What I’m doing: Getting settled after a big move!
What I’m working on: Preparing for a big conference
What I am reading: How to Win Friends and Influence People
I watched the blood well up after tearing a hangnail and felt my emotions spill over as I began to cry. I had just reported sexual harassment to HR for the first time.
I knew that sexual harassment was prevalent in all fields, and I was resigned to the fact that I was bound to come across it sooner or later in my career. However, I didn’t anticipate it to rear its ugly head quite so soon. Six months into my first full time position in local government, I faced a situation that, upon retelling, made people cringe and look down in disappointment and disgust.
I was lucky enough to have a mentor that provided support and guidance in this difficult time. Not everyone has someone like that in their life, so I thought I would share some of the lessons I learned that helped me through this experience.
**A quick disclaimer, I have my lived experience that will be very different from every other. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t follow my advice!**
After the incident, I immediately began questioning myself.
Should I have skipped social hour?
Did my behavior justify what happened?
Should I just laugh it off and not take myself so seriously?
Am I making a big deal about nothing?
These questions and more ran through my head. It took a serious step back, and an outside perspective, to realize I was the one acted upon and not the one who undertook the action.
Lesson one: The harassment is on the harasser, not the victim.
It turns out it doesn’t matter if you don’t want your harasser to get in trouble, fired, or even if you like them. It matters that they harassed you and it was unacceptable. I had to ask myself, “would the action be any less acceptable if I didn’t like this person or they weren’t good at their job?”
Lesson two: When deciding what to do about a harassment situation, look at the action and not the person.
I struggled internally on whether or not to report. I didn’t want to. I worried about a livelihood being lost, a competent employee no longer contributing, how others would treat me if they found out, and about going through the process. At the end of the day, it came down to taking responsibility for the culture of the organization. If we’re going to take our organizations into the future, we must leave behind a culture that fosters and allows sexual harassment. Without doing so, we stunt our ability to create an inclusive workforce that reflects the communities we serve.
Lesson three: Refuse to allow sexual harassment to have a place in your organization.
I had to learn these lessons first hand, but fortunately I had someone to guide me through them. I remember my mentor looking me in the eye and saying things like:
“This is absolutely unacceptable”
“Now is our time, Lindsay. We are not letting this continue, not in our city”
“Would you like me to go with you?”
I couldn’t have done this without the support of my mentor at work. She took the time to let me feel, process what happened, and helped me take control of the narrative.
Lesson four: Have a mentor outside your everyday work environment to call upon in moments of distress.
Although I wish I never had this experience and it wasn’t fair what happened to me, I’ve learned valuable lessons along the way. I learned how to support someone going through a similar situation. I’ve had a first hand experience on how important it is for the victim to have steady, strong, and present support throughout the process and beyond. In the future, I can use my experience to help others, and that is a gift.
Lesson five: Share your “lessons learned” and support others when you can.
If anyone needs someone to listen, please reach out to me or others for support.