I've been in one workplace where the men outnumbered the women, and, when a women advanced, the comments would start up that the woman got her new job because she "had a good set of knee pads." I have NO idea whether any of these women traded sexual favors for advancement, but it bothered me that it was a common narrative. It always made me wonder whether, IF I advanced, people would say the same thing about me. Please think before you circulate salacious rumors.
It was the late 1990s. I was starting a new job in health IT. I had just finished orientation and was meeting my team for the first time. I was 25 years old, female, married, college educated, qualified for my profession and conservatively dressed. The expected niceties were asked and answered, and everyone seemed friendly enough. Then one senior clinician called out over the group, "Silver or gold?" Confused, I said, "What?" He repeated, "Silver or gold? For your thong!" Then, to the others, "Don't you think she'll make a great booth babe at HIMSS?" Stunned, I didn't know what to say. Some of the people around me laughed, some looked at me to see what I'd do, and at least one had the decency to look stunned and say, "Geez!" It was my first day on the job. I didn't know anyone, and the women were outnumbered. I didn't want to seem weak or touchy. So I did what a lot of young women probably then, and I made a quick decision to roll my eyes and become tough and funny, one of the guys.
Earlier in life, I had been a victim of childhood sexual abuse by a predator in my own family. I was 3 to 11 and did nothing to cause it. Like a lot of girls, though, I was socialized to be placid to authority. Parents, don't make your little children agree to be hugged and touched by people they don't like. Give them a sense of their own agency. Boys can be victims of abuse, too. The reason I mention this in the context of workplace harassment is that a history of abuse can color people's response to situations that occur when they are adults. As I've I read some of the #metoo stories about people who seemingly froze up or acted passive in bad situations, it made me wonder if some of those people had a history of childhood abuse and dissociation. Unfortunately, it's pretty common.
I have worked for 10 companies and have had at least 25 different managers since I was a teenager in the late 1980s. Things I've seen: a man who left pornography out on the coffee table for his 14-year-old babysitter to see; a grown man who harassed the teenage girls who worked for him; a man who sent degrading jokes about rape and violence to the men in his department; and a manager of both men and women who scheduled lunch meetings (for guys only) at a strip club. I also knew a young woman who was stalked on the job by a hospital employee, and another who was the target of spiteful comments by a manager who had a crush on her that was not returned.
The only time I engaged an HR department for help with an issue, they did help. It was very uncomfortable, however, to be the person responsible for reporting a popular and productive employee. Folks in HR get a bad rap sometimes. Most the time, incidents don't get reported because humans understand the high social cost of making a complaint.
I've seen "alpha" people in the workplace who demand to have their ego stroked by both the men and the women who work for them, and male managers who put on dominance displays with the men who work for them. Most of the time, these things are subtle, and any one incident doesn't sound so bad.
To muddy the waters, I've also seen a lot of mutual, consensual joking between people who work together. I've seen sparks fly and the birth of happy relationships and marriages. I can understand why two similar-sounding situations might be confusing for people with a poor understanding of nonverbal cues.
Fortunately, the bad stuff has been less and less frequent over 30 years of working. Maybe it's because I'm in my mid-40s. The decent, first-rate people who treat other people with respect far outnumber the ones who don't understand how to read people and respect their boundaries. Still, it only takes one or two bad people to spoil a working environment.
I was propositioned by a VP at our company's User Group, in front of clients, other vendors, and other employees. At least 10 people witnessed this man being vulgar and inappropriate to me literally seconds after I met him. I had just walked up to say hi to a friend who works in the VP's department. I am grateful to the burly sales guy and the chap from one of our partner vendors who stepped in and physically blocked this man from saying one more word to me. It was like elevator doors closed in front of me, and the next thing I saw was the VP being bodily hauled away from the table. Despite the clear fact that this came out of nowhere and in no way could be my fault, HR refused to address the issue and I'm pretty sure he received a sweet buy-out deal to leave the company.
Early in my career, I never conceptualized myself as having experienced sexual harassment. Nevertheless, I had the following experiences:
1. A medical school classmate locked the door to the room where we had desks and microscopes and studied at all hours of the day/night. He offered to share a 6 pack -- snacks and alcohol weren't uncommon in the study area -- but then tried to assault me until I started screaming and he stopped. I later learned he'd done the same to several other female classmates and raped at least one. I discussed it with a trusted faculty member who suggested that I wouldn't be believed and that it was better to drop it. My only regret is knowing that this person is a physician with the potential to treat his patients poorly (though I have no evidence of actual problems in that regard).
2. A surgeon threw scalpels across the OR at me, when I entered to let the resident know about an urgent patient issue. This surgeon was known for not permitting female med students in his OR, allegedly because his son hadn't been accepted to med school. And I knew his OR was off-limits to us but I thought I had no choice but to advise my resident of the clinical problem.
3. Medical school faculty in lectures would occasionally make degrading comments about women. We would all (men and women) make a loud simultaneous hissing sound, which tended to reduce future remarks by that lecturer.
