I had on a new skirt, my hair was on point, and I felt great as I entered the arena on the arm of my then longtime boyfriend, Tony. We were there to support a local charity, to socialize with a ton of our friends and business associates, and to watch some police officers and firefighters duke it out in the ring. It was bound to be a great night!
As we made our way through the maze of tables on the floor surrounding the ring, we stopped at many of them to give hugs, shake hands, take pictures and say hello. Everyone was pleasant, and everyone always loved Tony and me. We got many compliments on the energy we brought into a conversation.
Then we got to the table sponsored by the company I had been working at for over four years. It was filled with the two owners, their family, and a few others from our management staff. We greeted them the same as we did the others but I, of course, felt more comfortable with that bunch because they were “my people.” And then one of the owners reached over to hug me and whispered in my ear, “You make me harder than Chinese Arithmetic in that outfit,” all while smiling and in the next breath, taking his seat back next to his wife. Smiling as if that was a completely appropriate comment to make…to anyone, let alone his young, female employee.
I stood there shocked for a minute. I remember wondering WHY or HOW or WHAT. I no longer felt confident and attractive in that outfit; I felt dirty and inappropriate and uncomfortable. But I didn’t say anything; I just told Tony that I was hungry and asked that we move on from that table to get some food, which we did.
We steered clear of that table the rest of the night, and it wasn’t until we were back home that I told Tony what had happened. Honestly, because I didn’t want him to snap the head off of my employer in the middle of a charity event, which he would have done and I would have lost my job. It was an awkward conversation, to say the least.
Here’s the thing though, that sort of shit happened ALL of the time in my line of work. A female in a primarily male industry. It was a common occurrence, one that everyone was aware of, but no one acknowledged. It was the “norm” around the shop. It was totally acceptable for the whole group of workers to stop and look as I left the conversation or to comment on my ass or my walk or simply my presence in the room.
But the sickest part is, I didn’t do anything about it. I dealt with it. I swallowed it. I laughed it off. I got really damn good at quickly changing the subject to something constructive, or shifting the focus onto someone else instead of me. I got really good at dodging, so good in fact that I did it without even realizing it was happening.
Looking back through my life, especially my career, I can think back to over 20 situations clearly just off the top of my head where things like this happened. Happened as if it were a normal, everyday occurrence and just part of life in business.
I’m sharing this story because no one else at the table or surrounding it knew what happened. They were not aware, and you need to be aware.
Things like this happen, ALL THE TIME. It’s not always an ass grab or a physical touch, but it’s just as demeaning, disrespectful, and disruptive to someone’s life.
So, do everyone a favor and be aware, speak up, and do your best to BE THE CHANGE. It WILL take us as a collective to change this statistic.