Thursday, February 6, 2020

My Personal Experience Of Sexual Harassment

This was the incident. 

For context, I was tasked to lead the writing of a certain new report. 

I asked boss for instructions but kept on getting put off. 

The workplace context involved regular meetings (large and small) where jokes and banter would sometimes turn off color and make me uncomfortable. I tried to ignore this stuff and tell myself it wasn't personal. I noted to myself that mainly it was a woman who would make these "jokes" and she seemed weird.

Because time was passing, I called meeting with 2nd line boss because deadline was approaching and no guidance. 

I recruited a fellow staff member to go with me due to my sense of unease. 

At first, the leader spoke to colleague (male) and not me, literally looking only at him, until colleague had to say: "It's her meeting. Talk to her." 

Then at a certain point, colleague left meeting. 

I was alone with 2nd line boss in large conference room. Doors were open.

I asked again for instructions. 

He held up two plain white pieces of paper, 8.5 x 11 standard, as if holding up a magazine. 

He then said, in a slow and drawn out way, smirking: "Lay it out like a Playboy." 

I was horrified and shocked and left the meeting. 

I told everyone on the small team because I was so upset. And it felt wrong to have to keep quiet about it.

However I was afraid to really report it (to EEO) because I felt nobody would take me seriously; it was a "minor"
incident after all. And because of the power difference, I knew they would trivialize what had happened and the whole thing could (I feared) end up with him somehow retaliating for being embarrassed. 

After this, more time passed and I was still struggling with the project. The same leader, who previously praised my work, sent me a harshly critical email about it. So I knew I was in trouble anyway.

I called a meeting about the project with this leader and my first line boss. They agreed to attend. 

To prepare, I printed all my work and instructions so far and placed it on the available desk space, all over my office. This was to show how much effort had already gone into the work.

The leader and my first line boss (a good boss who I do not blame) sat down opposite me and we began to "discuss" the project. 

The leader immediately started to raise his voice as he criticized me. Something in me just said "that's it" as I viscerally experienced the injustice of what was happening.

I waited for him to stop and then said, slowly and carefully: "Well maybe I am simpleminded, but you told me to lay it out like a Playboy." Just like that. 

The leader turned tomato red. 

My immediate boss looked at me, just dumbfounded. His mouth was hanging open.

The leader said: "Did I say that?" 

We never spoke of it again. 

When I left that job, they took me out to lunch. I politely shook his hand, as was appropriate since he was the leader of the office, as if nothing had happened. But secretly I was thinking: "Go to hell."

By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. Opinions are the author’s own. Public domain.