In a professional setting, women often need to work twice as hard as men, for the same benefits. We are continually faced with a plethora of unnecessary obstacles to prevent our success, and rarely receive the same respect as our male counterparts. One of the most difficult challenges we encounter is sexual harassment in the workplace. We are regularly at risk of being objectified, and being valued for our bodies rather than our intellect and capabilities. Sexual harassment can be extremely damaging for a woman, as it can bring feelings of anger, self-loathing, frustration, worthlessness and isolation. It is a manifestation of the unequal power dynamic between men and women, and a tactic to keep women subordinate.
At Berkeley Women In Business, we fight to end sexual harassment through advocacy and education. We believe every woman deserves to feel safe in her professional environment, and that harassment should not interfere with a woman’s ability to succeed in the workplace.
One of our members, who would like to remain anonymous for privacy purposes, would like to share her story of the sexual harassment she experienced during a job several years ago. We believe her story is highly important, because this unfortunate issue is far too common. Many women who experience sexual harassment feel isolated, and we want to emphasize that you are never alone. Here is her courageous story:
I began my first job during my freshman year at UC Berkeley. At first, I truly enjoyed the job, even though my boss gave me a strange vibe. We were in a small office, with hardly anyone else there. He would tell me about employees that used to work for him, but they never stayed long. I learned that employees would just come and go, and quit very quickly. Nobody stayed longer than several months. Of course, this information confused me because I could not immediately detect anything wrong.
Whenever I visited my boss, he was always very affectionate. He would text me and it would be overwhelming. He would call me his “favorite staff member”, and say “you’re the greatest person in the world.” It would honestly make me feel awful, because I felt a need to live up to his expectations. At the same time, I was extremely uncomfortable from all this special attention. I knew it was not appropriate, but this had never happened to me before, so I had no idea how to handle it. He texted me on Valentine’s Day, telling me that I was “his Valentine”. Shortly afterward, the physical inappropriateness began. He would hug me far too much, and hold my waist. He kissed me on the cheek multiple times, and it was disgusting.
On the BART ride home, I started crying. I realized how horrifically violated and ashamed I felt. It was a feeling of terrible unease. Though he was my boss and I wanted him to write me professional recommendations, I knew this situation was wrong. I felt guilty and blamed myself for perhaps talking to him too much. I shamed myself for texting him back, even though he always texted first. I should not have let him hug me, let alone kiss my cheek.
"It was a feeling of terrible unease."
I decided to vocalize my feelings, and tell him I felt uncomfortable. He found ways to spin it back on me, and said “but you hugged me too”. I got a strange sentiment that he was waiting for that moment, just to blame his behavior on me. I quit my job, despite the fact that I needed professional development. It was not worth it to me. I stopped speaking to him, and began my personal healing process.
The most important thing I learned was to respect myself. It was unacceptable to rely on other people for my own value and self worth. I understood that my mistake during the job was not being in touch with my own feelings. I had forgotten to listen to my intuition, and allowed him to control me.
My message to all young professional women is to remain strong, and never let a predatory boss take advantage of you. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, be communicative, and do not ever feel ashamed of yourself. You are merely trying to start out in the world, and sexual harassment is never your fault.
As women, we can build a support network for each other to overcome this problem and fight for equality. We must speak up for each other and demand to be treated with respect. We are so powerful together, and can achieve our dreams without fear.