5 Reasons Why Black Women Get Sexually Harassed More at Work

Several studies and reports indicate that black women experience sexual harassment in employment much more than their white peers. This article investigates the combination of factors that leave women of color in such a vulnerable workplace position.

While movements against both racial injustice and harassment are more at the forefront than ever, recent studies indicate that black female workers are far more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace. Moreover, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) data suggests this is a problem that is intensifying rather than showing signs of improvement.

The EEOC figures show that in 1996, black women were twice as likely to file a complaint as their white female peers. Regrettably, this figure has doubled over a decade, with black women four times more likely to do so in 2016. The (EEOC) reported that less than 14% of people undergoing sexual harassment ever file a complaint.

Studies by lobbying groups such as the National Women’s Law Center have delved further into the issue to investigate the causal factors behind this widespread problem, affecting black women at all seniority levels and across multiple industries.

Why are black women more likely to get sexually harassed in the workplace?

The socioeconomic vulnerability of black women has long been a problem. Sexual harassment perpetrated against black women at work can largely be attributed to the socioeconomic injustices against black and minority ethnic people experience in the workplace daily.

The forces of systemic racism and gender inequality have relegated a large proportion of women and people of color to opportunities in lower-paid industries, leaving them more vulnerable to employers, managers, and supervisors who sexually harass them.

Furthermore, with over one in three women reporting that they were retaliated against for filing their sexual harassment complaints, this adds considerably to the emotional stress that all women feel. Black women, in particular, carry a large amount of the retaliation burden.

High distribution of people of color in problematic industries

A recent study conducted by the National Women’s Law Center discovered a high prevalence of complaints filed by black women in:

  • Health care and social assistance
  • Accommodations and food services
  • Retail
  • Manufacturing
  • Waste management
  • Administrative
  • Waste management
  • Remediation services

Negative social attitudes towards these work lines result in many women experiencing harassment of a sexual nature in their workplace. Additionally, low compensation in these industries leaves women of color in a financial vulnerability position and less monetary resources to pursue legal recourse.

Lack of women of color in positions of authority

A study performed by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co shows that a lack of black and female management is a potential root cause of this troubling issue. The Women in the Workplace 2018 study suggests that women of color are highly underrepresented in white-collar industries and are less likely to be promoted to a management role. This may leave black women in junior positions feeling as though there is not enough of a support structure in place for them to seek redress.

Stereotypical perceptions of women of color

While we are much more cautious of typecasting and racial stereotypes today, much investigative journalism has suggested that representations of women of color in film, literature, and other media forms have created harmful tropes that can manifest in real-life situations.

Over-sexualisation of black women and other people of color in the media has been attributed as a potential cause of women being more likely to suffer vexatious behavior at work.

Racial disparities and bias in the U.S. justice system

Historically, African American men and women have fared far worse at the hands of legal structures and authorities than their white counterparts. Reports suggest that this has eroded faith in the U.S. justice system among black and minority ethnicities.

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that in 2019, nine out of ten black participants believed they were treated less fairly by the criminal justice system.

The Center for American Progress reported that the following four professions filed the most sexual harassment complaints to the EEOC from 2005-2015:

  • Accommodations and food services: 14.23%
  • Retail trade: 13.44%
  • Manufacturing: 11.72%
  • Health care and social assistance: 11.48%

Sexual harassment potential problem jobs include:

  • Jobs where people tend to work alone
  • Positions in isolated working conditions
  • Posts that are low paying, like several of the jobs from the list above

To stop and prevent the scourge of sexual harassment of black women in the workforce, employers, managers, and supervisors will have to promote more qualified women into management positions. It has been proven that when companies have women in leadership roles, their sexual harassment complaints tend to go down. Additionally, employers, managers, and supervisors must clarify to all employees that sexual harassment directed at any employee regardless of their position or ethnic background, will not be tolerated.

All companies should strive for a workplace atmosphere where employees feel comfortable and supported. There is no doubt about it. Acts of sexual harassment will turn a good company into a bad one in a short period of time!

Here is a recent issue covered on MSNBC involving a black female employed at a job in California..

Let’s call her Janis. Janis reported that she was the victim of workplace harassment back in 2018. She was hired in an entry-level position. Within six months, she was promoted into a senior manager’s role. At a company event, Janis reported that her male supervisor got on the microphone and called her out by calling her a crack whore and that she was never going to produce anything. This happened in front of the other employees in attendance. People in attendance were laughing.

The first chance Janis got, she left the room and went to the bathroom, where she cried.

The next day at work, she went to her direct supervisor’s office and told him that she was upset about how she was treated at the company event. The supervisor allegedly brushed her concerns off by saying that the event’s comments were just a joke.

Within two weeks of this incident happening, Janis said she was laid off.

With no way to pay her bills, Janis became emotionally stressed out and eventually moved back in with her family. Today Janis is still dealing with the repercussions of her workplace sexual harassment experience.

This is a case where the supervisors took advantage of an employee who felt she had no real power to fight back. To address the problem Janis experienced, she could have contacted

The Fair Employment Practices Agency has a work-sharing agreement with the EEOC.


Select the best answer.

The EEOC figures show that in 1996, black women were twice as likely to file a complaint as their white female peers.

  • True
  • False

Answer Key: See paragraph three.

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