HR’s defense for the early promotion of a man who rated new female hires on a hotness scale of 1-10 in front of the audit team? “There were a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ things you didn’t know about.” (Read: That senior was one hell of a spreadsheet jockey.)
At the client site on a Wednesday afternoon, one of the seniors started talking about a coworker. “She’s hot. I told her I wanted to put it in her butt.”
The guys started laughing. “Yeah, she’s pretty hot.”
We were at an audit site – not out at the bar. These men were my bosses – not my frat buddies. This was a workday at a large, professional, contemporary accounting firm – not a day on the scripted set of Mad Men.
Unfortunately, that disgusting incident was not isolated – not for me, not for the firm, not for that particular team, or for working women in general. The “put it in her butt” story was just one of the many inappropriate and sexually explicit things the guys on my audit team said.
Sexual harassment at work is not only commonplace, but also expected. According to a 2015 Cosmopolitan survey, one in three women has experienced some form of sexual harassment at work, and only 29% of women actually reported the harassment. Plenty of women have shared their harassment stories online. Jezebel has published several articles encouraging women to share their stories of sexism and sexual harassment and reports that most teens think sexual harassment is a normal part of any job.
Unfortunately, I’m just another of the one in three female public accounting squibs whose sleazy coworkers continuously sexually harassed her.
After telling one manager that “Hey, these lunchtime convos about flaccid penises make me uncomfortable,” the harassment didn’t stop, and the offensive comments continued.
When a different manager said “Pregnant women shouldn’t be allowed at networking events. That’s not showing the best face of the firm. You’re basically host to a parasite,” I finally contacted HR.
I spent about an hour spilling the details to the HR rep. I told HR about how the guys on my team said they “loved the sundress season,” about how they “researched” female new hires on Facebook and rated the women on hotness, about how my manager put me on “Team Foreskin,” and about how one associate sent me an email with a photo of a half-naked woman after I’d specifically told him to stop. I told HR about how I’d begun crying before work in the mornings and suffering from daily panic attacks.
Human Resources, of course, talked to each of the guys on the team individually. Afterwards, one senior on my team told me, “Now you can go sit in a cube by yourself because you have no sense of humor. Somebody’s the fun police.”
The comments continued, and the sexual harassment finally became unbearable – to the point that I’d hide in the bathroom at the client site and have panic attacks. I finally asked HR to take me off the client.
I wish I could say that reporting the harassment made a difference. It didn’t. The firm promoted two of the seniors to managers later that year – one senior even got promoted a year early. Meanwhile, the firm sent me to a crappy audit client in Bumfuck, Michigan.
After I reported the harassment, I stopped getting invited to firm-wide happy hours, and I was “conveniently” left off the office-wide email about joining the firm’s kickball league. The manager who called fetuses “parasites” made sure to tell me, “You need to build your personal network within the office because if you don't have friends in the office, you can be the best accountant ever, but your career won't ever go anywhere."
I wish I could say that I fought harder for myself and for the other women at the office. I didn’t. I quit my job shortly after that manager told me to “build my network.”
A former coworker told me that the harassment didn’t stop after I left the firm. The same manager who called fetuses “parasites” told an associate to "go bang" the team’s female senior "because she looks really sexy in those tight little skirts."
Although not much changed at my firm after I reported the harassment, change is still possible if we, as men, women, and working professionals, band together and say “This is not okay.” According to Professor Anita Hill, whose 1991 testimony against then U.S. Supreme Court Nominee Clarence Thomas sparked public discussion of sexual harassment, reporting and discussing harassment is one step toward change. “Change is possible. Some people think that things are the way they are and they're never going to change. Well, a lot has changed since 1991… Change can happen, not because one person speaks out, but because one person speaks out and other people join."
When I told a partner about the harassment during my exit interview, she said, “I had no idea that this happened. The firm kept this quiet. I wish I would have known.”
Well, I wish I would have spoken out more loudly. How do we stop coworkers from commenting on the shape and firmness of a new hire’s ass? We speak out. Loudly. I wish I had kept a written record of every single uncomfortable and inappropriate thing my coworkers said, along with the dates and witnesses. I wish I had kept a screen shot of the “Team Foreskin” instant messages. I did save the inappropriate emails, but I wish I’d forwarded them to the partner and HR sooner. I wish I had labeled the behavior “sexual harassment” from the very first “put it in her butt” discussion, and I wish that I had discussed the behavior with my female colleagues to see if they had experienced the same thing. When those guys got promoted, I wish that I’d voiced my disgust -– and loudly -– both to HR and to anyone who would listen because their behavior was (and continues to be) a disgrace to our profession.
Sexual harassment should not be commonplace. It should not be expected. We have the right to a harassment-free work environment. We should never let anyone – boss, coworker, partner –- intimidate us into silence or into quitting our jobs. We are highly educated, highly skilled working professionals, and we are far too good for this shit. We need to demand better because at the very least, we deserve a work environment free of flaccid penis discussions.
Time for us to speak up. Report it. Discuss it. And loudly. Enough is enough.