Once I was a faculty member, my first chairman grabbed me in the ass on one occasion. I objected and it never happened again. It never occurred to me that there could be repercussions for my career if I objected. He was basically a decent person who was sometimes a bit wild. He always treated me with respect in terms of my knowledge and expertise, gave me high-level responsibility and authority that was well beyond most assistant professors and was supportive in advancing my career with no strings attached whatsoever. It never would have occurred to me to report him to HR as they are known to be pretty useless. (In the modern era, the Title IX coordinators are even worse and have promoted a number of clearcut injustices towards accused individuals in cases with which I'm familiar.)
My next chairman never harassed me in any way (I wasn't his type) but he was well known for having "elevator eyes" with other women. I had no issues with him either in terms of career advancement, salary, etc and always felt that he respected my knowledge and clinical skills. I do know that he was reported to the Dean on several occasions by other individuals and no action was taken.
In contrast, my current chairman has never engaged in any of the listed types of sexual harassment (to my knowledge), but he has little respect for anyone and is vindictive to those who express any questions or challenges to his ideas. It seems like he treats the female faculty worse than the male faculty in terms of salary, non-renewal, administrative positions, etc. but it's hard to pin down. And he's definitely the worst of the bunch to work for.
Even with these experiences, I still do not consider my life or career to have been substantially influenced by harassment. In fact, I am extremely grateful for all of the male mentors and advisers that I've had during my career who have been major contributors to my success. I think it's extremely unfortunate that legitimate concerns about sexual harassment overshadow the many positive contributions that men make to their female colleagues' career advancement. In the current climate, I'm also concerned that men and women will be less inclined to do the types of informal mentoring that are so crucial to the ultimate success of junior colleagues.
These occurrences are all drearily commonplace. And outrageous. It's nice to think about not having to dodge those types of bullets in one's career; I guess it would leave someone with a lot more:
1) time and energy to spend on productive things
2) latitude to act without fear of misinterpretation by others, and without reprisal.
And the guilt! There is guilt, second-guessing and soul-searching that comes with an incident like this. Was it my fault? Did I give off the wrong vibe? I guess I shouldn't raise my eyebrow/wear that shirt/use that word/etc.
I think there is also an assumption by many men that if a woman has got ahead, there is a good chance she has parlayed sexual favors (or simply sexiness) into some kind of advantage. The truth is, just as often, women are penalized rather than favored.
Enjoy the maleness, guys! It really is a gift.
Do we not think there should be a "none" option?
Oh where to begin! I'll begin at the beginning:
1. New-ish to the company, decided to go to a party a coworker was throwing to try and make some new friends and be sociable. Coworker grabbed my ass while I was standing in front of him, i.e. he just reached his hand clear round my body to squeeze my bum, staring me in the eye the entire time.
2. Same coworker, at a company function with clients 20 feet away, groped and ground (grinded? both options sound bizarre and wrong) on me on the dance floor. I twirled away from him and went home.
3. A few years later: same coworker is now my department head (after I stated I did not want a promotion being offered if I had to work for him - was told no problem, he's not your boss, as soon as I accepted they made him my boss) literally put a bounty on me -- he offered cash to the first person in my department who would hug me at a retreat. Its not sexual per se, but he thought my consent was a punchline, and when I said 'no', he was the one who got to decide if I really meant it.
4. Immediate boss (working between me and Gropey McPervert above) spends an entire year telling me that I am *required* to give him details about my romance/sex life (I refused), that everyone in the company "knows what kind of girl" I am, that obscene song lyrics remind him of me, that he pictured me getting out of the shower, that he's allowed to talk to me like this because he has a "special relationship" with me, that he's allowed to spend an entire meeting pressing his leg against me under the table (and moving towards me as I moved away from him, for the entire meeting) because he needs too make me smile, and telling HR that -- after I finally mentioned it to HR on my way out the door -- I instigated all of it.
5. Boss (married, middle-aged) at next company, who I had previously worked for and thought was a mentor, suggested we start seeing each other, told me he'd been reading the blog of a guy he knew I'd been close with, and also let me know he spent enough time investigating me online to find a social media account I had that didn't have my name, picture, or any identifying information on it *anywhere*. I still have no idea how he found it. After dealing with the previous year, and barely having the mental resources to keep myself vertical much less look for a job *again*, to say I felt trapped is an understatement.
One instance put a big damper on my career, but the overall impact that its had long term is a deep anger at the injustice and the knowledge that organizations are doing cost-benefit analyses on these situations, and measuring the cost of abused women against the value of revenue gained by keeping an abuser around.
Historically unwelcome harassment has been so commonplace, who to report it to?
Hopeful that the MeToo movement is changing things.
The negative job impact meant I had to change jobs. Inconvenient and uncomfortable but I secured a better opportunity. Still wish I didn't have to go through this though.
Yes, I rebuffed the advances; however, I'm not sure if that hurt my career. At the time, I just ignored it and him.
