As a recognition expert, I never thought I’d be sharing a post on sexual harassment. If you follow my work regularly, it’s about staying focused on what works and the resourceful side of work. I try to focus on the great news. I believe a complaint is a poorly worded request (and that greatness is simply doing a great job of hiding). I believe when we reinforce and celebrate what’s working, people are more motivated to live into their greatness.
To be clear, this positive view does not mean I am Pollyanna.
There are some pretty disturbing things that continue to happen in and around workplaces, to great people, and it’s about time we did something about it.
My focus this week is one of those hidden inconvenient truths we like to believe is of days gone by of the Mad Men age when martinis at lunch and fedoras were all the rage: sexual harassment. It’s still here. And it still hurts.
I have never publicly admitted this before, but since my first job at 12 years old, I have experienced sexual harassment. From pats on the butt to comments about my looks to people looking down my shirt to a boss telling me, in a conversation about a promotion, that the last person he promoted sat on his lap at the last Christmas party (I cannot make this stuff up.) But I did shut up. Yep, I took it all. I took it in. I lived with it. Like a bad smell though, I can’t shake it off. It hangs in the air. Then when it happens again, you experience it all over again; whether on a conscious or subconscious level, you remain on guard for it again (because it still does).
LinkedIn: The Last Frontier For Unaddressed Sexual Harassment
There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t open my LinkedIn inbox to someone commenting on my looks or asking me out on a date (and pursuing even after it’s unrequited) or minimizing me down to my lowest common female denominator.
There are words that have been used that if they were uttered in a workplace, that person would probably be fired.
So what do I do?
Well, for years I ignored it. When it’s not uncommon, you don’t make much of it. You protect yourself by not getting upset about it. You’re busy so you write the person off as not being worth your time. You hope it was an anomaly. You worry if you make too big a deal of it, your own LinkedIn account would be frozen (goodbye 8000 contacts I’ve built over the years).
You think about the risk.
So what’s different now?
First, my daughter turned 15. She’s also about to enter the workforce.
I never want her to experience the subtle and not-so-subtle sexual harassment that’s been woven in the fabric of my career for the last 32 years. If I can’t say something, am I part of the system setting her (or my son for that matter) to be victims of it too?
Secondly, I also work for myself now. What’s the worst that will happen? Someone who doesn’t like this doesn’t hire me? I am okay with only working with humanistic, kind, smart, compassionate people. (You know who you are…greatness personified.)
Finally, it’s not stopped despite my pushing back.
When I shifted from a place of fear (what if I lose a client or get kicked off LinkedIn?) to honour my greatness, I stood up for myself. When someone would hit on me on LinkedIn, I would tell the person not to do it anymore; half the time it would continue anyway (if at first, we don’t succeed, creepily try and try again). When that didn’t stop it, I “levelled up”; I would block the person, post a screen capture, and formally report it as harassment to LinkedIn. Not one time, to the best of my knowledge, have any of my reports been substantiated and addressed properly. Sadly, I suspect more women continue to be on the receiving end of unwanted, professionally, dehumanizing solicitations.
Clearly this is part of a much larger conversation about subtle forms of sexual harassment that are still very much a part of our professional reality. If you are a business owner or leader and want to know what you can do, if you are a peer and aren’t sure how to intervene, or you have been on the receiving end of unrequited attention or actions, please join me next week as I interview one of Canada’s experts in sexual harassment, Stephen Hammond.
And in the meantime, please find someone you trust to speak to. You don’t have to deal with this alone.
For more content on dealing with negative aspects in the workplace, check out the links below: