Taking Action: Harassment and Discrimination in the Workplace

“Is your manager here?”

“Thanks, sweetheart.”

“Did your husband give you permission to give your number to other men?”

These common phrases are just a few heard by women in the workplace. After experiencing encounters like these, women often suppress the uncomfortable sensation provoked, hide the anger, or choke back responses, because we are either in shock at what we are experiencing or have been conditioned to believe it is normal, well-intentioned, or any reaction from us would be deemed emotional or magnified. It is not. Familiarity is not permission for unprofessional behavior.

Actually, I am the manager.

I did not do anything special for you. This is a professional relationship, and my actions are not in order for you to take special notice of me.

I don’t need my husband’s permission to give my number to anybody. I’m providing my number to you since we are coworkers attending a conference together. In fact, if you need to communicate with me, please do so by e-mail instead.

While the world is moving toward bringing harassment issues to light, there are a few actions we can do to participate in the movement or simply keep our own workplace accountable. After all, we will spend an average of 1/3 of our life in our workplace1, and 60% of women will experience sexual harassment2. It needs to be safe and conducive to the tasks at hand.

So, how do we navigate experiencing harassment in the workplace? How do we encourage appropriate behavior? How do we possibly take any action and still remain comfortable with ourselves, those around us and not place our professional career at risk? Here are a few actions we can take on behalf of ourselves.

  • Walk away.
    • No matter what is said, and no matter the means by which it is delivered, you always have the right to simply walk away and disengage. Whether this is a client or a coworker, your presence has power and removing yourself from them has power too.
  • Document it.
    • This is the most important action for any situation. Please, document the experience. Draft an e-mail. Make a note. Write it in a journal at home. Make sure that you have a recording of the incident that you can reference back to at any time. In the very least, this allows you to begin to build a trail of experiences and can show a pattern with a particular person or organization.
  • Report it.
    • Whether it is a single incident or several, take your experience to leadership. Be sure to document this as well, because if nothing is done you can show that you tried to have it resolved by those in the organization who should be your advocate. If the person you take the situation to does nothing, or writes it off, take it to the next level up.
  • Speak out in the moment.
    • Whether it’s a defiant or a simple correction, you have the right to ask them to change their behavior in the moment. Responses allow us to use that immediate moment to educate the person so they hopefully recognize the error, apologize, and correct their behavior.
  • Speak out later.
    • You can always allow yourself the opportunity to collect your thoughts, construct a response, and revisit the conversation at a later time. Delaying a conversation can also allow you time to involve a superior or leadership to either witness or delegate the conversation.

Although not everyone is in the position to be able to leave their current employer, it is an action you can take. This might be a long term plan or a short term one. Regardless, you have the freedom to take this step. If you document your experiences, this is a time where you can present that documentation .

Know that you have great power, and no one can take that power away from you. You also have the freedom to change the level of your response at any time. If a few comments here and there do not spike concern for you, but the third one is enough, you are allowed to take action. And most importantly – you are never, ever overreacting. Those who are making you uncomfortable need to be educated on the seriousness of accountability when it comes to provocative speech and behavior in our society.

Unfortunately, the shift towards a harassment free and communication encouraged environment is still in a phase that brings risks. You might be told that reporting someone will put a kink in your professional aspirations, and this is a striking reminder that women still have a long road ahead before we have true equality without discrimination within the workplace. There is still a cultural shift that is required to reach that goal, but these actions can serve as the foundation of making that shift happen.

Thankfully, we do have more resources than ever before to assist women who wish to take action, and communities of support and action are building. Here are just a few:

https://leanin.org/sexual-harassment

https://womenemployed.org/sexual-harassment-and-your-rights-job

https://esa.org/earlycareer/bullying-and-harassment-in-the-workplace-resources-for-targets-and-their-allies/

Twitter:

#metoo

#metoowhatnext

#timesup

(Please, please – if you feel as though you are in a situation where there is potential for physical assault or abuse, immediately seek professional assistance and know that you have resources to help. And remember: Having a drink is not an invitation and a smile or hello is not consent. Whatever your experience, you are believed!)

 

1      http://www.gettysburg.edu/news_events/press_release_detail.dot?id=79db7b34-630c-4f49-ad32-4ab9ea48e72b

2      Quinnipiac poll, November 21, 2017, https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2502

 

 

Wildflower

I’m not always vocal about my faith – mostly because I journey this life wishing to experience it in me, through me, and around me. This includes observing others as they do the same and wanting to find connection before opposition. I do not always know when my journey is influencing others nor when others are influencing me. I trust it happens – constantly. Though there are moments when I’m struck so strongly with the obvious effect on my life that I must sit and reflect on the long path that has been winding to that particular moment.

When I was 18, my birthday present from my mother was a tattoo. She was very eager about the present, and I spent a solid few weeks contemplating how I could wrap as much of my identity up into a single permanent impression on my skin. I decided on a fleur de lis (a symbol meaning life) with Celtic knot-work (a symbol of eternity and a reflection of my Celtic heritage) done in a henna brown color between my shoulder blades. With its size being bigger than a softball, it was certainly an ambitious first tattoo, but I tend to fully embrace commitments.

First

It healed beautifully, but within a year or so, the color had started to fade away. I got it touched up to bring the life back to it, but within another year, the color was fading again. It was as though my skin was rejecting the ink. I was tired of going back and sitting under the needle for two hours each time just to hope it would stick and being sorely disappointed (in more ways than one). So, I decided to allow the artwork to continue to fade away for the next decade.

