Been harassed in the workplace? I have.

It’s all very well for Harvey Weinstein to put his hands up and say ‘hey, sorry about that, I’m sick and I need help’, but the fact that all the other men stood around and watched it happen without stepping in, is the problem with harassment in our society today. Not just in the workplace, but life in general. I’m pleased to say that not all men are like this, but I wish I had someone on my side when it happened to me in the workplace.

Although now 20 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. I guess that’s the effect it has on a person. It knocks the confidence right out of you to the point where you start questioning yourself – did I deserve that? Did I do something wrong? The person in question was a director of the company I worked for and I endured not only verbal abuse from him but also physical abuse, which scared me. I was one of the few female sales reps on the road in the industry and fortunately I was respected by my predominantly male customer base so I was strong and confident, and I didn’t scare easily. I never had a problem while out on the road and never expected to encounter something like this in the office of my company.

This guys was angry. He was angry and he was a big guy. The abuse started with some snide remarks here and there, but slowly turned into nasty abuse overtime – only audible to me, not to anyone else.  There was also an incident in the warehouse which freaked me out and that was the tipping point so I reported him to the other directors. Here comes the crunch. What did they do? They decided to keep me at arm’s length from this person. What does that mean exactly? They asked me to stay away from him, don’t be in the same room as him without someone else present and don’t go anywhere off premises with him unless someone else was present. The truth be if I look back on it, they were as uncomfortable about dealing with it as I was. But the point is, they didn’t deal with it. They didn’t have a direct conversation with him about his behaviour. They let it go and swept it under the carpet.

I didn’t stay with the company for long after. Unfortunately, this is not a unique situation as many women either put up with this behaviour or are too scared to report it. They are afraid of being ridiculed by their colleagues and are just plain scared of the perpetrator. Either way, it’s uncomfortable for everyone to deal with but must be dealt with nevertheless. Perhaps men dealing with another man’s bad workplace behaviour forces them to look at their own behaviour, not just sweeping it under the proverbial carpet, but challenging what is acceptable and what just totally isn’t.

When it comes to abuse in the workplace, men need to have a serious conversation with other men who do it. It’s not good enough to just ‘let it go’. Fortunately, I was strong enough to overcome it but I’m sure it didn’t help me. It has damaged my opinion of men and my trust that I will have the support in the workplace. In my situation, the other directors could have done something about it, but they chose not to. They were all men by the way.