Tiffany O'Donnell is the CEO of Iowa Women Lead Change. She joined the organization as COO in 2015, succeeding Diane Ramsey in June of 2017. She is an Emmy-award winning news anchor and reporter who spent nearly 25 years in the television news industry.
If the recent #metoo campaign makes one thing clear, we’re not alone.
It turns out sexual harassment IS pervasive and most women experience some form of it. As the CEO of a leadership organization for women, I can rattle off statistics All. Day. Long.
And perhaps most disturbing, it starts earlier than many of us realized. The Girls Scouts of America report 1 in 10 girls have been catcalled before her 11th birthday.**
Honestly, most women I know, seem to innately know how to handle it. We should, after all. For many of us, we don’t even remember the first time it happened. It was called “teasing” in school. We learned to deal with it.
That skill of working “around it” has served us well. Enter the workplace, some say a grownup “playground” of sorts and we can spot these guys a mile away. We get really good at laughing at their offensive jokes, hopping up from our desk just before a neck massage (though I wasn’t quite quick enough when one asked me to scratch his back at a business dinner) and, in general, trying to avoid their inappropriateness.
Yes, there is Human Resources. Theoretically, they are a company’s answer to protecting employees from these guys. However, in many organizations, what we watch happen in reality, keeps us from going there. Here’s why: 1.) we know who they are really responsible for protecting (hint: not us) 2.) until we‘re ready to quit, we won’t risk reporting it for fear of retaliation and 3.) we don’t want to be “That girl.” You know, the one with “HR issues.”
I am not disputing the overall importance of Human Resources. Truly, they are most often the drivers of the employee education that works to eliminate sexual harassment and many other toxic workplace issues. They play a critical role in ensuring safe, productive workplace environments. That being said, though, they are often constrained by corporate structures and legal obstacles including arbitration clauses that often mean the people they report, remain in the company. Their offenses are kept secret. The cycle repeats.
These reasons, and others, are why only one-fourth to one-third of people harassed at work, report it to a supervisor. 2%-13% file a formal complaint. **
Iowa Female Taxpayers Assaulted Twice
The fear of retaliation is real, too. In another study of public-sector employees, two-thirds of workers who complained about mistreatment, experienced some form of retaliation.
It was the ultimate retaliation, getting fired, that prompted an Iowa Senate staffer to file a complaint in 2013.
Kirsten Anderson alleged that just hours after filing a complaint about a toxic work environment caused by sexual harassment, Senate leadership fired her.
In the end, the State settled with Anderson for just under $2 million. That’s $2 million TAXPAYER dollars. In 2017, a year when the state is borrowing from reserves to balance the budget, one has to wonder where they found the extra cash.
As an Iowa woman who pays taxes, I consider this an assault on women ---twice; first, the harassment then, ultimately, using my money to pay the penalty.
By the way, in case you wondered…obviously the woman who made the complaint, Kirsten Anderson, no longer has her job at the Capitol. But guess kept his until HE resigned last month?
If nothing else, I’m glad the momentum of the #metoo movement is prompting this discussion. What I don’t want lost in all of the stories of victimization, are the stories of honorable male allies. And they’re out there!
If you’re like me, and I hope you are, in addition to stories of sexual harassment at work, you have stories of supportive male colleagues doing the right thing. These guys are the ones who don’t laugh at the crude joke. They’re the ones who privately, without accolades, casually tell a harasser to knock it off. (Peer pressure is a powerful thing!)
I remember a male teacher who did this for me. A former boss who did this for me. A male colleague who did this for me.
Their courage is powerful and contagious.
While we are not alone in being victims of sexual harassment at work, we’re also not alone in finding it indefensible. Men and women, together, are outraged by these stories.
My hope is that we may someday see a new #metoo movement. The one that says:
My organization’s culture requires respect of all employees #metoo
My boss is an advocate for workplace equity and lives it everyday #metoo
The culture in my company truly makes all team members feel safe and welcome #metoo
In the end, it’s really not so different than that earlier school playground I mentioned. There’s also something else that happens there: when the cool kids do something, others follow.
For those of us who may not have fit the cool kid category way back when, this is finally our chance! Our actions will speak louder than our words.
Our daughters AND sons are counting on it.