No, I didn't report it to HR. The reason is that in the early 80s, this option wasn't even on the radar.
I have worked for healthcare vendors for 20 years and have continuously encountered sexual harassment. I had a married boss proposition me multiple times to have an affair. As the only female on the sales team I was subjected to listen to crass and horrific sexual stories and jokes. Many times I wanted to report the situation but was told it would create more problems and the healthcare industry is small and I would not want to be know as that troublesome female. I regret not formally reporting each incident. No one should have to put up with unwanted advances," fraternity " behavior in the work place.
1. Sales guy following me down the hotel hallway after the celebration night of a sales kick off meeting. Tried to get me to come in to his room for a night cap. Luckily he was drunk out of his mind and didn't realize I made loops around the hotel for about 10 minutes until he stopped following me.
2. Speaking to a senior leader about maternity leave and getting told "Oh I don't talk about that. Just don't have kids and focus on your career."
3. Told my outfit for a meeting was "super sexy and sure to get [male client executive] going!" (It was a plain dress with a a high round neckline, cardigan, and flats. I wouldn't say it was very sexy at all.)
4. Not quite sexism, but when I was talking about my recent marriage to my Latino husband, a sales guy said "How did an educated white woman end up choosing someone like *him*?" (All he knew about my husband was his country of origin).
5. A male partner getting super drunk at after-work drinks and grabbing my colleague and kissing her very much against her will. Exec's comment after was "Oh yeah he gets drunk pretty easily. It's just what he does."
6. A male client continually putting his hand on my waist and lower back during a meeting.
These all occurred within the last 12 months.
I will say there are also some exceptionally great guys who I've encountered who have never said or done anything. Some of them have even witnessed the events above and called the person out or told them to stop. But at the end of the day, it's all a bit of a boys club. I challenge all Health IT Execs to look around at their sales kick off's and see what percentage of the people being celebrated are white males in their 40s. At my company last year it was bout 80% white males over 40, 10% white males under 40, 5% women, 5% non-white males. With everything above, I'm not surprised about the female percentage.
Sexual harassment or sexual prejudice? While instances of harassment occur, I find the greater issue to be exclusion from the "boys club". I am senior level member of my company (at least it would appear so based on my job title) however the executive team - which is ALL white male - exclude me from all discussions about the product direction - and I'm the VP of Product! Issues such as these can't be solved with a call to HR. It is endemic to the culture of this company and probably many other IT companies as well. As a woman you can only get so far in your career before the glass ceiling hits you in the head. End of the line, lady!
As a man reading this comment, next time you are in a meeting with your peers count the number of women in the room. 1? 0? Does that seem right to you? Are the majority of women in your company doing HR, marketing and accounting tasks? Are any of these roles held by a woman: CTO, CIO, CEO, VP/Dir of Development, VP/Dir of Product? If no, Why do you think that is?
The treasurer of my hospital foundation owned a store and I had to get a signature. I was in my 20s and my first professional job. He met me half way up the aisle and gestured for a handshake. He passed me a condom. Being quick-witted I said, "Thanks, my boyfriend and I will enjoy this!" He said "Oh? I was hoping you would use it on me!" I replied, "Your married." He replied, "I have an open relationship with my wife." I said, "Good for you, congratulations! Can I get my signature?" Got it and walked out. I couldn't believe it. I never said a word to anyone.
If I knew then, what I know now ... much of the unwanted actions would never have occurred. But when you're in your 20's in the '80's and just want to succeed in our field - you learned to take the good with the bad. I am in no way condoning the behavior but in those days a young woman in healthcare IT didn't have many, if ANY, female mentors to reach out to for guidance or support. Healthcare IT was a male dominated field so it was me against THEM (in my opinion). When I voiced my complaint to an HR department, in a hospital where I worked, I was told it was MY FAULT because I was attractive and how I dressed. Women outside the healthcare industry encouraged me to file a lawsuit. I instead quit my job and was fortunate to find another opportunity with a healthcare vendor. I was aware that the healthcare IT world was very small and less than 6 degrees of separation, so didn't want to impact my chances for any future hirings. My best revenge was to succeed as an Healthcare IT analyst!!
@anonymous - you were lucky that you never encountered anything like this working for a hospital. On the other hand, when I worked as a nurse in surgery, I experienced multiple sexual harassment situations. As many if not more than when I moved to the corporate world!
When I first entered the HIT field (as an RN), my sales manager made some lewd/suggestive comments about women as well as had his home office decorated with multiple pictures of pin-up babes in scant attire. I noticed it all, and finally when he continued to make suggestive and inappropriate remarks, I told him I was very uncomfortable with his comments and he did not continue them. In hindsight, it could have gone way wrong, but I was honestly too naive to do much more than react. Back then, I knew it was inappropriate, but had no idea I could have/should have reported it. I just thought he was a big jerk and was considering whether I'd made a mistake in taking the job. I'd never encountered anything like this working for a hospital. No one should have to endure that kind of behavior.