The Hidden Impact Of Domestic Violence On The Gender Wage Gap

Abuse and violence against women is one reason why some women don’t earn as much as men for the same jobs.

The Hidden Impact Of Domestic Violence On The Gender Wage Gap
[Photo: Flickr user fedewild]

Pay equity is about more than just gender equality at work. Violence against women also plays a role in the wage gap, according to a report from McKinsey & Company.


The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in the United States, finds that closing the wage gap could add up to $4.3 trillion annually to the GDP by 2025. But violence against women is one of the six factors impacting pay equity in the United States.

Fast Company covered some of the other factors working against pay parity for women from the report. They included lack of representation in leadership and managerial positions (there are 66 women for every 100 men in managerial positions), time spent in unpaid care work (women do almost twice the amount of unpaid care work), single mothers (60% of families living in poverty are led by a single mother), teenage pregnancy (600,000 girls ages 16 to 19 become pregnant each year) and political representation (there are 30 women in every 100 men in political office).

“There is a direct correlation between violence and the financial piece,” says Vivian Riefberg, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company and one of the report’s authors. “Women who suffer violence are likely to see an impact on their earning potential due to lost productivity and lost work days.”

This is more common than you may know. As many as one in three women experience violence from an intimate partner, the report found. And there is one incident of sexual violence (not just rape, but all forms of violence) for every two women.

Using data from a CDC report, McKinsey’s analysts calculated that violence against women costs about $4.9 billion in the United States annually. Seventy percent of this comes from direct medical costs, 15% from lost productivity, and 15% from lost earnings over women’s lifetimes.


Perception vs. Reality When Workers Experience Domestic Violence

Victims of domestic violence have missed opportunities for promotions and pay raises because it appears they have performance issues, she says. “We hear from women on a regular basis that domestic violence prevents them from going into work,” says Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

It is not uncommon for the abuser to make the victim appear unreliable in the workplace, says Lisalyn R. Jacobs, CEO of Just Solutions. That’s because one way an abuser is able to control the victim is through their finances.

For instance, she says, the abuser might promise to take the kids to school in the morning, but then say they can’t. Or, they might commit an act of violence the day before an important meeting or an interview. They might show up at the victim’s workplace or keep calling her there and harass her or her colleagues.

“They will commit any type of behavior that causes an employer to do a cost-benefit analysis around whether to keep you employed,” says Jacobs. “This can have an effect on employment history and whether someone gets promoted or is eligible for a raise.”

A woman with a black eye or bruises in a visible place is more likely to call in sick, rather explain what happened, says Ellen Bravo, director of Family Values @ Work, an organization that advocates for paid family leave and sick leave. This is particularly true, she says, if the woman has experienced repeated violence and has made up multiple excuses like being in a car accident or falling down the stairs. “In most cases,” says Bravo, “your employer will see you as a unreliable employee, rather than someone who is being abused.”


Victims of domestic violence also risk job loss, says Dina Bakst, cofounder and copresident of A Better Balance, a national legal advocacy organization that advocates for family-friendly laws and workplace policies. Between 25% and 50% of domestic violence survivors report job loss, due at least in part to the domestic violence, according to research from the Joint Center for Poverty Research at Northwestern University. Once you lose one job, it’s harder to get a new job. If you lose two jobs, it becomes increasingly harder to find employment which exacerbates the wage gap, Bakst says.

Local Legislative Efforts Focus On Paid “Safe Time”

To help level the playing field, A Better Balance is working with cities, counties, and states to pass legislation that would give victims of domestic violence paid “safe time.” Paid safe time is necessary because it takes time to deal with the legal and medical issues resulting from domestic violence such as going to court, finding and moving to a new home, and seeing a counselor.

Bravo points out that it typically takes three hours to file the paperwork to get an injunction against an abuser. Courthouse employees say it’s not uncommon for a woman come in, start the process, then realize they need to go back to work or risk losing their jobs, she adds.

To date, five states (California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Vermont), 10 localities (Montgomery County, Maryland; Seattle, San Diego, Tacoma, Washington; Spokane, Washington; Santa Monica, California; Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.) have passed safe time laws, says Jared Make, senior staff attorney at A Better Balance.

In addition, San Francisco is in the process of adding safe time to its paid sick leave law. The provision is expected to be in place in 2017. Although California has a statewide safe time law, California cities are passing their own laws to provide added protections, Make says.


This comparison chart outlines state laws regarding paid time off for sick and safe time leave.

Meanwhile Washington state, Arizona, and the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, are asking voters to decide this November whether to provide paid safe time, and St. Paul, Minnesota, is working on a legislative initiative to provide paid safe time, Make says.

Recognizing When Domestic Violence Is Impacting Work

Advocates for domestic violence victims say rather than automatically firing an employee who appears unreliable, managers should take time to find out what’s going on. Here are five signs to look for, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

  1. An employee who calls in sick frequently and is using all of their sick and vacation time.
  2. An employee who suddenly seems more withdrawn or depressed.
  3. An employee who asks you to divert funds to another savings or checking account, particularly if they are promoted or given a raise.
  4. An employee whose partner comes around the workplace more frequently.
  5. An employee who is constantly getting phone calls or text messages and appears distracted by them.

An employee who is showing not just one, but all of these signs, could be experiencing abuse at home, Ray-Jones says.

To accommodate victims of domestic violence, employers could consider changing their phone number, moving their desk away from a window or public area, putting a lock on the employee’s office door, and having a policy in place that protects victims of violence, says Kiersten Stewart, director of public policy and advocacy at Futures Without Violence.


“Know the warning signs,” Bravo advises employers, “and make it a safe place for someone to tell the right person, ‘I’m in trouble and it may affect my attendance and performance and it’s not because I’m not a good employee.’”