How I Learned to Address Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

The Conversation (1)
Debra22 Dec, 2019

As women, we may not be able to avoid putting ourselves in emotionally harmful environments, but we can confront other barriers our gender faces when trying to start a career and get an education: https://medium.com/c%C3%B3digo-ecuador/harassment-isnt-always-what-you-think-aaa5d6278594

Fresh Voices
4min read

Ever since I graduated from college, I have worked in high-pressure environments with a lot of powerful men. The vast majority of men, who I interacted with on a daily basis, were my superiors. I have worked in Congress, law firms, a Fortune 100 company, and a startup throughout my career. As different as each job sounds, I had one thing in common at all of them. I was at the receiving end of sexual harassment at each job.

Believe it or not, I can say that I have been sexually harassed at almost every job I have ever had. However, in the wake of the #metoo movement, this fact probably won't surprise you or anyone else. Although I was young and naive when a lot of this happened, upon the precipice of 40, I did eventually work up the courage to file a lawsuit against my harasser -- and I won.

This was a daunting undertaking, but I realized it was something I personally needed to do. Quite simply, it was time for me to stick up for myself, and in the end, I felt proud of myself for finally doing it.

After all these experiences, I decided to write a fictional book based on facts about it. An Anthology of Evil Men (Riverdale Avenue Books) chronicles some of my deeply personal encounters in the workplace and is shared which hopefully imparts some wisdom to the readers. My goal in putting out this book was for those who are experiencing workplace harassment to know that you are not alone, and you can take control of the situation.

If you find yourself as a victim of inappropriate sexual advances, there are simple steps you can take to initially diffuse the situation. Here are five tips to address sexual harassment in the workplace

1. Shut Down Inappropriate Behavior ASAP.

When I received texts or emails from my coworkers and even superiors that contained inappropriate comments such as "You looked really hot today at work" or "I wish we could go to a secluded island together," I would text something back. I didn't write comments back to encourage the behavior because I wanted it to stop. But for some reason, as a younger professional, I always felt compelled to be friendly and upbeat. I wanted people to like me, and I did not want to make waves at work. However, with a much sharper eye now coupled with wisdom from years of putting up with this poor behavior, I recommend shutting this behavior down early. I would not respond at all --- as we know from "ghosting" in the dating world, not being responded to at all sends a very clear message. Alternatively, you should call it out as inappropriate behavior and let the sender know it makes you uncomfortable.

2. Document. Document. Document.

As a former lawyer, I still tell all women who come to me with workplace harassment stories to document everything that is said, done, received, etc. Often these situations come down to a he said/she said, but if you save the emails or write down the comments that are made or record them, you have the proof you may need later. Keep any inappropriate message in a folder designated for inappropriate behavior.

3. Set Boundaries.

You do NOT have to always be friendly and upbeat at work -- especially with creeps. It helps to set firm boundaries, and it will send a clear message to the perpetrator. Something as simple as shutting your office door or not responding to a text or email sent at 9 p.m. could very well help you in ending the unwelcome behavior.

4. Shut Off Your Phone After Work and on the Weekends.

I was always eager to please my coworkers -- and that meant being doing work even when I was off from work. I have had men send me texts and emails at night and when they were out drinking on the weekend, and these messages will more often than not contain at least one thing inappropriate in them. Do not respond to any emails after work hours. Your coworkers should not be reaching out to you after 6 p.m.! If you keep getting late-night texts or emails, simply say I do not respond to emails after work hours. If you need anything, you can contact me tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. when I am in the office. Just do not engage; it will only encourage him, and the pattern will continue.

5. Go to HR.

The last step, of course, is to report the conduct to HR. I know this can be difficult, especially if the person who is harassing you is your boss. I once had to report my boss for serious harassment, and they did do an investigation (and he did admit to many of my allegations), but in the end, all that happened was he got sent to "sensitivity" training. However, that's not the case today. Finally, in the aftermath of the #metoo movement, corporate HR Directors are taking this stuff seriously. After an investigation -- especially if you documented as advised above --- you could very well see your harasser fired-- getting his just due.

The bottom line: Don't be afraid. It's illegal for them to retaliate. Take care of YOU first.

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How This CEO Is Using Your Period To Prevent Chronic Diseases

With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.

For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.

Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."

There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."

“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"

-Anna Villarreal

Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.

How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.

So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."

To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."

These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.

A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.

To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."

How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.

Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."