With all the talk about sexual harassment, I am at a crossroad.
I’ve not been raped but I have had to fight off verbal overtures and inappropriate touching. In one of the most blatant instances, I sought help from the company’s human resources department. I later quit under duress due to a system of corporate retaliation. It nearly broke me.
I’m a manager, educated, with an excellent work ethic, and strong skills. I’m also a single mother who needs to support my family. I continue to think I am immune to sexual harassment, yet veiled in humor and sidebar conversations I am subjected to unwelcome sexual overtures.
How do I advise my female staff or my daughters when I still struggle with this, wondering how I got myself into this situation? I don’t want to be known as a bitch or overly sensitive. What can I do?
I see no reason to be embarrassed for being subjected to an age-old double standard. Your marital status or the need to care for your family has nothing to do with your capabilities and contribution. It angers me that tolerance of unwanted advances continues to be a price women are to pay for working alongside men - after all “boys will be boys.” I call BS. Is it too much to ask for boys to be men!? Men don’t misuse position and power to prey on others, nor do they condone inappropriate behavior based on DNA which is weak and unconscionably insane.
We tout ourselves as being a civilized society, yet there is nothing civilized about unwanted and inappropriate aggressive behavior of men toward women, this is misogyny.
Often, Human Resources (HR) is suggested as the first step in resolving sexual harassment problems. I disagree, don’t go to HR first. The function of HR is to protect the company, not you. HR is a last-ditch option that you employ once you have enough ammunition in your arsenal to go to war.
So yeah, what I’m saying here is that sexual harassment is a declaration of war against you, so you should treat it as such.
My advice is to start with a diplomatic approach. Diplomacy provides the enemy with an option to make adjustments based on the knowledge that their offensive actions impacted you adversely. Forward directly to the enemy a cordial yet professional and factual communication. Specifically identify what, where, when and who may have witnessed the offensive action. Close by letting them know that you don’t expect the behavior to resume, now that it has been brought to their attention with hopes that you can both move forward. Be offended, it’s okay!
If diplomacy doesn’t work, prepare yourself for battle, beginning with entering into espionage mode!
Discretely gathering allies and intelligence, document all information pertinent to your situation. Your livelihood, dignity, and reputation make ally selection and recruitment precarious. Allies reputations, courage, discretion and willingness to align with you is critical. Be careful in sharing information with others, this is war, not a popularity contest.
Vigilantly document all interactions you have with the enemy, to include the who, what, where, when and witnesses. If you notice that there is a culture that is supporting enemy’s behavior, document that as well.
With an arsenal of factual information, you are in an excellent position to win the battle. Confidently report the offence through your company’s complaint process, typically this will be HR. Give them an opportunity to fix the problem. (NOTE: Not at your expense.) If the company has not resolved the problem to your satisfaction, the next step will be to file a complaint with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and take legal action.
I get it. There is a concern that reporting sexual harassment will impact your career negatively. Consider this, these predators are not unlike pedophiles who prey on innocents and count on the silence of their victims to continue.
You are a warrior in the fight against sexual harassment and the misogyny that perpetuates it. Women and men alike are rooting for you and others in your situation to win these sexual harassment battles with consequences that send a resounding message that it will not be tolerated.
Be a beacon for others, be brave, you can do this.