Yesterday was one of the best days of your career.
A fist bump from your boss as he offered you congratulations for finishing a project. You appreciated the encouragement, already looking forward to the next time you’ll get to work together.
He asked if you’re available to go over some final project details outside work hours. You were happy to help in the moment. But now?
He welcomes you into his office, closing his office door as you make small talk. You’re offered coffee before you both take seats to discuss your work. In the background, you hear your last remaining coworker leave for the night. You relax, finally able to focus on the task at hand.
That is, if you happen to be a man. If you’re a woman, certain elements in the scene are often different.
An inappropriate touch as congratulations. Uneasiness instead of thrill as your boss makes an inappropriate comment about your appearance. The deafening slam of the door as your coworker leaves both of you alone for the night.
Yesterday was just another day of your career to keep secret.
The dictionary definition of sexual harassment is bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, but it’s something else too: using power to influence sexual favors.
Powerful men, making promises in exchange for sexual favors, from untouchable positions.
The first uncomfortable moment puts women on the defensive. A powerful man asking to meet alone puts women right in the middle of a catch-22.
Option 1: Report him for sexual harassment. Spend countless hours in lengthy legal proceedings, often ending in settlements rather than justice. Gain a reputation as the office whistleblower. Potentially hurt your future chances elsewhere.
Option 2: Shut up and move on.
If we’ve learned anything recently, men in power make option two a lot more likely.
In the past month, at least 11 powerful men have been accused of sexual harassment, including Harvey Weinstein, Mark Halperin and Bill O’Reilly. They exist in the upper echelon of their fields, with countless people working for them each and every day.
Picture yourself as a woman working under one of these men, or any man holding considerate power in your field.
Every time you send an email, your time is wasted assuring the recipient you’re qualified for the task at hand, that you’re worth the effort.
Every time you see another accusation highlighted on the news, you glance toward your boss’ door and wonder if they’re capable of the same thing.
Problems within workplace hierarchies don’t just apply to women either. Members of marginalized groups, from the LGBTQ community to African Americans, experience the same symptoms of power every day.
As a nation, we’ve made undeniable progress for oppressed groups in this country. But our progress has more valleys than peaks.
In sequestered groups, progress is stagnant. Activism, laws and punishment only do so much. Telling someone they can’t do what they want only incentivizes them to take action.
On Tuesday, it was reported that a Lehigh faculty member was accused of sexual and other inappropriate conduct. Even the safe haven of college campuses can fall prey to these monsters.
Picture yourself as a woman working under one of these men again, but this time in an ideal world.
Imagine if your effort was noticed as coffee runs turned into letters of recommendation.
Imagine if you could have the most productive two weeks of your life, simply by signing the end of your emails with “Alexander” instead of “Alexandra.”
Imagine if every time you saw another accusation plastered across the news, you glanced toward your boss’ door and felt proud of their commitment to protecting the company’s workers.
Eventually we will experience that day with pride. Today is not that day.