An Expert’s Top 3 Tips For Dealing With Workplace Sexual Harassment

The past few months have been big for change. Companies have been called out for systemic racism. The Supreme Court gave LGBTQ workers federal civil rights. Sexual predators are having a renewed #MeToo moment. Powers-that-be are being held to account. That’s phenomenal for social progress. It’s also horrible for workplace sexual harassment.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news (amidst an already heinous 2020), but you’ll want to beware of increased sexual harassment when you’re on the job, as harassholes hate this new world.

Here’s the skinny: Workplace sexual harassment is a power play. Basically, harassers are insecure people who want to make you feel small because they find you threatening and/or seek a power boost.

Don’t get it twisted, though: Sexual harassment doesn’t have to be sexual. What matters is that you’re being targeted because of your gender or sexual identity.

Harassholes may try to “put you in your place” by using typical sexualized come-ons, like ogling your goodies in the office, jumping in your DMs to ask you out for the umpteenth time, or promising you a promotion in exchange for a Netflix and chill. Or, harassholes may leverage hostile put-downs that humiliate you, like calling you crude names on conference calls, cutting you out of morning meetings, berating you for not dressing the way a woman “should” dress. The displays of disrespect are limitless.

Now that our new world is pushing for greater respect for marginalized persons, women included, harassholes see our world as a less hospitable place for their antics. They’re frustrated about not being able to mistreat you and others with impunity, and they’ll try to reclaim their sense of power by stepping up their harassment game. Protect your purse and your mental health by being prepared.

Here are three quick tips to help you beat workplace sexual harassment:

Identify The Harassholes

You may be a butterfly, but harassholes aren’t very unique. They tend to have shared traits, among them being gender. Men make up some 90% of harassholes. In addition to that, they’re more likely to embrace these characteristics:

⭐︎ Support traditional gender roles

⭐︎ Maintain a strong male identity

⭐︎ Think men are superior to women

⭐︎ Believe men and women should be segregated

⭐︎ Sexualize women, girls, and LGBTQ people

⭐︎ Trivialize victimization or engage in victim-blaming

⭐︎ Lack egalitarian attitudes toward gender and/or race

You can spot these traits by listening to what a harasshole says about gender and sexual identity. For instance, harassholes often think men are better suited for traditionally male jobs and leadership positions whereas women should be in “pink careers,” stay-at-home moms, or in supporting roles. Harassholes use activities and terms typically associated with women to demean other men, such as calling a man a “pussy” or promising to wear a dress in public as part of a bet. These are the dudes who use stereotypes about women as punch lines. 

The thing is, there’s nothing funny about harassholes. Keep an eye out for them and remember—just because someone isn’t a harasshole to you, doesn’t mean they’re not harassing another colleague. Harassholes are shady shapeshifters.

Document, Document, Document

Your records of what happened are essential to beating workplace sexual harassment. Why? Memories fade. Plus, there’s a 99% chance that the harasshole (and your employer) will lie. Avoid the he said, she said situation by documenting what went down. On your personal computer or encrypted email, maintain a log of the who, what, when, where, and how of the experience like you’re writing a bland yet detailed screenplay. Also, attach supporting documents such as text messages, emails, DMs, and notes. 

You’ll want to have it all, especially if you ever need to speak out or if you suffer retaliation. Documentation can make the difference between getting the heave-ho with nothing and getting out of a company on your own terms with solid references and a strong severance.

Always Trust Your Instincts

Pay attention to that still small voice that echoes within when you’re uncomfortable. Never try to override your instincts with rationalization. You know what you’re sensing, what you experienced, and what you need not tolerate. Don’t ignore it.

Do ignore gaslighting and shade-throwing coworkers. As much as I hate to say it, research shows that some coworkers will try to discourage you from speaking out about sexual harassment and many will distance themselves from you for fear of being mistreated by your employer too. That’s a bummer. But it doesn’t mean you should “take one for the team” by keeping quiet. Real friends won’t insist you be disrespected and won’t try to deny your reality.

Stick close to your instincts, demand to be treated with respect, and do you. You may not be The Boss, but you are a boss and you deserve to work in a harassment-free workplace.

