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My Story on Sexual Harassment at Work and Tips for Dealing with It

Posted on the 30 January 2012 by Ncrimaldi @MsCareerGirl
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I’m very excited to have a guest post by Chloe Esposito of UnderitAll.com today. Thanks for sharing your story so honestly Chloe! I know there are many other women who’ve experienced the same thing. -Nicole

They say the way to success is to climb on the shoulders of those who have already been there.

So when I took a secretarial position at one of the largest media companies in the world, I thought it would be a great place to start. In fact, directing calls, coordinating and assisting executive meetings and learning to ease stress in times of last-minute needs and malfunctions became quite rewarding; rewarding until the vulnerability and hospital nature of my position made me a prime target for men trying to pick up women on the job.

After four years of college I didn’t think my most essential skill  would be defending my secretarial territory in a corporate jungle filled with overly aggressive and powerful men.

My naivety to the outstanding issue that surfaces in most work environments ended one afternoon when helping an executive set up a meeting. I noticed the executive’s middle-aged guest giving me ‘the stare down.’ It wasn’t long before the meeting was out and the same older man was at my desk asking if I was married. Shocked and embarrassed, since he had no shame in asking me in front of the entire office, I told him no, which later lead to a long and painful rant of how well he would treat me and how I should find out by getting drinks and dinner with him.

I had no idea what to do as the entire office stared at me. I remember sinking lower and lower into my chair trying to think of what to say next. However, the only thing I could come up with was a timid, “No, thank-you,” which obviously didn’t stand a chance with a professional negotiator.

I found out, however, that I did the right thing. I was told, “I’ve seen it happen before- young professional turns down older executive, squashes his ego, older executive seeks revenge, young professional gets fired.” If I wanted to keep my job, I would have to stay clear of harming any egos, and get back to work.

However, after many more instances, I became fed up. I finally threw in the towel when I saw a well-established journalist/anchor get off the elevator in a panic. A man who worked in the building had followed her into the elevator, assaulted her and then ran off when the elevator opened.

I didn’t care whom the man was. I called security, they reviewed the tapes, and within that same day, the man was fired.

No matter what anyone says, sexual harassment and discrimination should never be tolerated. The most disappointing part, however, is that most don’t speak up about it, and the ones that do, such as in the recent Herman Cain sexual assault allegations, often have alternative agendas…

However, what about those that are looking for justice?

According to a report, 17.3% of women and 4.8% of men in a sample group had quit their job because of sexual harassment and 7.1% of the women had missed work for the same reason. In another study, 96% of victims reported emotional stress manifested in nervousness, fear, anger or sleeplessness and 63% developed physical reactions such as headaches, nausea and weight loss. The most mind-boggling part is that employees who used confrontation to cope with the harassment tended to experience worse job outcomes than others did. [1]

Recent confessions from Megan Fox, Gwynth Paltrow, Charlize Theron and Lisa Rinna have proven just this by stating how famous directors and producers have asked them for sexual favors in exchange for fame. Megan Fox told GQ last year how devastated she was by the number of Hollywood directors who have tried to sleep with her since becoming famous, along with Gwyneth Paltrow, who told Elle Magazine she had worked very hard on a deal, only to discover that ‘the people’ wanted it to be completed in the bedroom. Lastly, Lisa Rinna lost an important role in a TV series after refusing to have sex with the producer.

Don’t get me wrong, the proximity and time spent with co-workers at the workplace can in fact lead to healthy and happy relationships. A recent sample even showed that 25% of men 35% of women found love at the workplace and accepted it as normal.1 The issue at hand here, however, is recognizing that underneath socially acceptable behavior in the workplace lays a solid truth: sexual harassment does in fact exist and people need to know how to recognize, act and responsibly handle threatening and uncomfortable situations that effect their careers.

Below are the 6 facts every professional should know about sexual harassment in the workplace:

  1. Sexual harassment violates the law when you submit to sexual demands to keep your job or when behavior creates an intimidating, hostile and offensive working environment. If you find yourself in any of these situations you have the right to file a complaint because it is violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
  2. Act immediately and speak directly to the person at the time harassment occurs. Make it extremely clear that you are not interested and do not like to be touched while talking. Perhaps the actor was not intentional? Either way, if it bothered you speak up.
  3. If it persists keep a diary of what is happening with dates, times and places. Another option is to keep your phone with a recorder near by to record any ongoing instances. Record as much evidence as you can, for it can help you if the person does not stop.
  4. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. After a few instances I encountered I talked to my boss about what I was experiencing. It turned out she was used to dealing with the issue long before I took the position. We collaborated on what I should do and say if someone approached me again. She also told her boss about the situation incase it happened again. It felt really great knowing the company had my back and was willing to take action if it happened again.
  5. Retaliation is illegal so if you are transferred to a lower-paying job, passed over for promotion or let go; you can report this to an enforcement agency such as The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
  6. If you’re a boss, business or company owner don’t risk ignoring complaints because you can land in serious legal and financial trouble. According to Foxnews.com, even though most sexual harassment charges don’t reach a jury trial and almost 60% of sexual harassment charges are determined to have “no reasonable cause,” victims were still awarded more than $121 million in 2009. In addition, if the case were to go to trial, victims could obtain an average of $275,000. So don’t push it under the rug!

Whether you have experienced, witnessed or heard a story like mine, it is my hope that we can all be prepared on how to take action immediately if this common, yet buttoned up, workplace predicament happens to you.

  • Have you experienced sexual harassment in the workplace? 
  • How did you handle it?
  • Were you satisfied or upset with how the situation was taken care of?

[1] Lips. (2005). Sex & gender. (5 ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill.


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