By Megha Sevalia, Program Intern
The lifetime cost of workplace sexual harassment can reach as high as $1.3 million per person in certain industries.1
This alarming statistic was reported by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in its newly released report on the financial costs of workplace sexual harassment. Through a series of case studies and detailed calculations, the report uncovered estimates on the direct and downstream financial impacts of sexual harassment for the first time.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research’s report introduces the stories of three working women who faced varying financial setbacks following workplace sexual harassment: Denise, Sierra, and Gabriella. Denise’s experience highlights the tactics that are used to keep women out of male-dominated industries and perpetuate occupational gender segregation. Sierra’s workplace harassment led to employment retaliation and dismissal. Gabriella’s story demonstrates the economic and housing insecurity that many low-income workers face following sexual harassment. Along with the impacts shown through each story, it has become evident that sexual harassment directly leads to reduced earnings, job loss, forced career change, lost benefits, increased medical fees, legal fees, costs of re-training, and costs of re-education. Indirect impacts can also include adverse consequences on personal finance (such as debt escalation), reduced ability to accumulate wealth, housing insecurity, and retirement insecurity, among other downstream impacts. Lastly, intangible costs of sexual harassment include deteriorating physical health, psychological trauma, and related harm.
The extensive list of financial impacts that workplace sexual harassment has on individuals reveals the severity of this issue, one which has been long overlooked. Today, at least one in four women experience sexual harassment in the workplace, and many never report their harassment experience.1 While sexual harassment is present in most industries, it is especially prevalent in male-dominated industries, physically isolated workplaces, and decentralized employment structures. Some industries, such as construction and transportation, overlap many of these risk factors. The risk of sexual harassment is further perpetuated by indifferent workplace attitudes, incompetence in addressing inappropriate behavior, broken reporting systems, and fear of retaliation. Undoubtedly, sexual harassment in the workplace is a significant economic, cultural, and public health crisis in the United States. However, the policies designed to prevent this issue are not effective. In fact, ineffective policies were actually found to compound the financial impact on survivors. The report encourages further research to be conducted on this issue so as to create comprehensive and effective policy solutions in the future.
Nevertheless, as shown by the recent report, it is more important than ever to economically empower survivors to take steps towards financially securing their futures. MCASA is developing a new Money Matters training to increase resources to address this issue. It currently incorporates financial safety planning as a resource for providers to offer survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault and more tools will be developed in the future. Although proactive measures are needed to prevent workplace sexual harassment, financial safety planning is one step that can be taken to support survivors today.
To learn more about the financial impacts of workplace sexual harassment and financial safety planning, visit the link to the full report of the Paying Today and Tomorrow: Charting the Financial Costs of Workplace Sexual Harassment issued by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. https://iwpr.org/iwpr-publications/paying-today-and-tomorrow-report/
Hegewisch, A., Forden, J., & Mefferd, E. (2021, July 21). Paying Today and Tomorrow: Charting the Financial Costs of Workplace Sexual Harassment. Institute for Women’s Policy Research. https://iwpr.org/iwpr-publications/paying-today-and-tomorrow-report/