This Election is What We Get for Making Harassment OK at Work

This election is an unending nightmare.  A constant stream of derisive and dismissive remarks.  An insult to the founders of the nation.  This election is one big trigger for anyone who has ever experienced workplace harassment or worse.

I have in the past used my few posts to share what I have learned in my career that helped me to move from a retail sales representative to a marketer in my company’s national office in just 5 years.  Pretty tame stuff – common sense – just a few thoughts to help young professionals navigate common issues.  Now, in year 7 of my career, I feel like I have a responsibility to use this tiny platform  to express a frustration that is boiling over as a result of Donald Trump’s remarks towards women, and the excuses made by his camp and those supporting him.  This is NOT a candidate bashing post.  This is a post about experiences I have had in my career, which I had hoped to put behind me, but which I am being reminded of daily by the unending stream of excuses for what is clear and unabashed derision of the women who had the courage to come forward.  Speaking up is difficult and painful, and often carries consequences.  One of those consequences is having your entire identity be consumed by what other people think of your decision to speak up, how you spoke, and when.  To those accusing these women of lying please hear this:  when you dismiss one, you silence many.

Workplace discrimination and hostile work environments are extremely common, and addressing those situations is shockingly difficult.  If that is true in 2016, consider how much harder it must have been in the 90s, or the 80s, when it wasn’t nearly so assumed that women were equal to their male colleagues.  For someone experiencing harassment, where no lasting damage has been done, no major assault committed, it can often feel foolish to come forward.  People still think that being on familiar terms makes touching and flirting completely acceptable and young women in particular are vulnerable to these advances.  In fact, add just about any additional qualifier to “woman” and the difficulty speaking up just gets more and more difficult.  The qualifiers “Of Color,” “Single Mom,” or even simply “shy,” can all make it nearly impossible to bring up workplace issues, let alone harassment or assault and all the shame that comes with it.  As I will discuss a little further down, there are valid fears associated with doing so.  Social and economic repercussions await those who bring up their feelings of being harassed with their supervisors, their HR departments, or their colleagues.

When I was 22 I got a job in New York City.  My coworkers were diverse and they were local and they were, to my eye, so amazingly cool. Our store had a manager who stood too close, always placed his hand on the small of my back or on my knee, and instead of saying hello, would say things like “I missed those legs.”  It was harassment.  It wasn’t assault by any means, but it was harassment.  Others experienced similar behavior and worse, but those are not my stories to share.

I was afraid that to speak up for myself would sound stupid.  That the harassment would be passed off as all in my head, just a misunderstanding, or worse, that I’d be accused of lying.  This is exactly what happened on an occasion later in my career when I did address serious workplace issues, and I felt intense fear of retribution.  Fear wracked my decision process: fear of being transferred to a location with low traffic where I wouldn’t be able to make money, fear of being called a liar, fear of being ostracized by my team.  To stand up for others would have been social suicide – to be sure, I thought, these other girls would simply bail on me, afraid of the very same things I feared myself, and wondering why I insisted on rocking the boat.  After all, this guy wasn’t trying to be a creep, he was a dad, a buddy, and besides – he didn’t care about people taking lots of breaks or long lunches.

When I got promoted into a new job, a job I loved, I watched male colleagues experience similar sexually charged remarks and aggression from someone interested in them.   It wasn’t ok there either.  I got promoted again, and again felt pressure to ignore inappropriate words and behavior because to be there was to be “one of the guys.”  This is not a complaint.  It’s not an indictment of my company.  My company gets a lot of things right – this is just to remind those you who may be parroting the idea that people only come forward when there is fame or gain, that it’s not easy.  You don’t just suddenly come forward.  You try to never think about it and not make too much of it, but when there’s a reason to talk, something powerful enough to make you risk having your entire life become about this one thing, you finally step into the light and let people know, and for the 10 brave women who are speaking out about what Donald Trump did to them – and being derided, called liars, and discredited, every fear I had as a 22 year old is coming to bear.