5 Ways to Address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
By Esme Oliver
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 5 tips to address sexual harassment in the workplace
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.
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. Then any inappropriate message in a folder designated for inappropriate behavior.
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 pm could very well help you in ending the unwelcome behavior.
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 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 pm! 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 am when I am in the office. Just do not engage; it will only encourage him, and the pattern will continue.
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.
About Esme Oliver
Esme Oliver is the author of Smoke, Drink F*#K -- an acclaimed romance novel that has been featured in Bustle, the Huffington Post and NPR. She has worked as an attorney, a health-care lobbyist, and a legislative director for two US Senators; work which sharpened her left brain but didn't quite fulfill her soul. Esme eventually left DC for her native Midwest, where she now writes grants (for money) and stories (for fun). She enjoys lots of travel and a long list of other activities that pair well with a nice Pinot.