Long before my current job....
I should’ve known something was strange the day he offered me the job. He told me he really liked my haircut, and then afterward – as I was walking away – said he thought I was a beautiful woman. I told one of my friends immediately after, stating that his words made me hesitate, wondering if I really should take the job.
“Oh, Elisa!” She laughed and told me everyone thought he was gay. “You have nothing to worry about. And who would hit on someone during an interview? He was just being nice.”
So, I thought about things and took the job despite my resolve. Things were okay at first, even more professional than I’d hoped. I would share ideas and soon I wasn’t just sharing them for my team, I was placed in front of departments and even talking to the “highly important” CEO.
Soon after that, my boss asked to start having weekly meetings with me. At first he left the door open, but soon, he began closing the door so the air felt stale and I’d get fidgety and nervous despite how calm and collected I could be talking to entire departments – AND their leaders. The meetings were…uncomfortable for me. One time I told him this, and he said they weren’t uncomfortable for him. “So, what’s the problem?”
Maybe the whole thing was just in my head?
Then, the final meeting – the one that left me reeling – is something hard to explain. The man sat, wearing an oversized suit and sporting hair plastered to his head. Then, he used a single word, something so disgusting I can barely say it aloud. I suddenly felt worthless, like my beautiful dress was really hundreds of years old, moth-worn and falling apart. I felt my pride ripped from me and suddenly I was every bit the scared little girl I had been during a terrible moment years and years ago…. And his words and the ravenous look in his eyes made me want to cry.
My professional demeanor and good work-ethic hadn’t helped me gain his respect and the realization stung my eyes because nothing I could do – nothing – would make him appreciate me for the reasons he should have.
I didn’t talk with anybody about it for a couple of days. But when I got home that night, I shut my bedroom door and cried and cried on my bed. It wasn’t that I’m a prude, not really. It was just that I felt so disrespected that someone thought they could talk to me like that. The next day I ended up visiting with one of my friends who works in a human resource profession. I’m not sure why, but when we went to lunch I just broke down. She became irate when I relayed what had happened.
“It’s not right, Elisa,” she said. “What he said was really bad.”
“But I can’t tell anyone. That would make me some type of social leper at work. None of the other guys there will want to talk to me. They’ll be scared they might say something that will offend me. And the women, I just know this would affect how everybody would treat me.” And feeling completely claustrophobic, I realized how truly terrible situations like this can be.
Somehow the conversation shifted and we began talking about my oldest daughter and her job. Suddenly the woman said, “What if your daughter’s boss treated her like that?”
Days later, after thinking about the conversation with my friend, I went and told the HR director. “I know this will affect my job… But it’s just not right.” And I’m embarrassed to say it, but I sobbed even though I’d told myself not to. It was terrifying to say something, knowing I might get someone in trouble and negatively impact their life despite what he had done to me.
The HR director always spoke in a monotone and every word sounded laced with judgement. He grabbed a notebook, asked me the same questions over and over, in and out, backward and forward….
Finally, at the end, he said he had to do an investigation.
Those two weeks were excruciating. All of my special projects and big presentations were taken from me during that time. Although my boss tried acting normal it was even more uncomfortable being around him than it had been before. I wanted another job, but it takes longer than a few days to find a good place, and plus it was really depressing thinking I might need to leave because of something this man said.
Anyway, a couple of weeks later, the HR director called me back in and said my boss had admitted to everything. As a countermeasure, to ensure this would never happen again, they had given him a personality test.
“Oh? A personality test?” I asked, confused.
“We’ve disciplined him, but now we want you to learn to understand him more. So you can work around this.”
“Work around his behavior?” I whispered, shocked.
After that, the HR director said there were things I could change about myself, too. For example, he said, “Sometimes you wear form-fitting outfits. They do meet dress-code requirements, but they aren’t helping the situation.”
“So, this is my issue…because I’ve worn form-fitting clothes?”
“Oh, no!” he said. “That’s not it at all, but I do think that response shows something else I wanted to talk with you about. I do think you’re being a bit emotional about the whole situation. Try to take your emotions out of it.”
I wanted to ask then if it was my pure emotion that caused my boss to take away my projects right after I’d reported him. Was it my “emotion” that had made that man see me in a terribly skewed light…one where my sole value was placed in an act that’s reserved for my husband? I felt unsafe and this HR director was supposed to be the person to confide in?
Although many of my friends said I should have stayed and fought…I’ve never been one for lawsuits and so, I quit the job. What’s odd is that within a week I was offered two amazing jobs – and that after a month of working somewhere else, I received a call from the VP of HR for the entire company I had worked for before.
“After a recent audit, I read your file. What happened?” she prodded.
I didn’t tell her everything because it was in the past and I didn’t want to go there again. But I did tell her about the personality test that I was supposed to gain insight from.
Within the following months, neither of those men worked for that company anymore. Come to find out…I hadn’t been the only one.
And although some pretty terrible rumors circulated about me after that – amongst the people who stayed – I was glad the whole ordeal had ended.
I thought about all of this today because a man in Bingham County told me he doesn’t think women really get sexually harassed at work but it’s just a claim some people make for attention. “The Me Too Movement was a very scary thing for men,” he said. “Now, women think they can claim anything. I bet one-percent of the harassment claims are real.”
I told him this story, and whether or not he believed me, I don’t know, but I sure wish that people would wake up! It was so much harder to say something because of the fallout, the fact that I had to quit a good-paying job, the rumors, the judgement (mainly from women)…. It’s so much easier to try pushing the bad behavior aside; why is that so insanely hard for people to understand? Saying something took strength, ignoring it would have just slowly taken my dignity.
I guess I wanted to write this to say that sexual harassment does happen. I inevitably stood up because I don’t want my kids to ever get treated that way and if people don’t say something, the bad behavior will continue…for generations. As someone once told me “you promote what you permit.”
Maybe I should have fought and stayed, but for me it was much better to simply leave and find a healthy environment; after all, that’s what anyone deserves.
If you find yourself in a bad situation (whether at work or your personal life), stand up for yourself. Sometimes it’s hard to be brave – trust me – but everything will fall into place…things WILL get better.
“Each relationship nurtures a strength or weakness within you.” -Mike Murdock
What do your current relationships nurture within you?