By Colette Glover-Hannah
Lately, I have been struggling with this information. Interestingly, I had not thought about it for decades. Not until I heard the #metoo campaign sprout up recently. Then I started to remember many of the instances that had occurred in my earlier career. The times when comments by men made me feel a certain kind of way.
I recall orientation for my first full time professional job in my mid 20s and going over my insurance options, banking options and parking rates. The options and instructions for all categories were all laid out for me. We covered the typical new employee overview, but I realize now, that I don’t recall a conversation about how to report sexual harassment in the workplace. In fact, I will bet money that it was not in the new employee handbook.
Because I meet with my interns, a group of women who are freshmen, sophomores, juniors and senior college students every Monday, I felt the need to speak up today. To me, I’m more than their internship boss. I see my role as their mentor, teacher and advocate too.
I started our session with our weekly updates of duties, responsibilities and expectations and we then paused to talk about the #metoo campaign. They had all heard of it and some shared what they had read in some of the posts. I shared my stories of a supervisor who saw me drop some files one evening as I rushed out the door and when I asked why he wouldn’t help me pick them up he replied, “because I wanted to see you bend over.” The same guy asked me if I would do a Demi Moore photograph when I was pregnant, and once did a Deep Throat reference about a co-worker during a staff meeting. He wasn’t the only one. There were the guys who always needed to meet with me and attempted to ask inappropriate personal questions and the one who told me he wanted to stick his tongue down my throat during a radio interview (I did report him, and he was reprimanded). There were countless remarks that were made by so many men over the years that made my skin cringe, but because in my early to mid-20s I didn’t feel empowered, wasn’t told the procedures for reporting sexual harassment and didn’t recognize my true voice, I endured this fowl behavior.
Sadly, I knew the way these statements made me feel were wrong, but I thought of it as the norm. I mean, none of these things happened behind closed doors and in most cases others were present and said nothing. I guess I believed like so many others that if they didn’t touch me we were okay. Now, decades later, I know better. Last year I appeared on a local TV station and the man on the set asked me about kicking up my leg after seeing another woman do it in a news clip. Interestingly, he didn’t ask the two men who were joining me during my interview segment the same question about kicking up their legs for him. Needless to say, I wrote him a long letter and copied his producer on how his statement was offensive to me as a woman. They both apologized afterwards, but my relief and contentment came from me simply responding to his conduct. Letting him know that I would NOT accept that behavior from him.
Which brings me back to my why. I now own a company that promotes self-esteem and confidence in girls that I pray will grow up to become confident women. I want them to know that words that are harmful must be corrected. I shared with my interns that they are smart women who should never feel less than in the workplace because of their gender. I encouraged them to use their voice, feel empowered and always, always, know the procedures for reporting sexual harassment. I believe that because they see others telling their stories that they will know what a normal and comfortable environment should feel like.