid reporting it for fear of retaliation, termination or inaction.Cain Miller, C. (2017, April). It’s Not Just Fox: Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Harassment. The New York Times. Retrieved 22 February 2023, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/10/upshot/its-not-just-fox-why-women-dont-report-sexual-harassment.html; Morning Consult/Vox Media. (2018, March). National Tracking Poll. Retrieved 22 February 2023, from https://morningconsult.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/180313_crosstabs_VOX_ALL-WOMEN-1.pdf Among women who do report sexual harassment to their employers, nearly half report being dissatisfied with the response.Morning Consult/Vox Media. (2018, March). National Tracking Poll. Retrieved 22 February 2023, from https://morningconsult.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/180313_crosstabs_VOX_ALL-WOMEN-1.pdf
- Many women who experience sexual harassment at work report increased anxiety and depression, which is associated with lower productivity and poorer performance at work.Merkin, R., & Kamal Shah, M. (2014, May). The impact of sexual harassment on job satisfaction, turnover intentions, and absenteeism: findings from Pakistan compared to the United States. SpringerPlus, 3(215). doi:10.1186/2193-1801-3-215; Young, J. (2016, December 1). What Are the Costs of Workplace Sexual Harassment?. EVERFI Blog. Retrieved 22 February 2023 from https://everfi.com/insights/blog/the-effects-of-sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace/ Some report experiencing a decline in job involvement and satisfaction, as well as increases in absenteeism, turnover, early retirement and a range of negative health outcomes.Ibid.; Thurston, R. C., Chang, Y., & Matthews, K. A. (2019, January). Association of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault With Midlife Women’s Mental and Physical Health. JAMA Internal Medicine, 179(1): 48-53. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.4886
- Women in workplaces that do not address sexual harassment may feel less empowered to negotiate salaries and raises, depressing their long-term earnings and advancement.
Sexual harassment can affect women’s career choices directly and indirectly, reinforcing occupational segregation and perpetuating the wage gap.
- Women who say they’ve experienced sexual harassment at work are 6.5 times as likely to change jobs as women who have not – often to a job of lower quality or with lower pay.McLaughlin, H., Uggen, C., & Blackstone, A. (2017, June). The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women. Gender & Society. 31(3), pp 333-358. doi:10.1177/0891243217704631
- Hostile work environments often discourage women from entering, or push women out of, certain industries, increasing occupational gender segregation.Durana, A., Lenhart, A., Miller, R., Schulte, B., & Weingarten, E. (2018, September). Sexual Harassment: A Severe and Pervasive Problem. Retrieved 22 February 2023 from New America website: https://www.newamerica.org/better-life-lab/reports/sexual-harassment-severe-and-pervasive-problem/
- Sexual harassment exists in every industry and occupation, but there are industries where it is especially prevalent,Ibid; Thuy Vo, L. (2017, December 5). We Got Government Data On 20 Years Of Workplace Sexual Harassment Claims. These Charts Break It Down. Buzzfeed News. Retrieved 22 February 2023, from https://www.buzzfeed.com/lamvo/eeoc-sexual-harassment-data and male-dominated industries that have historically excluded women, like manufacturing and construction, report more incidences of sexual harassment.Frye, J. (2017, November). Not Just the Rich and Famous: The Pervasiveness of Sexual Harassment Across Industries Affects All Workers. Retrieved 22 February 2023 from Center for American Progress website: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/news/2017/11/20/443139/not-just-rich-famous/; Parker, K. (2018, March). Women in majority-male workplaces report higher rates of gender discrimination. Retrieved 22 February 2023 from Pew Research Center website: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/07/women-in-majority-male-workplaces-report-higher-rates-of-gender-discrimination/; McLaughlin, H., Uggen, C., & Blackstone, A. (2017, June). The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women. Gender & Society. 31(3), pp 333-358. doi:10.1177/0891243217704631. More than one-quarter of tradeswomen report being always or frequently harassed just for being a woman. For women of color, combined gender and racial harassment is a leading cause of high attrition.Hegeswisch, A., & Mefferd, E. (2022, February). A Future Worth Building: What Tradeswomen Say about the Change They Need in the Construction Industry. Retrieved 22 February 2023, from Institute for Women’s Policy Research website: https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/A-Future-Worth-Building_What-Tradeswomen-Say_FINAL.pdf
- Many women take pay cuts and make sacrifices that harm their careers to escape sexual harassment.McLaughlin, H., Uggen, C., & Blackstone, A. (2017, June). The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women. Gender & Society. 31(3), pp 333-358. doi:10.1177/0891243217704631 Women who have been sexually harassed at work report significant disruption and financial stress, comparable to the financial stress of individuals who have experienced other major negative events such as serious injury, assault or incarceration.McLaughlin, H., Uggen, C., & Blackstone, A. (2017, June). The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women. Gender & Society. 31(3), p 342. doi:10.1177/0891243217704631
For women of color, the consequences of workplace sexual harassment can be even more devastating.
- Women of color often face intersecting forms of discrimination and harassment. Many avoid disclosing workplace sexual harassment because of the heightened risk of retaliation, doubt, victim-blaming and other harmful, prejudiced responses.See note 1; see also Haines Whack, E. (2017, November 18). Why few women of color in wave of accusers? ‘Stakes higher’. Associated Press. Retrieved 22 February 2023, from https://apnews.com/34a278ca43e24c5587c911ead5fac67c This indicates that women of color may be less likely to have their experiences of sexual harassment addressed or their rights enforced.
- The financial consequences of reporting harassment and facing retaliation, or leaving a job due to harassment, can be even more severe for many women of color because they face the greatest wage gaps. Typically, Native American women are paid 51 cents, Latinas are paid 54 cents, Black women are paid 64 cents, white, non-Hispanic women are paid 73 cents and Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) women are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, and the wage gap is even larger for women of some ethnic subgroups of AANHPI women.National Partnership for Women & Families. (2022, October). America’s Women and the Wage Gap. Retrieved 22 February 2023, from https://nationalpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/americas-women-and-the-wage-gap.pdf
Learn more about the gender wage gap at NationalPartnership.org/Gap