Natalie Stone
December 19, 2017 11:05 PM

After almost 12 years at the network, longtime host Catt Sadler has said goodbye to her “dream job” at E! News — a decision that she says “required a lot of soul-searching.”

“Up until this point, I mean it really has been a dream job. Literally a dream job. I’m from Indiana, born and raised, and I had my sights set on E! and I’ve seen the world. I’ve had the best experiences. I’ve gotten incredibly close with all of my coworkers. It’s like a family here and it’s been beautiful for the majority of my run. I pinch myself every day the job that I get to do. I have so much fun. It has almost been surreal,” Sadler, 43, tells PEOPLE. “But then, this year happened.”

Throughout the past year, the single mother of two — she is mom to sons Arion Boyd, 12, and Austin Boyd, 16 — has taken on more responsibility in her role at E!, including hosting the two-hour live daytime show Daily Pop and “also hosting E! News a majority of nights, so I inherited a lot more responsibility and more work hours and what not.”

This year, Sadler’s contract was coming to an end and she was notified by E! executives that they wanted to extend her deal.

But about the same time that was happening, Sadler says she was “informed and made aware that my male equivalent at the network who I started with the same year and have come up with doing essentially similar jobs, if not the same job, wasn’t just making a little bit more than me but was making double my salary and has been for several years.”

RELATED: Debra Messing Calls Out E! News During E! Interview for Allegedly Not Paying Catt Sadler Equally

“That was really hard to swallow, but you know information is supposed to be power and when my team began negotiations knowing what we knew, that was the barometer in which I expected to be paid, based on the law and based on what I know to be fair. And what I believe in my heart of hearts is reasonable,” she explains about asking to be compensated the same as her co-host and friend, Jason Kennedy, who serves as co-host of E! News as well as a correspondent for red carpet coverage.

Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

In a statement to PEOPLE, an E! spokesperson said on behalf of the network and Kennedy, “E! compensates employees fairly and appropriately based on their roles, regardless of gender. We appreciate Catt Sadler’s many contributions at E! News and wish her all the best following her decision to leave the network.”

Although Sadler was hopeful that she would be able to extend her contract, “not only did [E!] refuse to pay me as much as my male counterpart, but they didn’t come close — nowhere close, not even remotely close.”

Upon learning that Kennedy, 36, was being paid double her salary, Sadler admits she was both “in shock” and felt insulted, and ultimately decided two weeks ago that she would depart from the network.

“It’s almost insulting because you know you work really hard. I’m a single mom of two kids. I’ve given my all to this network. I’ve sacrificed time away from my family and I have dedicated my entire career to this network. And when you learn something like that, it makes you feel very small and underappreciated and undervalued,” she shares. “It’s heartbreaking.”

But Sadler asserts that the pay disparity is not Kennedy’s “fault.”

“Jason Kennedy is one of my best friends in the whole wide world. He is like a brother to me. And in no way do I want this to reflect poorly on him,” she shares. “He’s devastated, I think, and I think he believes that this is a great loss for the network. He does not want to see me go. Jason is a class act … It’s important that people don’t vilify him because he isn’t the problem — the system’s the problem, the structure’s the problem. And I really do mean that. Because that’s been a hard part of this whole thing because I love him dearly. And to be honest, he has been such a champion for me in every sense. But it’s not his decision.”

While the decision to part ways from the place she has called home for more than a decade was a difficult one, Sadler is focused on “this obligation that I now have, which very much informed my decision that I too have to be an agent of change.”

“If I stay and do the easy thing, I don’t serve myself and I don’t serve every other female in the world,” says Sadler, who also took to her personal website TheCattwalk.com to share about her exit.

“It’s like I now feel inspired and empowered by these women before me who refused to be silent,” says Sadler, referencing Jennifer Lawrence, Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou. “And I now join them in what I believe to be a very important movement towards creating change.”

As for what’s on the horizon, Sadler’s “next moves are not definitive at this moment, but I have a lot of great ideas” — and she promises she’ll eventually be back on TV screens.

“I think I was born to do this. It’s what I do, it’s all I know, so I will definitely miss just the exercise of everyday getting to do this job. But I will land on my feet and I will get to the other side of this, for sure,” she says.

“I might go off the grid at least for a week or so. I’m going to try and make that happen,” she says. “And then I’m going to get back to work, you best believe.”

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