It seems like every week there is a ‘hot-off-the-presses’ story about harassment in the workplace. And this week it was literally about the press…no sooner did CBS head Leslie Moonves step down over accusations of misconduct; Jeff Fager, the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” was fired after threatening a reporter (a CBS reporter no less) who dared to ask about accusations of groping by Fager at company social events. When I first published this article last year it was after Susan Fowler’s post exposing a toxic work environment at Uber which led to a C-suite overhaul at the company. It’s sad that there is a reason to brush off, update and share again.
The regular clip at which harassment is exposed makes you wonder if it’s the norm and not the exception in today’s (and yesterday’s) workplace. You need only look around and ask a few questions to know that this is true. Women are getting braver and stronger thanks to those that came before in the battle to out the rot. But the dumpster pile of bad behavior is deeper, wider and more pervasive than we can probably smoke out. Below is a dark chapter of my own career history…
How it Feels to Be Harassed
Some time ago I was witness to, and a victim of, the dark and unspoken epidemic of workplace harassment. Again, it’s a disease that afflicts people at all types of companies in all locales worldwide. The tech industry is a particular risk as fast money has loosened morals.
A senior member of our team was rumored to have allegedly touched dozens of women inappropriately, aggressively and out-of-site. Most women said nothing. Some women left the company refusing to say why. Hearing rumors, feeling unsure of what to do and ultimately not being able to do much has haunted many of those on the periphery. When I personally received frightening, sexual text messages late at night after a work event I reported him. He said the texts were not meant for me…allegedly. I had just been at a party with this colleague and I didn’t even know he had my number.
A number of brave women came forward to say that they had been cornered. They said he put his hands down their pants, up their skirts and they were too frightened to admit it before he was investigated for the texts to me. The perpetrator ultimately received a payout to go. He quickly got a new job. Senior leaders went back to work. Counseling not justice was the compensation for women wronged. Rumors circulated (often with wrong info and often accusing the women involved of ruining this man’s career…although a look at his Linkedin profile shows a career without any gaps) Senior people who previously overlooked his alleged behavior ghosted me, my colleagues. And that was it.
Would you Stand up or Look Away
Did it happen again somewhere else? To another person? Another company? Possibly.
So here is why it’s not as easy to just point fingers at any one company, we need to look at ourselves, our work places, the rumors, the facts. Women (and men) need to feel safe and okay to report harassment and assault. Luckily thanks for champions for justice, such as the eloquent Ronan Farrow, the topic is not as taboo.
My supervisor later said to me after he left that I should be considerate of the impact this all would have had on him and his family. The impact, that is, of leaving with a payout and a spotless record. Maybe he’s changed, but I can’t help but wonder what happened to the women he hurt.
So have that whistle ready to go. Don’t look away; we’ve got your back.