In my various careers, spanning more years than I will share, I have worked with men. In fact, I have worked with far more men than women and, for the most part, have thoroughly enjoyed it. The majority of these guys have been great men who have treated me with the utmost respect, as I have them.
Of course, there have been the others. As a fresh out of school 19-year-old I obtained the position of receptionist at a very influential law firm in the city I lived. Every attorney in that firm was a male, and they demonstrated every male attitude available. Some of the men treated me as their daughter or granddaughter, kindly, even excusing some of the rather creative and sometimes bizarre wardrobe that I wore and loved in this suit and tie domain.
Others (or the men they represented) threw vulgar innuendos my way as they walked by my desk to their offices. I was pretty mouthy and naïve to potential repercussions, so my response would often be something like, “and that would only happen in your dreams.” Some would laugh and back off; others got a bit irritated. A few even used their power to suggest I should be relieved of my job. Fortunately, the grandfatherly senior partners intervened.
Later as I gained positions of importance in my career I found it astounding that there were those who looked past me to the man in the room, who oftentimes was my employee. It didn’t take much to embarrass those individuals, which I made a point of doing, getting a little perverse joy in the process.
There were always those who hugged a little too aggressively or stared at body parts their eyes should not have been focused on. I had determined these were just silly little men and their attitudes held absolutely no impact on my self-worth or purpose. The conduct they exhibited merely showed that they were simple-thinking, petty people and they were missing out on what I brought to the table. Not my loss, but theirs. They were worth neither my time nor energy; I had work to do.
Even if you ignore, talk back to, or duck into the bathroom, there was, is, and probably forever will be men who will harass women. Those who expect things they shouldn’t and actively make your workplace miserable. So, what’s a girl to do?
Here are 5 ways to protect yourself as a woman in the workplace:
1. Ignore the small stuff.
One thing my 19-year-old self did understand is that men will be men. They think in sexual terms, whether they say it aloud or not. The good men avert their eyes, halt their thoughts before they run amok, and keep their mouth closed. The others don’t. What comes out of those mouths more often than not isn’t worth your time or attention. Ignore it.
2. Make yourself clear.
There needs to be no ambiguity, you are not interested. There is a sector of these men who will back off when they know where you stand. They are looking for an opening and often if you don’t give one will they back off. It may take a few times of repeating, but leave no doubt.
3. Rise above.
My husband and I have been in business together our entire married life. It was not unusual to hear, of course behind my back, that I was only in the jobs I held because of my relationship with my husband. If you think that didn’t burn me you would be wrong. I was the highest producing agent after the agency owners, I promoted concerts with sold-out auditoriums, and I successfully managed bands completely on my own. How dare they! I had a choice, to let them affect me, derail my career, create self-doubt, or I could continue my trajectory and rise above. Well, I stayed my course, achieved my goals, and earned the respect of many whom I respected. Don’t let the haters get to you, stay your course and rise above their nonsense.
4. Don’t be afraid to tell.
Even in today’s climate of awareness, it is difficult to confront those who truly prey on women in the workplace and will not relent. But there are recourses. Go to the harasser and let him know you will not allow this to continue. Do not let this go on; stop it early. Document. To bring accusations in any matter you must have documentation, this is no different. If you have a corporate structure that has procedures in place, follow those completely. If you are in a smaller company you need to go to the authority with control over the situation. If your harasser is that authority, you probably need to find another job. Yes, that is unfair, but there are so many places with a wonderful working atmosphere between genders it’s not worth your energy to remain in one that is not.
5. Remember this.
Your worth as an employee, as a woman, is not found in the workplace. It is found in your character, your talents, and how you approach life. You are strong, you are capable, and absolutely great in worth. No man can diminish that through their sexist attitudes. Instead, by these very acts, you will find they diminish themselves.
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