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Exclusive: I Was Sexually Harassed By My Mentor

4min read
Culture

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.

Our newsletter that womansplains the week
3min read
Self

It’s Time for Women to Stop Worrying About Being “Too Much”

We are living in a time when women are rising to new heights which means they are regularly being confronted with the fear of being "too much". For women in business this is pervasive and costly.

A few ways women can be perceived as "too much" are:

Speaking up about their successes and achievements.

Sharing one too many photos of their cute kids.

Telling one too many people about that date night.

Looking a little too good in that swimsuit.

These can lead to being publicly attacked on social media or privately slandered which in turn leads to women dimming their light and walking on egg shells in hopes of avoiding conflict and judgement.

The minute a woman feels it's unsafe to shine she will begin to overthink, worry, and fear how she shows up in the world.

Forgetting to announce the book is done and the interview is live.

Choosing to focus on what's still on the to-do list rather than what's been checked off.

Many female entrepreneurs are subconsciously altering their behavior in an attempt to not attract too much attention to themselves, rather than focusing on allowing authenticity and magnetism to attract their ideal clients and community.

Women are afraid of being criticized, ostracized, and abandoned by other women for simply being who they are. This leads to quite the quantum when being who you are is simplest way to accelerate the growth of your business.

New research shows men are far more comfortable with self promotion than women are. Researchers found that men rate their own performance 33 percent higher than equally performing women. What we know is that self promotion pays off and this is where women are missing the boat.

The world needs more women to step into leadership roles and no longer be intimidated about creating six and seven figure careers.

Here are five ways to release the fear of being "too much":

1. Approve of yourself.

While it feels good to receive outside validation it will never be enough if you don't first appreciate yourself. The key to having a healthy support system is to make sure you are part of it. Being your biggest critic is what your mother's generation did. It's now time to be your biggest cheerleader. Becoming aware of self talk will reveal what belief is ready to be re-wired. Create a simply mantra that affirms how incredible capable you are.

2. Connect deeply to those you serve.

One powerful way to shift out of people pleasing behavior is to get clear on who actually matters to the wellbeing and success of your life and business. Leadership is not about being the most popular, instead it's a decision to be brave for those who can't be. Take a few minutes each day to visualize and meditate on those your business serves and supports. See your future clients moving toward you every time you choose to stand in your power and use your authentic voice.

3. Remember the legacy you wish to leave.

Having your life purpose and legacy in writing is one of the most transformational exercises you can do. Reading this often will keep you focused on what matters. Knowing what you wish to leave in the hearts of those you love most is incredibly grounding. You didn't come here to keep your mouth shut, dilute your truth, or dim your light-you came here to make a difference.

4. Forgive those who have been unsupportive in the past.

The past has a way of informing the future in a negative way when there is unresolved pain. Take a few minutes to get quiet and ask yourself who you have unforgiveness towards or maybe their name came to mind as you read this article. Listening to a forgiveness meditation or writing a letter to the person you are ready to forgive are both simple and effective ways to process and heal.

5. Be part a community of bright, successful women.

Meaningful relationships with others who have similar aspirations is what will keep you out of isolation and playing small. These connections can happen in a networking group, online community or a local Meetup. Thriving in every area of life is depend on you knowing where you belong and being celebrated there. Don't wait to be invited, go actively seek out people and places that support your dreams and desires.

6. Accept you can have it all.


Women have been fed a lie for generations that says, you can have love or money. Decide you can have it all and allow it to flow to you. You can have a successful career and an amazing mother. You can balance motherhood and loving marriage. Don't let anyone write the rules for you. This is the time to create the life you desire on your terms.

7. Celebrate everything!

The fastest way to leave the haters in the dust is to celebrate everything! At the end of each day lay in bed and recall the best moments. At the end of each week, publicly acknowledge and celebrate what's good in your life. Once a month, have a celebration dinner and share it with those who have helped you in the journey. If there's something good happening, talk about it with everyone who will listen!

May you be a woman who chooses to shine so that others may be reminded of all they can be and do.