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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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#ACCESS901: To the ‘Silence Breakers’ and silent sufferers

A haunting chorus of #metoo is echoing from sea to shining sea bringing attention to instances of harassment – impropriety at best – that have been taken on the chin by women for decades.

Painfully and shamefully often, the offender and the offensive behavior have been known and just not talked about. As a result, many of us have put in place what I’ve termed “personal protective policies” (TM!!) in an attempt to steer clear of predatory men or potentially unsavory situations.

I decided to use the #Access901 platform to take a look at protective measures, hoping to reach others with a toolkit or navigation guide for steering clear of – or out of – such encounters. The timing is especially right as Time Magazine announced the “Silence Breakers” as their Persons of the Year as we type. So, here we go:

A client’s business partner wanted to go for dinner/drinks – just us. I asked my female colleagues to gut check and they said he was harmless. However, it didn’t feel fine to me or to my Spidey senses. He felt creepy, like a dude that takes liberties.

He didn’t call, so I was so glad no decision had to be made. I was going to find a way not to go, even if it meant feigning sickness. As a rule, I’m very mindful about safe spaces. I am among the women who learned early to turn the sexy down for fear of sending the wrong messages or being a distraction. And as I mentioned, I do not do dinner-drinks with male co-workers or clients, especially solo. Lunch is fine but after hours is a hard, “NO!”

A friend, who is an HR executive, spoke with me about her own experience personally, as well as detailing her vigilance in a professional capacity. She well understands the importance of feeling protected and making sure co-workers know that they have an advocate.

“When I worked in a male-dominated area of my profession, I learned very quickly. There are certain things I don’t do now,” she said. “For instance, I don’t do closed-door meetings. I have a witness present with certain people and it’s very rare that I will take a one-on-one with men. Outside of my colleagues in HR, I don’t do lunch with any other male colleagues unless it’s a group. I try to keep the lines very clear. …

“(I’ve) seen someone prosecuted for his actions and I’ve seen people be disciplined. There has been a shift, especially as more women executive managers (are) being hired,” she said. “But still, many women are afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation. I make sure my team is comfortable in knowing that they can come to me. I feel like I am in a good place to protect them from this type of behavior.”

The law, she said, still is on your side when there is no formal HR person or if you are in a privately-owned company or small business. “Title VII provides safeguards against retaliation. It is critical to document every incident and keep a timeline, including when or if you reported an incident to your superiors.”

Another friend who works in corporate environments is very conscientious about tamping down her typically friendly nature. She doesn’t even joke about having a “work husband,” the way many of us do. She wants to leave plenty of daylight so there is no misunderstanding between her and male colleagues or gossiping co-workers.

“Ultimately, I wouldn’t want my (actual) husband to feel uncomfortable and I wouldn’t want any guy … to think that ‘more’ was possible.”

Even with firm boundaries in place, trouble can surface. She continued on to describe an unsettling scenario that grew out of what she describes as a series of “odd” interactions with a work associate commenting on her “beauty.” Initially, she thought perhaps her male co-worker was socially awkward or just new to the organization.

“I erroneously assumed that by controlling my actions, it would ease any uncomfortable situations,” she said. “What I did learn from all of this is that the moment we stay quiet in the first odd situation, we give power to that person. We position ourselves to be blamed and asked, ‘Why didn’t you say anything before?’ I don’t know the answer, maybe because it didn’t seem to warrant immediate attention. It would have been better if I’d said, ‘I’m not comfortable…please do not make any more statements about my appearance.’”

I’m glad, she said, “That I did say something, even if it didn’t yield the desired results. Maybe my saying something would protect another woman. I implore women not to remain quiet. We cannot bring light to bad behavior if we don’t deter it early on.”

This fear among women is very real. We get dragged from one end of the courtroom/office/cyberspace to the other. The court of public opinion is oftentimes hostile.

But ladies, don’t be afraid to put your foot down. If that doesn’t work, we have to escalate to management. Remember: If it don’t feel right, it ain’t right.

Men, ultimately this is about propriety and also choice. Personal history is not a factor. A woman may have chosen to be intimate with a thousand other dudes, but if she didn’t CHOOSE to be intimate WITH YOU, dust off your ego and deal.  It is what it is.

And for Chrissake, read the social cues. This isn’t a used car lot. She isn’t waiting on you to talk her into buying what you’re selling. AND above all, we aren’t Cro-Magnons; you can’t just club a woman and take what you want. #sorrynotsorry

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