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Exclusive: I Was Sexually Harassed By My Mentor

5 Min Read
People

Me, too. And, if you're reading this, and you identify as a woman, probably you, too. Turning the tide on workplace harassment through transparency, solidarity, and support


Here's my story:

I was a new employee at an institution--responsible for, among other duties, preventing and responding to sexual harassment of students--and was assigned a mentor to help me succeed. This person was well-regarded at the institution and I experienced them as taking a genuine interest in me and my work. We met frequently, my mentor sharing institutional knowledge and advice, connecting me to other influential figures in the organization, and supporting my professional growth--it was a positive experience for me. I invited my mentor to my first big public event, and they came.

After offering on-stage remarks, I stepped off-stage - out of the spotlights and into the curtained shadows. Suddenly, I felt an arm snake around my waist and I felt my body being pulled backward and pressed into someone. I felt someone's moist lips press into the bare flesh of my exposed back, hot breath spreading along my skin.

I froze. Then, I pulled away, turned, and saw that the person who had stepped out of the darkness, kissed my bare back, and pressed their body against mine, was my mentor.

The thoughts that flashed through my brain in that nanosecond are still so clear: “Did anyone see this? Did my students see this? My boss? What will they think? Is it because I laughed at their jokes? Gave them a hug? Is this blouse inappropriate? Am I sending mixed signals?" Doubts swirled furiously around an immediate question at the eye of my internal storm of shame: “What did I do to make this person think their touch was welcome, that it was okay?"

I knew that I should report this behavior. And yet, even though it was my job to end sexual harassment on campus, I was terrified to do so. I was afraid. Afraid I would not be believed (who is crazy enough to harass the anti-harassment lady, after all), that I would experience negative impact in my career (I was, after all, new to campus, and this person was very well-liked and respected), and that my damaged credibility would affect my ability to advocate for other staff and for students. And then, only three days later, as I was weighing all these issues in my mind, my university President issued a powerful statement, condemning sexual violence and harassment, and encouraging those impacted to come forward. I printed that statement, shoved it in my bag, and walked to the personnel office to report.

Here's what happened next..

1. My report was taken seriously, and an investigation was immediately launched. Within a week, my mentor admitted the behavior and was found responsible for harassing me.

2. My boss reassured me that reporting was the right thing to do and that I would not suffer consequences. She expressed sincere regret that I had not been safe at my job, and offered me appropriate counseling resources.

3. A plan was put in place that separated me from this person in our professional lives, extending beyond 9-5 to consider all the informal work situations where we may both need to be present.

Over the next half-decade at the institution, this is what happened:

1. I felt respected at my job, and my credibility, professionalism, or authority wasn't questioned because I had made a report.

2. I received opportunities for advancement.

3. I was never asked to work with this person again in any capacity.

4. My supervisors, who changed over time, continued to check in with me to ensure that I was not experiencing negative consequences for my choice to report.

While I should have never been physically assaulted at my job, I received exactly the kind of treatment that EVERY person who experiences harassment in the workplace should receive when they choose to report and that so few actually do. Though I never shared with anyone I worked with that I had reported someone for sexual harassment, my personal experience gave me confidence that the institution would seek to do right by those who came forward to share their experience.

These are the lessons from my own experience that any workplace can adopt to encourage employees to report, and support those who have experienced harm:

1. Provide information and support to the harmed employee during the investigation. Outline specifically what steps the investigation is likely to entail, when possible, offer to notify the employee regarding who you are intending to interview as a part of the investigation, and check in weekly, if desired, on the progress of the investigation. Put protective measures in place during the investigation to ensure the employee does not experience further harm. Take their fears of retaliation seriously and work with them to put a plan in place to prevent retaliation and address it if it occurs. Make confidential counseling options available and provide an opportunity for the individual to use those services during the workday.

2. Once an investigation is completed, share as much information as possible with the reporting employee--including what they can share about their experience and to whom. Word of mouth information about your organization's respectful and effective sexual harassment grievance process is the best way to encourage others to use the systems in place. Engage the impacted employee in developing a plan for supporting their personal and professional well-being that includes regular check-ins. These practices are appropriate regardless of whether the investigation yields a finding of sexual harassment.

3. Increase transparency in how your organization addresses sexual harassment and prevents its recurrence. While organizations may not share information about individual investigations, they can provide information in aggregate. Practices such as issuing a yearly report that provides data on, for example, how many reports were filed, how many were investigated, the aggregate outcomes, and the range of sanctions issued for those outcomes, sends a powerful message to the entire community that sexual harassment will not be tolerated, and that individuals found to have committed the behavior will be held accountable. It is a powerful step in building a culture of respect and trust.

Finally, encourage your senior leadership to address the issue both internally and externally on a regular basis. Messaging that promotes a respectful workplace climate and that encourages reporting, along with effective and prompt investigations and meaningful support for those who do come forward are the keys to both increasing reporting and supporting survivors. In our journey to ending sexual harassment changing the culture begins with transforming #MeToo into #IReportedAndWasSupported.


This piece was originally published September 9, 2019.

How to Learn Much More From the Books You Read

It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.

Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.

Read with a Purpose

Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.

Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.

Pre-Read

When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.

Highlight

Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.

Speed Read

You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.

Quality Reading

Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.

Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.

Summarize

If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.

Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.