“I love what I do, but I don’t do it for the love of it.”
~ Bruno Maag
This past weekend, I watched Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk, and it brought me back to two old memories in my career.
The first, where I was when her story broke in 1998, watching the newfangled internet’s explosion timed with the government’s and media’s complete and utter focus on destroying a young woman, and being dumbfounded at why people would a) care about something politicians do all the time, and b) why this kind of information was provided for public consumption.
The second was 10 years later, where a recruiter I know had let me know Ms Lewinsky was looking in my area of the country for a job, and was very interested in the industry I worked in. So of course, like I did for other job seekers, I did my best to get her an informational interview with a department head, who proceeded to laugh out loud, talk about how she’d draw undue attention to the company, and claim that i just “wouldn’t be fair to her” walking her through our office (one that I had perceived at the time to be one of the nicest, most come-as-you-are cultures out there). He wouldn’t even sit down with her for coffee. Yet he or one of his team would meet with just about anyone else curious about the company.
I was appalled and embarrassed by this reaction and having to go back and report that I couldn’t even get a coffee set up. Lewinsky had paid the price far above what any woman should ever have to pay, and ten years later, was still paying the price. Lots of us, men and women, have gotten involved with the wrong people and made choices that still make us wonder “what was I thinking?!” But we don’t become the laughingstock of the country.
But that’s what happens to women, and like she said, this was before the terms “cyberbullying” and “trolling” were created. Ashley Judd just spoke at SXSW about the sick names and threats of rape and other forms of violence that she’s received by men online, and baseball legend Curt Schilling spoke in his blog about the threats to his daughter after congratulating her online, and of course there is #GamerGate which bleeds into everything tech. The people in power rarely do a damn thing to change it.
In my last full time job before going out on my own, one manager liked to talk about his penis to other employees and was known for sudden fits of rage (which I was subject to on a number of occasions), and another had verbally sexually harassed a female employee, neither which had any consequences. The first situation was uncomfortably laughed off or had managers trying to find a way to blame the other person (my manager, a member of the executive team, told me afterwards I should have just “told him to fuck off”, even though she sat there and watched him the whole time and saw me frozen from his verbal attack, and his manager simply ignored the outburst and tried to find a way to blame me for “causing it”). The second situation was never documented by HR even though I brought it up as a recruiter, and my executive boss said that it could not get out to the CEO as the perpetrator might – gasp! – get fired. There was no investigation, there was no documentation, there was nothing but a verbal slap on the hand by my boss, and a “oh he seemed really embarrassed and didn’t realize what he did” so that made it somehow okay to not hold him accountable. The victim later quietly left the company. Oh did I mention her boss, another executive, came to HR saying the women on his team “needed to grow some balls”? Yeah, awesome.
And I haven’t even dealt with the worst environments out there. Because of the situations in the tech community, I don’t engage anymore in networking events. Because of the recent rape cases involving leaders, I do a thorough check of the connections and business involvement of those individuals to make sure my new clients aren’t connected to those creeps. Because of the women who think that “reclaiming” derogatory terms about women is somehow empowering and don’t care how many it offends in the community, I no longer volunteer or speak at events of organizations with names that are offensive to me.
In no way does it mean I am silenced. I have found ways to deal with the trollers online by not responding or posting even more about what I believe in. And if I can find a way to hold the abusive ones accountable, I will. A few months ago, an engineering job applicant at a local tech firm emailed me to go fuck myself along with some other choice expletives about the female anatomy and the like. Did I mention this was in response to my explanation of why the hiring team wanted some more information from him? Well, let’s just say I know the director at the company had just contracted at, and she made sure his staffing agency was alerted. “Regular” rudeness I’m used to unfortunately, but this level I refuse to sit and take it and will make sure I’ve not rolled over and played dead.
We see all kinds of stuff in the workplace, some things that end up becoming fodder for happy hour, others that create hell on earth for those experiencing it who don’t have the tools or the bravery to call those people out, or who simply don’t feel they’ve got a backup plan when they’ve got people relying on them financially. But remember – everything WILL work out, and no job is worth being shamed, intimidated, bullied, threatened, or worse. You WILL emerge stronger if you treat yourself as someone who is worthy of respect, and do not allow others to make your life a living hell. Set an example for all the others out there, those who look up to you, and give them hope through our own courage to demand a work environment where no one feels humiliated, where no one is dragged through the mud, where even if you have to make a change to make it better, you are standing up for everyone who’s been through what you’ve been through.
What will you regret if you stay silent?
Self respect knows no considerations.
~ Mahatma Gandhi