Evy Poumpouras, Ageless
TV Correspondent and Former Secret Service Special Agent
One of only five women to have won the United States Secret Service Medal Of Valor, Evy Poumpouras is a true renegade. “Even when you fail - which you will - it's not over until you stop trying,” the former Secret Service Agent remarks. It was with sheer determination that Poumpouras came to triumph in her career, and and now she devotes much of her time as an adjunct professor for The City University of New York instructing criminal justice to those that wish to follow in her incredible footsteps.
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I followed my heart in the career choices I made, both in becoming a Secret Service Agent and then a TV journalist later in life. Although people want to give you their advice sometimes it can confuse you. In the end, the only opinion that matters is mine because I have to live with the decisions I make. For years all I have ever heard and still hear is ‘You don't look like a Secret Service Agent.’ My response, ‘Thank you.’
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
Most people have a stereotype in their mind that women have to look and act masculine to be in law enforcement. I maintained my authenticity and embraced the fact that I was a woman. I learned that I could still kick ass and be a lady about it. I’m someone who takes risks in life and that has always thrown people off. I constantly need to grow as a human being and that requires change. For me, staying the same is staying afraid.
"For years all I have ever heard and still hear is ‘You don't look like a Secret Service Agent.’ My response, ‘Thank you.’"
"What I learned is that true strength lives in the mind and heart. It is about your will to succeed and push on even when you want to quit."
3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?
I was initially told that I wasn't strong enough to be a Secret Service Agent simply because of what I looked like. I trained day and night, and ignored the noise around me.
Overtime I learned that you can't demand respect, it is something people choose to give. But you can command it in how you face adversity and carry yourself. We show the world who we are by what we repeatedly do.
4. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative in your own life or career?
There is a narrative that women aren’t strong or tough enough to be in law enforcement. I never bought into that, nor did I care to listen. I wasn’t going to let a stereotype dictate what I did with my life. I trained relentlessly, pushed myself and made sacrifices. What I learned is that true strength lives in the mind and heart. It is about your will to succeed and push on even when you want to quit. I swayed my narrative by believing in myself and tuning out the bullshit. I define who am, not others. After all, I wasn’t a female special agent. I was a special agent. Period!
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
Don't listen to anyone because in the end you have to live with the decisions you make. Even when you fail, which you will, it's not over until you stop trying.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.