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.
Dating. Divorce. Marriage. Being single. None of it is easy.
I don't think any of us have the right answers or know exactly what we are doing when we navigate through relationships or breakups, even if we do take every Buzzfeed quiz there is out there. What I have found out though, is by writing this book, Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog: Stories about Dating, Divorce & Saying "I Do" most everyone can relate to some part of it, whether it is having an awkward date, being dumped, or falling in love. The short stories read as if we are talking over drinks at a bar gossiping about our love life. It's as if, you, reader, are one of my best friends. I hope by reading this book you are reminded that you don't have to be anybody but you and your mistakes are simply memories to learn upon. Get comfy, grab a glass of wine (or your beverage of choice), cuddle with your furry companion (pet or otherwise), and enjoy…
From the chapter "Kansas & The Firepit" from Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog: Stories about Divorce, Dating & Saying "I Do"
I had lost my dog to my ex. I was a mess. I thought this man was going to be by my side the rest of my life, I had gained a lot of weight. Not the kind of weight you gain when you tell your friend "OMG, Kelly, I, like, put on five pounds this summer because of all the partying I've been doing at the rooftop bars," but real weight. The weight that makes you feel totally inadequate. The weight that makes you say, Hey I might as well keep eating because it doesn't matter anymore. I was inconsolable during that summer.
I still wasn't completely out of my trash TV and alcohol phase, but I had switched to vodka, at least. Which, let's be real, just hides the fact that you're an alcoholic. I wasn't really talking to anyone about my problems. My mom tried to take me to fat camp. Yes, fat camp. When your mother says the reason why you're not happy is because you're fat, there comes a point where you really don't know whether to laugh, cry, or drink. I think I did all three. The reason why I wasn't happy was because I was going through a divorce, and my life was unraveling. I was not only unhappy but also fat, so I guess there was some truth to that. It was just what I needed to hear to get myself back to reality.
While cleaning the kitchen one day, I walked by a pair of boxing gloves. Boxing was something I had always been interested in. Watching it on TV and having some friends that had done it professionally, I figured I would take the plunge and put this "body after breakup" into motion.
There was only one boxing club in our area for fitness. I walked into the afternoon classes knowing that I was going to be a little out of my element, but I'm not afraid of a challenge. I'm an outgoing person and being sports savvy, I knew that I would catch on quickly. The guy teaching the class, Kansas, was very attractive. Ladies, you know how in yoga when you have to do the sun god pose? Well, let's just say he was what you would hope a sun god looked like. With sweat glistening down the side of his face, it was almost as if the ceiling parted and angels started singing as he stood over you telling you, "Ten more!" as you got down for ab rounds between punches. This guy was exciting. He was energetic. He was. . . constantly checking on me during class to make sure my form was correct, since I was new, and let's face it—I was totally OK with the attention. After class I signed up for a one-year membership and became addicted, not just because I loved the workouts but also because of the hot trainer.
I started coming to class three times a week, initially taking only Kansas's classes, but not wanting to look obvious when I really started crushing on him, I had to mix it up. I mean, this is Crushing 101. This was my first crush out of the gate post-divorce, so exactly what you think would happen, happened. Kansas became my rebound guy. I would make any excuse to linger after class (which, looking back, just made me look desperate), but then sometimes I would switch it up and leave. I mean, it was a game. I was trying to figure out if he was interested or not. It was exhausting. After talking after class for a few weeks, I happened to mention a home improvement project I had been thinking of working on. Being the good listener (stalker?) that I was, I knew he just happened to be interested in home improvements, as he did many of his own. I figured that would be a great way to get to know each other better and for him to fall completely in love with me, of course. Duh. Now I had a reason to cross something off my "list". I love sitting outside and having a glass of wine and listening to music by a fire. I wasn't really sure how I was going to accomplish this task on my own, but recruiting a fine gentleman like Kansas would be a good start. So, he agreed to my firepit project, and after gathering supplies at Home Depot, he came over, and I quote to you from my journal, I kid you not:
So today he shows up, and we are in the backyard digging the hole, and he takes his shirt off. His body is a wonderland! I mean sweat is just glistening down his torso. So I had to change the subject somehow and shut my gaping mouth, so like an idiot I say, "Oh, look, a callus on my hand," and he says, "Those on a woman are sexy." FML.
Ladies and gentlemen, do you want to know what I did that day? Something so adult and so mature: I pushed him into the dirt. I pushed that beautiful body into the dirt. I couldn't take it. I was like a schoolkid on a playground. Because that is the type of tantrum this lady used to throw. Kansas took it as flirting. I took it as frustration, because I couldn't tell a boy I liked him at the time.
This whole awkward flirting game went on for a few more weeks. Kansas would come over, and we'd dig more holes (to bury my dignity in) or set stones—I don't know. I thought rebound guys were supposed to be fun, casual things, but this wasn't fun at all. This was like homework in school. Every day I'd come home from "class," and I'd strategize on what I needed to do to make better "grades." If I had actually spent half the time in real school that I spent on Kansas, I would've had a 4.0. I was having to chase him, but I almost didn't know what race I was running. After all, I hadn't dated since 1884. So I figured if the firepit thing didn't work, then I'd write him a poem... Like a moron...