“You don’t want to be perceived as difficult.” I reported harassment and became the offender
“First of all, before we start this meeting, you need to apologize to ______ for not including him in the meeting. That was really unfair of you to try and talk behind his back like that.”
I slouched back in my seat, appalled by what was transpiring. I watched in disbelief as some of the women surrounding me mumbled apologies.
For weeks, I had been dealing with inappropriate comments from my supervisor. I was fed up with the constant harassment, and spoke to him privately, asking him to stop. He halfheartedly apologized, and explained, “I do it because the more angry you get, the harder you work.” Their behavior persisted.
One day, I spoke with my co-workers, and quickly realized that others were facing similar experiences. We requested a meeting with senior management, which they accepted, to discuss some of the conversations that had had occurred, hoping to bring about a positive change in the workplace.
Before the meeting took place, I was warned multiple times to cancel it. The last time people made a complaint, they were fired, they told me. I brushed it off as paranoia and/or gossip.
Monday morning, we settled into the meeting room. Minutes rolled by, and we realized that nobody was coming.
Discouragingly, we went back to work. Hours later, the CEO hauled us back into the boardroom, and to our surprise, the supervisor in question was already seated. The meeting commenced with the CEO advising us all to thank the supervisor for our jobs, and expressed that if we had a problem with the supervisor, we also had a problem with him.
Then, one by one, we had to look at this supervisor and bring up every comment that was made and why it was offensive. The meeting concluded with the supervisor apologizing, and alleging that they couldn’t be sexist because he was raised by a single mother.
Almost exactly two weeks after that meeting, I was laid off by the very same person that had harassed me, and my email access was revoked before I had even left the parking lot. Not only was I out of work, I had no evidence of my experience.
Being laid off is emotionally taxing on its own, but being laid off for asking to be treated equally took it up a notch. I tried to forget it. I met with a recruiter and discussed some interview options, and she asked why I had been laid off. I told her the truth.
I’ll never forget what she said to me next,
“I’m really sorry that that happened to you, something similar happened to me early in my career. You can’t tell interviewers that though, you don’t want to be perceived as “difficult””
Do I blame her for giving me this advice? No. She’s a recruiter, not a counselor, and sadly, she wasn’t wrong. Sexism in the workplace doesn’t begin and end with inappropriate comments. It becomes an awful cycle, one where the victim is often forced to either “let it go” or be labelled negatively for coming forward.
I spent the next few days crying, and once the tears dried up, I came to this empowering realization:
“The rules don’t matter. Life is not inherently fair. You can either cry or scream into a pillow about it, or use it as motivation, and start playing the game, your way.”
Since I was laid off, I’ve found my dream job, become one of the most influential people on Linkedin, I’ve been scouted by huge companies like Amazon, I have multiple university speaking engagements lined up for the fall, I’m going to be guest appearing on a huge podcast next week, and I’m WRITING A BOOK!
In a way, my supervisor was right, getting angry did make me work harder, playing by my own rules.
So, if you’re reading this, thank you for not seeing my value. Not only did it force me to see it in myself, but it also taught me to stop giving people like you discounts.