Let’s speak up, especially when it’s NOT OK.

Harassment happens everywhere. Not just in startups. With all these sharing by brave women who have been thru it all, I feel like it’s my responsibility to share what I feel towards such situations.

In the last 10 years of my working adult life, I have had countless encounters with men who think it is ok to withhold payment on a job rendered unless I turn up for drinks with them; I had met men who would make all kinds of comments on how I should wear more of this and that because it is more attractive at work, and of course the men who would try to get me drunk by making sure I was always drinking the same amounts as them, and then at the end of the night, ask if I was sober enough to go home and suggested I go somewhere with them.

I remember the most recent time it happened to me was less than two months ago. I was having coffee with the CEO and CFO of another organisation after a seminar. Some very senior guy called me out from about 10 feet away with “Hey beautiful!”, and walked swiftly towards me and sipped the coffee from his cup, as if he was a close friend.

I was in shock. I don’t know this guy well at all, and he was very senior in that organisation. Somehow it felt wrong being “beautiful”, with the CEO and CFO of a very important organisation standing there with me.

I was unable to respond or stand up for myself being seriously taken aback at how atrocious he was, yet unafraid. I was amidst governments, lawyers, senior people I work very closely with, and I was afraid of what they might have thought.

Two weeks later, I had asked a female consultant who was from the US about what I had encountered and she was appalled. She told me it was definitely not right, and I should have retorted on the spot. I knew I should have listened to my inner voice, but I just could not speak up as I was too shocked to find the right words to say. So I asked her what I could have said.

She says, try “Have I met you before? My name is Cherilyn, not beautiful.” or do not respond to him and if he continues, say “Sorry, were you referring to me? My name is Cherilyn.”

She was also surprised that the women who were around me did not say anything. But I guess it happened in such a short period of time, and since I didn’t respond negatively, they thought it would be ok.

It is NOT OK. — thanks for pointing this out Florian.

With all the infuriating stories of harassment circulating around, and of course some crazy stories about how the Uber management was treating its female employees, I can’t help but think I owe it to the women I know to speak up.

Here’s what I hope — for men and women like me, who feel violated and infuriated by these instances, to join me in an attempt to speak up, not just online but also, and especially when, we witness these events happening around us.

Know that when such instances happen, the victims are usually too shocked or unaware or unclear of their next steps. So we all have a role to play, to point these people out in their act, to make sure we don’t condone these behaviour unknowingly.

As a woman, I’ve been practising or coming up with lines to prepare myself for these unforeseen circumstances, to make sure I can stand up for myself when it happens. But what if I am too shocked again to stand up for myself? What if I can’t find the right words to say in that instance? I hope one of you can.

If you know anyone who is in serious trouble of an objective legal advice, also know that this exactly the reason why we started Quick Consult on Asia Law Network, to help people who need immediate legal advice to better understand how to cope and manage the situation, knowing that someone else can evaluate the situation when you can’t.