How Sexual Harassment and Equal Pay are Interconnected

Women face two primary challenges in the workplace: getting equal pay to their male counterparts and working in a safe environment free of sexual harassment. The unfortunate reality is that both problems are prevalent in many employment situations, and minimal change has occurred or looks set to happen anytime soon.

Women’s safety and economic security remain under threat in the world of work. Many people assume that these are separate issues. Nevertheless, they are intimately intertwined. Here is how:

Facts and figures

A quick look at statistics shows how many women are victims of unequal pay and sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment attorneys from USAttorney’s professional directory decry both practices as deeply sexist. Overcoming them requires a paradigm shift that many role players are not ready to make.

According to recent surveys, women only earn about 80% of what men do in equivalent jobs. Therefore, for every $1,000 a man makes, his female colleague earns $800. This is despite her having identical qualifications and responsibilities. Additionally, 85% of women report experiencing sexual harassment at work. Both factors prevent women from achieving their actual economic and career potential.

Historical factors

Until 100 years ago, most women were mothers and homemakers, which society expected of them. The number of working women was infinitesimal, and they were shunned. Indeed, the only women active in the workforce were poorer women, employed as cleaners, nannies, and other low-paying positions. Historians believe this directly correlates with the consequences of slavery, as most of these working women were African American.

The concept of having women join the mainstream workforce only took hold during World War One when women took jobs otherwise performed by men while they served overseas.

Even then, women were expected to return to their roles as wives and mothers afterward. They entered the workforce in droves again during the next World War, and after that, women choosing to work became more common. Their late entry into the world of work created a pay bias that continues to exist today.


In patriarchal societies, women are treated as less valuable than men. For many years, women could not vote or have bank accounts. This may seem like a distant era in America, but it is not that long ago that women were second-class citizens. As such, men would take advantage of them in the workplace, sexually harassing them with impunity.

Whenever men were called out for this behavior, they would get away with saying that the woman asked for it because the people they accounted to were themselves, men. This created a workplace culture that normalized sexual harassment.

Lack of legislative will

America has laws banning unequal pay for men and women. However, employers continue to women as inferior, refusing to pay them equally or promote them because the perception remains that females are weaker, require more time off work because they have children, and leave the workforce in favor of motherhood.

Dialogues around gender equity cannot be meaningful without robust legislation backing them up. This perpetuates a cycle where women work for less money, hit glass ceilings, and face discriminatory behavior, including sexual harassment.

History of silence

For years, women were silenced and actively encouraged not to speak out about pay inequalities and sexual harassment. Those who dared to try faced even more discriminatory behavior. Victim shaming led to them re-experiencing their humiliation, trying to justify their claims of sexual harassment.

Watching how other women suffered after daring to stand up to the system made women feel there was no point in speaking out as they would face a similar fate. They effectively censored themselves and generations of female workers to come.