I wish you would have told me.
I was recently asked to speak at a conference for the next International Women’s Day in March 2021 (stay tuned for more details!) with the topic assigned as “systemic sexism”. I am limited to a 10-15 minute talk with Q&A and this is all currently planned to be virtual this year. The audience will be broad with some leaders and managers, as well as some young professionals just starting out and will likely be 100% female. As I have been thinking about what I want to say to these fellow women leaders in the audience I keep getting pulled to the ones that are not formal leaders or managers, and thinking about what I wish someone would have said to me as I embarked on my career as a young, idealistic and ambitious social worker. So, I have decided to say it here in hopes it may cross the desk of someone who needs it.
First, I am proudly a part of the Me - Too movement and had to endure sexual harassment from peers and supervisors that ranged from comments about my appearance to egregious acts that crossed physical boundaries. I am proud because I am a part of a movement that joined women together. One that made us stronger in our union and gave us a shared goal of making the workplace and the world a little better for all of us and hopefully future generations.
This is what I want to say to you if you are in a job that either allows sexual harassment to occur, or your supervisor or someone in power is currently crossing the line:
· It is never acceptable under any circumstance for anyone to touch you in a sexual manner
in the workplace.
· It is never acceptable under any circumstance for anyone to speak to you or to expose
themselves to you in a sexual manner.
· Report the act or behavior to someone you trust in power whether it is someone in the
agency or a colleague.
· Document what happened and when. This is both an important record and can offer
clarity when you need it.
· Know that there are places to work where these behaviors are not tolerated.
· Never let anyone take your power away. This is a hard one and it may take
time to gather your power back again, but you can do it.
The breadth of what sexual harassment can and does look like in the workplace is not reflected here. The complexity and often seemingly impossible task of finding another job when someone in power is abusing their power is not reflected here. This is not a comprehensive answer to the painful reality of sexual harassment in this world. But I wish someone would have said this to me.