This is one ugly and tough topic to talk about. But I can never emphasize its importance enough. As a female, I’ve unfortunately experienced sexual harassment on several occasions, from direct and indirect supervisors, members of management team and co-workers, to even customers. It is not fun or exciting, it is frustrating, scary and generates and enormous sense of resentment and disgust.
A simple rule of thumb if you are thinking about making a sexually explicit joke or comment directed at someone in a professional setting – don’t. It’s that simple. If you are not sure how your joke or comments will be received, don’t say it. If you are getting racy thoughts looking at a co-worker, client or boss, keep them to yourself. “Locker room talk” is not acceptable despite of what we may see on TV. By sexually harassing another person, you’re not being witty, funny or tough, you are showing your low level of emotional intelligence, lack of professionalism and, frankly, stand a chance to lose all respect from not just the person whom you harassed, but everyone else, she or he tells about that. It is like a bad customer service experience, one person will tell at least ten others about it.
What if you are on the receiving end of the harassment? Don’t be silent! That’s one thing I wish I could change about my past experiences with that. This is similar to domestic violence or sexual assault situations – the recipient of the attack feels victimized, embarrassed that she or he ended up in that situation, and blame themselves for “causing” this rather than putting the assailant on blast. I was in my mid-twenties when I experienced harassment at work on several occasions, from several supervisors, at different companies even. But the economy was shaky, I needed my job, and I was afraid that speaking up would backfire at me and I would get terminated while my harasser will continue to do what he does. It was wrong to think that. It wasn’t my fault that certain members of the management team lacked professionalism, maturity and grace. I should have overcome my fear and spoke up to put an end to unacceptable behavior.
In one situation, two other women in my department were harassed by the same person, but we haven’t shared those experiences with each other out of fear, feeling humiliated and embarrassed. And guess what? The man who did the harassment got away with it because none of us talked to anyone in the company. We didn’t trust the management or HR to help us, we were afraid to lose our jobs, we were worried we wouldn’t be believed, and as a result our job performance was negatively affected, our loyalty to the company diminished. All of us ended up leaving the company over time, but the damage was done and the person who did the damage got away with it because none of us spoke up.
Speak up! Talk to your peers, your mentors, human resources, a manager you trust, maybe a counselor outside the organization – talk to someone. Silence is what allows these workplace predators to continue to operate in this manner. This is not a concern just for women. Men also get harassed. The statistics may be lower, but it happens. In a way, it is even harder for men to speak up because that is not what the society teaches us about the social roles. Men are tough, they don’t show emotions or cry, they aren’t afraid, they don’t get harassed or hurt. That’s not true. Men end up in tough situations too and fear of humiliation and not being taken seriously is even greater for them. Again, speak up! This is the only way to take away the power from someone who is making your work life unbearable.
We spend anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a day at work, that is a huge chunk of our lives! Being miserable and afraid for half of your day every day is not a way to live. Speak up! I wish I did. I felt alone in a bad situation and was afraid not realizing there were people sitting literally next to me going through the same thing at the same time and also feeling alone and afraid. Speak up!