Some time in my 20s, I had a nice job in a city without too many jobs, let alone marketing jobs. For that reason, I was happy to snag a marketing job. I shared an office in a secluded area with an older guy, he was probably in his 50s. I asked him once why he bothered working at a position that seemed below his pay grade. He had a good insight: “You’re just broke at a higher level” when you work for more money. It seemed to ring true, I had some respect for the guy.
After many months working there, he hit on me. I don’t remember how he said it, I just remember he turned on some romantic tune and asked me if I was interested. That would be quite awkward in and of itself. But the fact of the matter is, he was married. Not sure what he thought a clearly religious person’s response would be, but it certainly wasn’t “hurrah!” In fact, I remember feeling immediately unsafe. Here I was with this guy asking me something immoral far far away from everyone else.
I will say this situation is not harassment, it’s just totally messed up. My solution was to jump out of this office location as soon as possible. So I moved into an office right next to my boss, giving little reason other than I wanted a change of scene. Little did I know that was like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
Let me point out here that I was quite naive. I locked my car doors and stayed away from
strange looking people on the street, but it never crossed my mind that people in the workplace might not be what they seemed. Duplicity is not my style, and I had a hard time spotting it. That being said, I can let you know that last guy, he couldn’t get a job elsewhere because of the sort of double talking, backstabbing, and drama he’d created elsewhere. Small towns are like that, word gets around.
Now you’d think I might start to doubt others’ intentions at this point. But I have to tell you, my faith in humanity is strong! My jump to an office adjoined to my boss’ office seemed like a good idea. I realized that usually would encourage a boss to micro manage. But that wasn’t his style. He worked long hours and gave motivational speeches at weekly marketing meetings like he was raising funds for leukemia. I mean he was on a mission and he inspired those around him, at least, that’s what I thought. Looking back, I might have been too much like the fawning student, but I wasn’t aware of it at the time.
One day when we were in a one-to-one meeting, he seemed to be staring at me. When I looked up at him, he licked his lips. That was weird. I think I could have let that go, except that, it kept happening whenever we were alone. I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how to respond. How was I supposed to get him to stop? He was my boss and despite being a total extrovert, I had no words for this situation. I asked a female mentor and her response was to just ignore him, she even went so far as to say that I should see what I could do to rattle him back.
At the end of my rope, I decided to report his behavior to Human Resources. I didn’t have the courage to address him alone, but I have to say my Human Resources person sure did. She was very sympathetic when I first discussed the situation with her. She addressed my concerns with him as I sat across from him in a private meeting. She had a no B.S. attitude when she held the meeting with this executive many years her senior. If she didn’t say it outright, her whole demeanor seemed to say this behavior will stop.
My observation of his behavior might be considered a misinterpretation, or easily written off. You have to understand that is why he chose this behavior. It could easily be written off as a misinterpretation. I know it wasn’t though. For one thing, he said offhand in a snack area later “It never would have worked out anyway, I want to stay with my wife…” I guess he thought I might be interested. He also clearly felt above the law that he could just say his thoughts offhand like that, and it proves he was consciously hitting on me and harassing me.
It turned out my boss’ reputation for double-talking and back-stabbing was accurate. The other directors at the organization were shouting this from the rooftops. But I had a hard time telling if this was dramatics or truth. I guess I had to see it myself to believe it. And of course, he was a good friend of my last officemate.
He didn’t stop licking his lips either. It moved from being a sexual advance to a way to aggravate me. It sure worked. I went in to work every day, but I was stressed out. I had a hard time focusing. I wasn’t sure how long it would be till he retaliated, but I felt that was inevitable. I was VERY uncomfortable, and I didn’t feel like I could or should talk about it to anyone else in my department. I talked to a friend in another department about it. A lot. She assured me there was something off in our organization as we had way too many unfaithful individuals for our small numbers. One of her officemates had confessed being unfaithful to her husband, and she wasn’t sorry about it either. She seemed to stop in on my boss a lot also. I didn’t want to stick around to see how that would play out.
Of course, it took a couple months to find another position. I was so happy to leave! It was like being set free from a prison. I was stronger as a result of going through this, but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone! It’s a story I want to tell my daughters. And sign them up for karate, I don’t want them to feel unsafe or small.
I also recommend reporting these behaviors. I can see how my mentor’s idea for this specific situation might have been ok – the part about ignoring him. 😉 But then, that wouldn’t help the next girl and it wouldn’t force him to change. If a lot of women report the behavior, he might actually choose to change for the sake of keeping his job. I have to admit that I chose not to report ongoing harassment at a later position, to avoid being seen as a troublemaker. The reality is, that didn’t make the situation any easier or less tortuous. Harassment is painful and difficult to deal with, there’s just no way around that. By reporting the issue you may not find support or resolution, but you will definitely be helping the next person. You may even see justice and feel victory in seeing that person finally let go. (I did see that in the latter situation after I left and that certainly affirmed my faith in humanity)!
Back to my story, I do feel fortunate that my sexual harrasment concerns weren’t met with skepticism. I had the impression this wasn’t my boss’ first run-in with a female employee. The president of the organization seemed to have a lot of sympathy for me whenever I saw him. I don’t remember our exact conversation, but I remember him assuring me they would take care of it. This organization was great and I wish them well. There may have been an unhealthy subcultural going on there, but they wanted to fix it.
I’m sure some people out there will look at this as my grab at attention. Or maybe that I’m just a snowflake that couldn’t handle the sexual advances of my superior. Maybe there some truth in that, I’m not as saintly as I’d like to be. You have to understand though that the problem is not over reporting, it’s under reporting, and that needs to change. We all should be speaking out about these incidents. Rather than speculating at women’s motivations, we need to stop and look at how common this problem is and realize how important our response is. On a personal level, we should be supporting these women. On a larger level, we should stop judging and start supporting a movement that helps reverse the tide. Rather than being ashamed and intimidated, women are sharing their stories and feeling empowered. That’s the way it should be! It will intimidate perverts and predators from acting. It might also make good men more careful and reserved in their actions around women. Is that such a bad thing? We should be looking out for eachother, even if it isn’t easy.
If you’ve experienced sexual harassment, assault, or rape, my prayers are with you. You can add to this movement by putting #metoo in the comments. I won’t pass judgement and I won’t let anyone else either. I’ve been told it’s hard to know how to respond to a blog post like this. If you haven’t experienced these things, but you want to show support for the #metoo movement you can like or share this blog post. Thank you for listening.