During this time, I had an experience that defined my belief in a higher power, and the concept of eternal life came to have a new meaning. A few years later, I was having a conversation with the universe, and I came to have a new understanding of myself. It has a name for me – a secret name, a powerful one. It calls me “Wildflower,” and I saw myself in an open field, filling it with complex and ornate colors as I encouraged life to spring forth around me.

It was a beautiful concept – one I could only hope I could look back on my life and possibly witness the fruits born from it. But years passed and the memory became faded, or perhaps it just simply became part of me. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two.

Until recently. There has been some drastic movement in my life where I have been able to transition from breadwinner and momma to being able to have a renewed focus on a lifelong dream to pursue writing as a career. This is the beginning of a very long journey, but it has stirred change in my life. Positive change.

I looked in the mirror one morning and noticed the faded, discolored, splotched “artwork” on my back, and I suddenly, absolutely had to do something about it. Within a day, I had a consultation at a local tattoo studio and two days later I was under the needles again.

Now, my tattoo was so faded that I truly could have had anything cover it. Instead, I instantly decided I would keep the fleur de lis, but I would do it in a black outline with an explosion of watercolor from behind it.

To give you a little more insight into my character, I don’t do color well. I live in neutral tones. My home, my clothes, my car color – neutrals, please. If I try to incorporate color, everything gets disconnected and out of hand quickly. Still, I was set on the foreign concept of vibrant hues becoming a permanent part of my body.

Maybe I have a rash personality. I do operate very swiftly and decidedly. The tattoo artist free-handed the work, and by the end of it, he had incorporated every color of the rainbow. I trusted him completely. After all, nearly anything would have been better than the stain I had before.

Tat

I have to say that I absolutely love my new tattoo. It’s more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. I feel its presence on my back, because I can feel the identity it is pulling from me. A day after I got it, I was talking to my husband, and I was suddenly struck by the remembering of that conversation I had with the universe.

It wasn’t rashness. It wasn’t nonchalance. It wasn’t coincidence. I was moved by my true identity that I strive to live within every day. I want to bring light to this world with knew understandings as I lift people up with support and encouragement.

My old identity is covered over by the new. The old tattoo is still there. The outline of the fleur de lis remains, but I am both and the same. I am free to live a bold life, proud of my values and with a desire to spread forth the color. Trust in what I cannot see in the mirror. Instead, I must twist about to see what is on my back. My new art serves as a physical reminder that the universe moves through me and around me in majestic ways, and I am free and eager to witness and participate in this beautiful life.

*** A special thank you to Fredo at @LiquidInkLubbock in Lubbock, TX for unknowingly serving as a vessel with his genius talent.

The Strength of a Mother

The way I saw the whole world shifted the moment I discovered I was pregnant with my son. Though it may not have been apparent from the outside, I was consumed by the concept that every movement I made was shared by the human growing inside me. Every experience, every task, every thought and every morsel put in my mouth was carefully weighed knowing the life within my womb would be a reflection of the lengths I went to and the sacrifices I made along the journey of pregnancy. And I know with a resounding assuredness that every single mother has experienced the same. Every single one.

Here are some things I DID NOT do while pregnant: eat deli meat, clean the cat’s litter box, drink caffeine, strain my body, sleep on my back, get too hot, travel after a certain milestone, die my hair, sit in vibrating chairs, painted, gain too much weight, gain too little weight, eat sushi, eat soft cheese, drink alcohol…

Things I DID do: ate 40+ grams of protein per day, hired a midwife, hired a doula, drank lots of water, took birthing classes, took prenatal yoga classes, drank lots (and lots) of water, planned a natural birth, kept a food journal, perineal stretches, bought a birthing ball, pre-made lactation cookies, bought a thermometer you attached to the child to take constant readings, read countless articles on what else I should be doing and countless articles on what else I should not be doing.

These were the lengths I went to before ever setting eyes on my son. The amount of sacrifices I gladly made were only magnified once I finally held him in my arms. Those were the kind of sacrifices that are ancient traditions of motherhood. Once my son was in my arms, those sacrifices expanded into depleting my body of essential vitamins as I tried to heal and provide, losing sleep (either because he was awake or sick or teething or wanted to experience 3AM), high anxiety worrying about his position as he slept, trying and barely succeeding at feeding my child with mother’s milk…

These are concerns that kept me up at night in my privileged life. Deciding which stroller to buy took weeks of research, reaching out on social media to ask other moms and fretting whether I needed to look at one with four wheels or three.

If I had to consider how to raise my child in poverty – meaning malnutrition, cries of hunger, inadequate clean water, watch him itch with bugs – or watching him grow knowing organized crime would entice him to join or kill him – or know from personal experience that my daughter was likely to be raped well before she ever reached the legal age consensual sex – I cannot even imagine the lengths I would go, or the risks I would take, to keep my child safe and provide a better life for them. If instead of knowing that cleaning the litter box could potentially make my unborn child sick, I lived knowing my child would grow to suffer unimaginable fates, I would cross deserts. I would swim rivers. I would jump borders even if it meant new risks. I would pray that the freedoms in the stories I was told, and in the words I read, were possibly even slightly true.

Mothers do not put their children in danger unless the unknown future holds more hope than the known present. For the sake of all of the mothers who have come before us, let us come together to lift those around us trying to escape horror only to find the worst heartache mankind has ever experienced – having their children separated from them for choosing new risks for the possibility of their freedom.