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I’m sorry that it’s been so long since I’ve posted. I feel like my last several posts have started out that way. My life has been so crazy these last few months that in my free time, I’ve been focused on spending as much quality time with Greg as I can. Anyway, I’m going to skip the regular life update and just jump right in. As the title indicates, this is a ME TOO post. It’s relatively PG, so please don’t be afraid to keep reading.
This is a me too work story. One that I have been debating about telling for quite some time. Well, the time is finally here. With everything going on in the world right now, I feel compelled to put this story out there, in hopes that it will possibly help other young women in male dominated industries, or not, who may find themselves in similar situations. I never thought it would happen to me, but isn’t that what they all say.
As most of you know, before I became a professional stylist, I was an electrical engineer. I need to get some stats on how many female electrical engineers are working in the industry as opposed to male EE’s, but for now I will just say…there are few and far between. That never bothered me. I knew that’s what but was going to be like going in. I had done internships and heard all the crap about how I only got my job because I was a female. I worked in the oil and gas industry, a fairly rough and tough industry with probably even less females. Whatever though, that shit never bothered me. I knew I deserved to be there, and I proved it with my work. And for the most part, most of the men I worked with were respectful and great, so I think that's important to point out.
I was working for my second company, a small company in Indiana with about 200 employees, and I was the first, and only, female engineer they had ever hired at that point. If you want a picture in your mind….when I sat down at the conference table in a meeting, I was literally the only female in the room of about 25 middle-aged men. Like I said though, I expected that, so I was prepared for it. I knew that when I opened my mouth in front of my peers, and especially in front of our customers, I had to know that what I was going to say was 100% right in order to get some credibility. I think that most new employees probably feel this way when starting a new job, but I stand by the fact that this is especially prevalent to female engineers. I had a target on my back, so to speak. And I knew that in order to get respect at the table, I needed my shit to be together…probably far more together than any man in the room. I don’t think it’s right, and I wish it wasn’t that way….but that’s the way it was.
Getting back on track, I had been working at the company for maybe 8 or so months at this point. I had a mentor engineer who oversaw my projects, and also a tech that I worked with on a daily basis. I was feeling comfortable in my role and was on a friendly work basis with my team. As part of my job, we sometimes worked in small spaces when testing our units. We would have to brush past each other and hand tools back and forth and what-not. When I would move past someone or hand something over, I always made sure to tap them on the shoulder or say, hey I’m behind you, so that there wasn’t much physical contact. I was, and still am, very aware of physical contact in the workplace. I don’t know why exactly, but when I started working I just wanted to be as professional in that sense as possible.
The first incident happened when I was working in a unit (in close quarters) with my mentor and the tech. The tech needed to get by me and instead of tapping my shoulder or letting me know, he put his hand on my lower back as he was walking by. I remember instantly thinking, why would he do that… that’s weird. And I felt slightly uncomfortable. But I dismissed it as me over-analyzing the situation…after all, it was just a few seconds. The second incident happened a couple days later when we were passing tools back and forth. He grabbed my hand unnecessarily for a few seconds and I kind of like jerked my hand away out of instinct maybe, who knows….and again I was like…that’s weird. I was thinking about like mechanically at that point and was like, it wasn’t necessary at all for him to hold my hand, why would he have grabbed it that way? Seemed odd, but again, I dismissed it as me being over-paranoid. The final straw happened maybe a week later….I was at my desk in the office, with no one else near by at the time, when I saw him come up. I turned around in my chair, and was like, hey, what’s up man….in my normal jargon and then swiveled back around in my chair and continued to work on my schematics. Next thing I know, he comes up behind me and starts rubbing my shoulders, messaging them. I instantly froze in my seat. He probably did it for a good 5-6 seconds before I finally unfroze and kind of uncomfortably pulled myself away and turned around to face him to get him to stop. As soon as I turned around, I felt so crazy and I couldn’t look at him so I turned back to my computer once again and was like, hey sorry, I gotta get going on this and just went back to work. I like, didn’t know what to do. My heart was beating out of my chest, my hands were instantly sweaty….and I just remember thinking, What the fuck?!?! I remember it like it was yesterday. I felt disgusting, like I needed a shower. I was so utterly uncomfortable and humiliated and overall just grossed the fuck out. And you want to know the first question I asked myself, the very FIRST thing that popped into my head was, What did I do wrong here? What did I do to make him think this was okay? Why would he think it’s okay to touch me? I must’ve done something to warrant this behavior. How fucked up is that? I immediately blamed myself. Why is that?????? Over the course of the next 20 minutes sitting at my desk, I went through all kinds of situations and scenarios for how to handle the situation.
- I knew that it needed to stop. I could no longer dismiss it as me being paranoid. It was completely inappropriate and unprofessional.
- I had to go through all of the self-checks to ensure that I was justified in telling someone about these incidents. I looked at every possible way this could get turned around on me and damage my reputation and credibility that I worked so hard to get. Also, why is it that I had to think it through from that side? Society tells us as women that we better have all of our shit together if we’re going to accuse a man. I hate that. I hate that something like that can stop women from being heard.
- As soon as the incident happened, and even while it was happening, I knew that I had to tell someone. Who was the appropriate person? In my 20 minutes of me analyzing what to do, I decided the best person to talk with was my mentor.
