Sexual Harassment and the Wage Gap – the Link Between Power and Pay Disparities in the Workplace

By Victoria Comeaux

In October of 2017, The New York Times and The New Yorker published reports that detailed serious allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood heavyweight producer Harvey Weinstein.[1] Weinstein has since been accused of sexual abuse, harassment, and misconduct by over eighty women, acts which span three decades.[2] Since the allegations against Weinstein have emerged, the floodgates have opened, and women of varying ages, ethnicities, socio-economic statuses, industries, experiences, etc. have come forward to tell their own stories of sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of the men in their own lives. Time Magazine even named “The Silence Breakers” – those women who publically spoke out against their harassers and refused to be silenced – as the person of the year.[3]

 

This wave of allegations has brought about a societal self-reflection into the driving causes that have allowed sexual harassment and abuse to fester for so long. In particular, there has been a realization that power dynamics within the work force are a major contributing factor to workplace sexual harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has analyzed the risk factors for harassment in the workplace.[4] One of these factors is “workplaces with significant power disparities.”[5] The EEOC notes that gendered power disparities put low-ranking female employees at risk for exploitation by supervisors and those in a position of authority and power.[6]

 

Just as the power disparities can contribute to workplace harassment, they can also contribute to pay disparities. The gender wage gap has been a civil rights issue that has been debated and discussed for years. Labor force statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Labor for 2016 indicate that women made 82 cents for every dollar made by men.[7] Since the wave of sexual misconduct allegations have emerged, however, the wage gap is being reexamined in a new light. It has become clear that harassment in the workplace significantly contributes to the wage gap. For example, harassment can lead to increased occupational segregation.[8] Abusive behavior within the workplace often encourages women to gravitate towards industries that are considered “safer” or, in other words, those that predominately employee women.[9] Analysis performed by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research “confirms that average earnings tend to be lower the higher the percentage of female workers in an occupation,” especially since women-dominated fields tend to be lower-skilled and have less educational requirements.[10]

 

According to research conducted by sociologists Amy Blackstone, Christopher Uggen and Heather McLaughlin, “women who experience sexual harassment at work are 6.5 times more likely to leave their jobs compared with women who don’t.”[11] When women do leave their jobs, they are often not moving upwards. Instead, they are forced to begin again in “less lucrative fields or positions,” which has “a negative economic effect on women that persists through the rest of their working years.”[12]

 

Additionally, according to Ariane Hegewisch, the study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women who experience harassment in the workplace can suffer from losses in productivity and often take more time off from work.[13] Furthermore, “women who experience harassment can lose their drive or develop anxiety and depression, any of which can have an adverse effect on productivity or performance, according to Lisa Kath, a psychology professor at San Diego State University who studies workplace harassment.”[14] When productivity and performance suffer, “opportunities for professional advancement — and higher earning power — also decline.”[15]

 

Not only do sexual harassment and power disparities discourage women from entering or staying in certain higher-paying fields, but there is also evidence that “women employed in workplaces where sexual harassment is common earn a bit more than they would in jobs with a lower risk.”[16] Vanderbilt professor of law and economics Joni Hersch published a study in 2011 that investigated the link between women’s pay and sexual harassment.[17] Hersch “found that across all industries, people in jobs with a higher risk of sexual harassment earn a premium — in other words, slightly higher wages, roughly 25 cents per hour for women and 50 cents for men — relative to people in jobs with a lower risk of sexual harassment.”[18] In other words, lucrative careers and senior positions both “often pose higher risks of sexual harassment” for women.[19] Thus, those women who are not willing to put up with hostile work environments and sexual harassment are forced to leave and, as a result, sacrifice a potential higher paycheck for safety.[20]

 

The connection between sexual misconduct and the wage gap is not one-sided. Workplace harassment not only contributes to the existence of wage gap, but is also worsened by financial disparities in a cyclical fashion. For example, the wage gap contributes to the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and abuse by confirming the dynamic that women are lesser than their male counterparts.[21] This encourages continued abuse, as the role of women in the workplace remains as one that is seen as inferior and dispensable.

 

A blind eye can no longer be turned to these systemic problems. In order to address sexual harassment and abuse, we must address the root of these issues. This includes the wage gap, which impacts the role of women in the work place. Until women are considered economically equal in the workplace, they will continue to face abuse, occupational segregation, and negative power disparities.

[1] Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey, Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades, N.Y. Times (Oct. 5, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/us/harvey-weinstein-harassment-allegations.html?_r=0; Ronan Farrow, From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories, The New Yorker (Oct. 10, 2017, 10:47 AM), https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/from-aggressive-overtures-to-sexual-assault-harvey-weinsteins-accusers-tell-their-stories.

 

[2] Sara M. Moniuszko & Cara Kelly, Harvey Weinstein Scandal: A Complete List of the 84 Accusers, USA Today, https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2017/10/27/weinstein-scandal-complete-list-accusers/804663001/ (last updated Dec. 13, 2017, 2:56 PM).

 

[3] Stephanie Zacharek et al., The Silence Breakers, Time Magazine (Dec. 18, 2017), http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-2017-silence-breakers/?utm_campaign=time&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social&xid=time_socialflow_twitter.

 

[4] Chart of Risk Factors for Harassment and Responsive Strategies, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/risk-factors.cfm (last visited Jan. 15, 2018).

 

[5] Id.

 

[6] Id.

 

[7] Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat39.htm (last modified Feb. 8, 2017).

 

[8] Julia Carpenter, The Link Between the Gender Wage Gap and Sexual Harassment, CNN Money (Jan. 4, 2018, 9:25 AM), http://money.cnn.com/2018/01/04/pf/pay-gap-sexual-harassment/index.html.

 

[9] Id.

 

[10] Ariane Hegewisch et al., Separate and Not Equal? Gender Segregation in the Labor Market and the Gender Wage Gap, Inst. For Women’s Policy Research, Sept. 2010, at 1, 1, https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/wpallimport/files/iwpr-export/publications/C377.pdf.

 

[11] Rebecca Greenfield & Laura Colby, Sexual Harassment Helps Explain Why Women Get Paid Less, L.A. Times (Jan. 6, 2018, 6:00 AM), http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-sex-harassment-women-pay-20180114-story.html.

 

[12] Id.

 

[13] Carpenter, supra note 8.

 

[14] Greenfield, supra note 11.

 

[15] Id.

 

[16] Jane Coaston, How Sexual Harassment Might Make the Gender Pay Gap Even Worse, Vox (Nov 30, 2017, 10:00 AM), https://www.vox.com/2017/11/30/16706162/sexual-harassment-wage-gap-studies.

 

[17] Id.

 

[18] Id.

 

[19] Greenfield, supra note 11.

 

[20] Greenfield, supra note 11.

 

[21] Carpenter, supra note 8.

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