Adrienne Lawrence is an on-air legal analyst and the author of Staying in the Game: The Playbook for Beating Workplace Sexual Harassment (TarcherPerigee, 2020). Lawrence has contributed her insight on workplace sexual harassment for outlets such as the Harvard Business Review and NPR. Follow her on Twitter @AdrienneLaw and IG @AdrienneLawrence

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‘Leadership Training’ Tells Women They Are Dumb, Slutty, And Shouldn’t Face Men Directly

Sexism is alive and well in the year of our Lord 2019. This we know to be true. But sometimes we stumble upon some sexism that is so on the nose it almost feels like a joke. And this week we have found something that made me feel like I was either reading satire or taking crazy pills. But in reality I was just reading some straight up, unoriginal, by-the-book sexism. Cute!

HuffPost reporter Emily Peck obtained truly shocking  information about a training seminar offered to some women at the accounting firm Ernst & Young (EY), which employs 270,000 people globally. A woman who has since left the company was appalled by what the seminar was prescribing (as she should have been) and decided to share details with the outlet in hopes that the company will change. The seminar was taught as early as June 2018, AKA the height of the #MeToo movement, but EY told HuffPost it “is no longer offered in its current form.” The firm told HuffPost after publication that the training included “offensive content.”

The training was called Power-Presence-Purpose or PPP, and focuses on how women need to fix themselves in order to acclimate to a male-dominated world (baaaaaaaarf) and attempting to educate women on how to navigate men’s flawed temperaments while demanding they adopt it themselves. We picked out the most absurd and infuriating parts to share here, but encourage you to read HuffPost’s full report. You’re welcome!

Women’s brains are smaller and dumber than men’s.

You ready for this one? The presentations said that women’s brains absorb information like pancakes and soak up syrup so it’s hard for them to focus, according to the attendee. And men’s brains are like waffles because they are more able to focus because the information collects in each little waffle square. L-M-A-O. We got pancakes for brains, ladies!!! This is so beyond offensive and ridiculous, I refuse to even explain how wrong and misguided it is because that is beneath me.  Also pancakes are better than waffles, don’t @ me.

“Don’t flaunt your body ― sexuality scrambles the mind (for men and women).”

Lmaooooo. Okay, so look good but not too good, ya sluts! The presentation tells women not to show skin because that will distract people, and by people they obviously mean men. (The document makes no reference to queer women or any gender identity beyond cis het woman.)

I love how it’s implied that men are the smarter, more professional people, but ALSO they cannot be expected to focus or do work if they see a woman’s clavicle. Which is it, boys?! Are you geniuses or horny lil’ toads?! ‘Cause it’s looking like the latter…

Women aren’t as good at speaking as men.

The seminar includes an entire section of “invisible rules” that appears to just be a list of false stereotypes about the differences between men and women in the workplace. It says that women “speak briefly” and “often ramble and miss the point” in meetings. (Again, which is it?!) On the other hand, men “speak at length ― because he really believes in his idea.” It also states that women don’t interrupt effectively like men but instead “wait their turn (that never comes) and raise their hands.” So, this is just a summary of how women are pushed out by arrogant, sexist men in the workplace, but instead of suggesting that women work on deconstructing this kind of toxic environment, it says that they should learn to fit within it. Because if we don’t the men might get uncomfortable which is illegal???

“Don’t talk to men face-to-face.”

As much as I enjoy not talking to men, unfortunately, sometimes it is required at work. However, this seminar told women that if they must speak to men, they shouldn’t do it directly. They should ask to meet before or after the meeting, and not interrupt during. And once they do meet, they should cross their legs and sit at an angle so they are not directly facing them because speaking to them face-to-face is something men see as “threatening.” But again, men are big strong leaders…who can’t handle looking a woman directly in the eyes lololol.

Women aren’t natural leaders, but men are.

Oh cool, some more bullsh*t! The workshop provided women with a “Masculine/Feminine Score Sheet, which had them rate their adherence to stereotypical masculine and feminine characteristics. The “masculine” traits included “Acts as a Leader,” “Aggressive,” “Ambitious,” “Analytical,” “Has Leadership Abilities,” “Strong Personality” and “Willing to Take a Stand.” The  “feminine” traits included “Affectionate,” “Cheerful,” “Childlike,” “Compassionate,” “Gullible,” “Loves Children” and “Yielding.” Are we living on the set of The Stepford Wives?!? What is happening? Like, this has to be a joke.

Be “polished,” have a “good haircut, manicured nails, well-cut attire that complements your body type.”

Who are you, my mother? And WTF is a “good haircut”? I can only assume the well-cut attire that complements our bodies is the red handmaid gown from The Handmaids Tale. The presentation also tells women that the most important thing to do at work is to “signal fitness and wellness.” I thought this was an accounting firm not a spin class?!

Well, now that we all know how to adhere to the patriarchy, let’s go burn it to the ground.


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