I will never forget the first time it happened to me.
A male coworker and I were wrapping up the day. We were casually chatting about our week and upcoming plans for expanding the company’s marketing efforts.
In short, I was having a bad time at my company. The office was drab and grey, I wasn’t getting the experience I needed and I did not feel inspired to better myself. I was living in a perpetual Groundhog Day, and in that moment I felt vulnerable enough to open up.
“You know to be honest I’m thinking about leaving and doing something else. I’ve been feeling really depressed here and I’m just not sure I am meant for a corporate environment,” I confided in him.
He laughed, placed his hand on my knee and said “I think you fit perfectly in corporate. I mean, you are always dressing like a sexy secretary.”
Over 30 percent of women will experience some form sexual harassment at least once in their career. This statistic may be horrendous, but thanks to our powerful and brave generation of women, time is up for those men who believe they can say and do whatever they please without consequence.
Although this movement is at full force, this does not mean all cases of harassment will disappear overnight. That being said, if you find yourself facing uncomfortable advancements from somebody at work, take this advice on how to handle it.
Note: If you find yourself in a situation where you feel threatened, your safety is in danger or you have been assaulted go straight to the “Get Outside Help” step.
Stand Up For Yourself
If your harasser wants to act like an immature child, feel free to approach them like one. And just like disciplining a child, the first step is to never condone bad behavior.
There is absolutely no excuse for ANY kind of inappropriate behavior in the workplace, but let’s say your harasser thinks you are a little more “buddy-buddy” than you are comfortable with and said something that insulted you. Make it clear to your harasser that they have crossed your boundaries.
In my personal case, after my harasser’s “secretary” comment, I was very clear that it was not funny and that I did not support or welcome his behavior. I shook him off, looked him square in the eye and told him that I did not appreciate that comment, and that I did not look like a sexy secretary. I looked like my title, a manager.
Nobody wants to be accused of harassment so calling out the individual will hopefully humiliate them enough to completely eliminate that behavior. Luckily for me, after my confrontation he apologized profusely and never made a similar comment again.
Don’t Suffer In Silence
Keeping your negative feelings and concerns to yourself can be detrimental to your emotional health. I cannot express enough how important it is for you to have somebody to share your deepest thoughts and feelings with, especially when it comes to uncomfortable situations in the workplace. If something happens at work that makes you feel uneasy, be sure to voice it to somebody you trust like a friend, significant other, co-worker, mentor or therapist.
There may be times when something happens that makes you feel uncomfortable and you feel unsure how to approach the situation (or might even think you are overthinking or overreacting). Getting those concerns out in the open to somebody you trust will not only allow you to receive advice from another vantage point, it will also help you revisit and reassess your situation.
It is also important to find somebody to safely confide in for legal reasons. Worst case scenario, if you find yourself needing to bring your experience to the courtroom, having individuals who know the story and are willing to back you up will help your case immensely.
Report Bad Behavior
Like I said above, never suffer in silence. If you have made it clear to your harasser that you are uncomfortable with their comments or advances and the behavior continues, don’t hesitate to take it to HR or upper management.
Both HR and senior management should be properly trained over how to handle sexual harassment scenarios. They will be able to provide impartial advice as well as steps to address and eliminate this situation. At this point they should take the situation into their own hands to discreetly handle themselves.
In order to help the process run smoothly and quickly, it helps to gather documentation and evidence of your harassment (witness testimonials, messages, emails, photos, etc) before you bring this up to senior management. Make sure this information is as dry and to-the-point as possible. Don’t embellish your statements and evidence with opinions or emotions. This will help prove your case and will also help the leadership you are approaching understand what next steps should be taken.
Although you are justifyingly upset over this situation, leave your emotions outside of your meeting. Approach your official complaint with a level-head and provide only the information needed in order to address the issue at hand. Even if you love your company and have been treated well there, at the end of the day your employer will still have a hidden agenda, they want to avoid a costly lawsuit. So NEVER verbally tell your employer that you “don’t want to take this to court” or that you don’t “want it to be a big deal”. By doing this, they may not take you seriously. This IS a big deal, don’t brush it off.
Get Outside Help
If you still find yourself facing issues with inappropriate behavior from your harasser after directly clarifying your discomfort and approaching HR/senior management or notice your company is doing nothing to handle the situation, it’s time to take matters into your own hands and contact outside help.
To do this, your first step is to contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is an organization dedicated to investigating sexual harassment and discrimination cases in the workplace. In order to open an investigation, you will simply need to reach out to the EEOC and provide them with details such as the name of your company, your harasser’s name, and the background information covering your situation. Keep in mind that complaints should be filed within 180 days of the incident, so it is a good idea to try to contact them as soon as you can.
After filing your complaint, it is a good idea to explore hiring a lawyer who specializes in sexual harassment cases. A lawyer will help you understand your rights and will even inform you if you are able to pursue monetary damages from your workplace. It is comforting to have a qualified professional in your corner to provide you with support and advice throughout your formal investigation process.
Dealing with inappropriate behavior in the office can make you feel frightened, frustrated and alone, but remember that you are not a delicate little flower. Don’t tolerate this through gritted teeth.
You are a lion, a threat, an apex predator. You have the resources, knowledge, tools and self-respect to fight back in any situation. Time is up for sexual harassment. It is the dawn of a new day for women in the workforce, and we are not afraid to stand up to injustice and bare our teeth.
Let’s keep fighting until we can make sexual harassment a thing of the past.
The advice expressed in this article is based purely on opinion and any decision made to move forward with the advice listed is up to the discretion of the reader.