And keep saying NO
I almost jumped out of a moving car; I really did. The feeling was something that I had never experienced before, but it was STRONG and gut-wrenching. I obviously had to protect my physical well being and did. What I also did was stand firm, said “NO” and repeated myself twice. It slowly and shockingly devastated me that what I was saying was not being heard, nor taken seriously. I thought to myself that this conversation could not actually be happening, that I wasn’t actually hearing this. I was also shocked to learn that my intuition was telling me that this was not the first time this person had given this speech to a woman.
His explanation of our workplace dynamic went like this: he would always blame me, who is lower on the organizational chart, for being late. That I was to naturally accept this action as his employee. This did not sit well with me, and I informed him that I was not responsible for his calendar. I added that I would never knowingly accept the accusation.
For the next two or three years, I tried to protect my mental well being by keeping up a ‘everything is O.K.’ But in the long run, I did not protect myself. I lost myself and let my mental health and self-esteem diminish.
According to Statistics Canada, 19 percent of women reported workplace harassment in 2018.
As a woman in a male-dominated industry, listening to your gut is important. Knowing that there is something that screams NO inside you is not something to just ignore. I know this from experience. I listened to my gut so many times before, I have no idea why I stopped. I want you to never stop listening to what you know. Ask yourself right now, have you stopped listening to your gut? Have you recently heard them shout to you and choose to ignore what was shaking inside you? Did you push that feeling aside because you were concerned about your ‘persona’ at work, or how you would be viewed because of your gender?
If you feel that one of these questions is answered with a yes or maybe, you need to keep reading so that your maybe turns into a definite yes. It’s important to respect your gut and be confident in what you’re feeling. Then you need to learn what you should do and what resources are out there to help you reclaim your power.
This is how my story began; how I went from someone who stood up for herself to becoming someone I was not. That day in the car when my boss told me he would blame me every time they were late for any type of work-related engagement, regardless if it was my fault or not. He explained that this is how the chain of command worked. I told him a hard no, right then and there, that was NOT to happen and that I would NOT accept that behaviour. I should have seen at that very moment what my future working for this person was going to look like. That was the first time of many that I was going to be underestimated and treated with disrespect in the workplace because of my gender.
There were times of poor jokes, microaggressions and straight-up belittling. They were directed to me, to coworkers and to anyone who crossed paths with this person.
So many people saw the wrong or felt the hurt, and yet no one stood up to this person. No one else seemed to be hurt enough to say this was wrong.
Putting up with this endless barrage of ugly talk caused me physical harm. I ended up with so much stress from this environment that I spent my last year working for this person on two intestinal medications and only sleeping about four hours per night. I should not have let it go on for so long. Often the comments were spun into ‘jokes’ and locker room humour.
When I was beginning to document these instances of harassment, it seemed to take more time than working. It was emotionally exhausting. At the same time, I was constantly trying to repair the damaged emotions of people from the wave that would often rush through the office and send people into a frenzy. I felt there was no one to go to for help and was overwhelmed by helping the other females in the office deal with it. By documenting all the instances of inappropriate language, I was filling a notebook with moments that made me cringe and feel sick to my stomach.
I should have reported it sooner to higher-ups. I should have documented more. I should have reported the continuous harassment to the Ministry of Labour. I should have pushed to get help from professional representation. The assistance that I was provided did not resolve or change any of the behaviours. I let another three months of ‘talking things out’ with untrained mediators and a person who truly believed he was doing nothing wrong, and that he was above learning or accepting that he needed to change.
I decided to quit. I quit documenting, and I quit the job. I finally was able to stand up for myself again and let the reasons for my leaving be known to those in a position to do something about this person. I quit with no job to go to; that is how badly I needed out of this situation.
I felt relief; I felt free; I felt really sad. Sad because I actually loved the job I was doing. It was the poisoned environment that I could no longer ‘stomach,’ and I was told that the environment was not going to change, that this person had no intention of changing.
Don’t follow in my footsteps by allowing anyone to take away your power, to make you feel that there is no point in standing up for what you believe in.
What types of harassment are being reported: 13 percent of women reported verbal abuse, which is the most common type of harassment in Ontario’s workplaces, and six percent reported humiliating behaviour. (https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2018001/article/54982-eng.htm)
What you need to do if you find yourself in this position.
- Document everything.
- Note the date, time, witnesses and what happened.
- Report to someone with authority.
- You can talk to upper management or find harassment reporting tools from a government website.
- Insist that you have someone listen to you and follow up with.
A woman should never have to feel there is no one for her to turn to or that what she is experiencing is “made up feelings.” Women have great intuition, and I listened to mine at the start, but ended up disregarding my gut screaming at me to listen to them for way too long. Learn from my experience; don’t stop listening to your insides.