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Does Sexual Harassment Contribute to the Gender Pay Gap?

There has never been one specific reason for the prevalence of the gender pay gap in the workplace, despite the fact that it is an issue that crops up continually. It is in some part due to patriarchal culture – men feeling that they need to be paid more than women because they feel they are superior – and it could in some part be due to the fact that the jobs men have pay more lucratively.

Recent research has, however, thrown another variable into the equation: sexual harassment. According to Joni Hersch, an economist at Vanderbilt University, jobs that have bigger paychecks also carry a higher rate of sexual harassment, which can have effects ranging from hits to self-esteem to an impact on women’s mental health.

In research done by sociologists Amy Blackstone, Christopher Uggen and Heather McLaughlin, women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace are 6.5 times more likely to leave their jobs, which means the flow of women who are supposedly entering into jobs below their skill level is quite strong. This in turn can reflect on the amount of women who are participating in the gender pay gap.

To determine what was sexual harassment, the group consulted with 1,000 men and women on what they considered to be workplace harassment, and answers ranged from behaviors such as unwanted touching and offensive jokes. Among the women who had been asked, 80 percent of the women who had considered such behaviors workplace harassment had left their position in two years. Hersch’s research found that job relocations were often to ones that had a higher volume of women, and were considered “safer.”

The one downside? These jobs paid less. Even if the fields were somewhat similar in terms of expertise needed, the pay sums were certainly lessened. Kristian Lum is someone who understands this especially; she had been working in the realm of academia when she was groped at a conference. Her new position at a nonprofit offers less pay and security than that of before, but she is more comfortable because of it.

“I was looking to get away,” she says. “There was a general feeling of, ‘I just don’t want to be around this.'”

The same happened to Samantha Ainsley, who was harassed by one of her professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After being accused of sleeping with her peers to advance her career, Ainsley left the academic fast track and became a software engineer at Google. “[It was] a much more modest career than I had aspired to originally,” she says. “I had to, in a sense, start over.”

Hersch’s research also found out that there was only one instance in which the gender pay gap could be dissolved – in jobs that are classified as in hostile environments, and for that, employees are given hazard pay. Still, the pay gap exists – women only make half as much extra in an hour (25 cents) than men do (50 cents). Working in a physically hostile environment is already taxing enough, but if women in such an environment are experiencing sexual harassment as well, the extra 25 cents an hour seems to be a paltry sum.

Workplace harassment and the gender pay gap are two monumental issues, yet they are also inextricably linked. It is possible, though not certain, that solving one can lead to a resolution of the other, but nevertheless, it is important that both issues, whether connected or not, should be solved.

Featured Image by Pictures of Money on Flickr

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