With all the recent reporting on sexual harassment, I thought it was time to share some of my experiences. But this story (part 1) has a different twist, because instead of focusing on the perpetrator, I want to focus on 2 people who supported me. In fact, I won't even name the person who harassed me over 25 years ago, because 1) I won't give him an ounce of power...not then, not now and 2) he was exposed and held accountable.
As background, I was working for a company known to be an good place for women, and was invited to help lead a workshop focused on developing high performing teams. Our workshop team included a group of employees from different functions and areas of the country. Our workshop leader was an executive in the HR function. In the weeks leading up to the training, the leader stopped by my office a couple of times and asked me out. I declined. Told him I wasn't interested. I thought it was over. That was until our team was together full time for the week of the training. We would teach all day and then meet in the evenings to plan the next day. I did my work with excellence, but avoided the leader as much as possible. During the week he continued to seek me out, and the more I avoided him, the angrier he became. On the third evening, while we were meeting together as a group, he said some very derogatory things about me in front of the group. It was of a personal nature, mean-spirited and a lie. I was shocked and furious. I confronted him and so did Bob, another team member in the room...someone I hardly knew...someone I have not seem since then.
We stopped him together.
When I got back to my office the next week, I spoke with a former trusted boss and explained what happened. I was still a bit confused, because I didn't know what to call it. The company had previously provided training on sexual harassment, but this didn't seem to fit what I had learned. Joe explained to me that this form of harassment was called "hostile environment," which is also unacceptable/illegal. He reminded me sexual harassment is about power, not sex. He provided me written information on the topic. He encouraged me to report it to the company, and said if I didn't, he would have to.
I was scared. This person, this abuser, was an executive in the company, and I was an account executive at that time. He had more legitimate power due to his higher level in the organization. He also was in HR. How could I go to the function and make a complaint against one of their own? I thought for sure I would lose my job. But I moved forward and filed the report. Dates, times, what he said, what I said, etc. And then waited. And waited. And the investigation began. And eventually I found out that 11 other women from the company had come forward with similar stories. And he was fired.
Statistics say that for every one person who comes forward with a claim of harassment, nine more have been abused (who don't come forward). So, we need to continue to come forward! But that is not the only point. Because the main point of this story if not about me nor the abuser. The main point is about the two men who supported me as I did what I needed to do.
Their names are Joe and Bob. I am thankful for them and to them.
All of you Joe's and Bob's out there, who see abuse, who know about harassment being done to others and can help stop it, please do. We need you. Silence supports the abuse. Silence means consensus. Speaking out will help stop it.