I emailed my mentor and asked if we could talk for a minute. We walked outside the building and I told him about the 3 incidents. My mentor had worked with the tech for over 5 years and knew him well. I thought he was the right person to talk to because a) He was my mentor, and b) Also because he knew the tech well. I thought he might be able to advice me on how to handle and what to do. I remember he was very surprised when I was telling him about the incidents, and he was also understanding and took it seriously it seemed. He told me he wanted to go home and think about it over the weekend. That seemed fair so I said sure. But then, when we talked on Monday, and this is the real kicker…. he totally switched and told me that if I thought it was serious enough I should go talk to the engineering manager, and basically he wanted to stay out of it. I had so much respect for this man up until that moment. He really let me down. I had relayed to him how uncomfortable and unwanted those physical touches from the tech were and that I did not want it to continue and that I felt it would continue, as it had, unless I stood up and said something….for him to dismiss all of that and tell me it was in my hands and he wanted to stay out of it was fucked up. I realize that more and more as I get older. He should’ve been a supportive coworker and mentor. From the beginning, I suspected I would have to tell our engineering manager, but I kind of assumed my mentor would support me in that decision and kind of guide me. But no, that wasn't going to happen. I was on my own. He also told me that I shouldn’t mention to our manger that I had discussed it with him, if I chose to tell the manger. What a freaking copout. At least he taught me that if I’m ever in that position as a mentor coworker, I will not act as he did. I will stand with my associate.
Taking his words in, I was disappointed in him but I was not deterred. And part of me thinks that he hoped I would be. However, I knew what had happened was wrong and I was not going to stand for it. But how many other women out there are put in this position, or worse, and when not supported by their mentors or peers, just let it go???? I easily could have. My work life would have been easier if I had. But I didn’t. And I would still do the same thing today. When my mentor told me that, he stopped being someone I looked up to. I saw him in a different light. That will never change.
Next step, I emailed the engineering manager and asked for moment. I went into his office and closed the door. I had never done that before so he knew something was up. I relayed the same stories to him and he was visibly shocked. First, he apologized. He did not question me at all and took my accounts very seriously. I remember my hands were so sweaty and shaking. I told him that although the tech was such a nice guy and I couldn’t be sure what his intentions were, his actions were not welcome and made me feel extremely uncomfortable. I was conflicted because I didn’t want him to lose his job or get in serious trouble, but I wanted him to know that his behavior was not acceptable, period. I still remember feeling surprised when my engineering manager trusted me and understood where I was coming from. I, for some reason, thought I would have to justify myself at length, but I didn’t. It’s fucked up that I thought I would have to go to such lengths to begin with, but it’s a testament to him that I didn’t.
I left his office and went back to my desk. About an hour later I got a call to come into the private conference room at the other end of the building. When I got there, HR, my manager, and the CEO of the company were there. My first thought was, “Oh shit.” When I sat down the CEO started speaking. He told me he was very impressed with how I handled myself in this situation, and honestly, I was shocked. I was prepared for them to ask me if I really wanted to pursue this, or belittle the situation, or something along those lines. The CEO told me that he really appreciated how professionally I took my role and that they had just called the tech in to discuss the incidents. He said that he was prepared to fire the tech on the spot for his behavior…but that he had no history of any inappropriate behavior and seemed extremely remorseful when questioned. Then the CEO asked me if I felt like I could still work there and felt safe and comfortable doing my job and working with him? I said I felt safe and I didn’t want him to lose his job, but I was very clear in that I didn’t want any physical contact to happen again. The meeting went on and lasted a bit longer. At the end the group told me they appreciated how I had handled this situation and I told them I also appreciated how seriously they took me. Overall, from that side of management, I think they handled the whole thing very well.
The tech and I continued to work together. I felt very uncomfortable for some time after that, but eventually I moved on and fortunately, he never did anything to make me feel uncomfortable again. But still even so, I will never forget those incidents and how they made me feel. When someone physically touches you in a way that makes you feel gross and dirty and kind of sick…..the fact that it even happens at all makes you feel powerless. Like, what right does this person think they have to touch you?
I know that this story is NOTHING compared to what other women go through, or have gone through, in other jobs, and in other parts of the world. I’m not trying to make this bigger than it was. I was not raped. I was not abused. But I was sexually harassed in a way, and if that’s how I felt about getting my shoulders rubbed, I cannot even imagine how I would feel had it been any worse, or if I had not been able to do anything about it.
I am lucky in that, even though my mentor didn’t support me, upper management did support me. In so many other jobs, women don’t get support from any one in their workplace. This has to stop. When are we going to say enough of this bullshit. If a woman, or a man, come forward and tell their story, we don’t need to spend our time trying to poke holes in it. We need to ask, how can we help.
The Time’s Up movement quite frankly is what prompted me to write this post. If I hadn’t been so moved by it, I probably would never have told anyone about it outside of Greg and my closest friends. I kind of thought that even though this story is significant to me, it’s not significant to anyone else, other people’s stories are much worse, so why should I tell mine?
But now I feel differently. If something along these lines happens to you, and you think, it’s not a big deal…and keep dismissing it, it will only get worse. If an action makes you feel uncomfortable, you have the right to stand up and say no! Period. I just hope that if this post does anything, it encourages one woman to stand up and say no, even if what happened seems insignificant in comparison to others. It probably will not be easy, people may or may not take you seriously, and it may make for some uncomfortable situations, but if you know it’s the right thing to do, do it. You will probably be glad you did in the long run, I definitely am.
Anyway, that’s my story. If you’ve read this far, thank you very much. I hope that this post gives you courage if you need it, and insight if you don’t. You are not alone!!!!! This shit goes on all the time and it has to stop! The only way we can do that, is to actually start talking about it. This is one of my passion projects, and I will continue to stand up for women's rights. Time is UP, folks. Let's do something about it.