As you can probably guess, I’ve had my share of what is now known as sexual harassment in the workplace. Not many, thankfully, but certainly memorable.
Affirmative action, whose premise was to open doors in the federal, state and corporate worlds to those of us considered minority, was in full swing in the 1970’s. A lot of my male classmates inferred I was in engineering due to the promise of a huge salary upon graduation so that the corporate quotas for AA would be met. I didn’t have a clue, had not entered engineering for salaries, and thought that if it so happened I was blessed with a good salary upon graduation, then so be it.
What hadn’t happened yet was a policy against sexual harassment in the work place. The laws and policies came later as the numbers of female minorities first accepted into colleges and universities, then employed by companies under AA guidelines, ran into non-approving white male co-workers. Understand in my experience most of the men I have had the pleasure of working with never displayed any discomfort with working with me. However, there were a couple…
One male college classmate, my last semester, dared to insinuate that my roommate and I had had certain ‘relations’ with the professors to get the grades we were getting. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t have a response; he didn’t deserve one. I think he was probably failing or unable to get a job. I had four offers to pick from upon graduation. I wonder what he’s doing now, if only I could remember his name. Right now I remember him as A$$hole.
I worked with a stereotypical New Yorker complete with the accent and the over-the-top type A personality. Completely full of himself, he imagined himself a real catch, although he was married with children. I sat in a cube across from this guy. One day he made a comment about the dress I wore. The dress, nondescript except for two decorative knotted strings that hung from the neck and rested on my chest. He stated aloud that he wished he could be one of the ties. I was so embarrassed and there were no company rules against that kind of behavior at that time.
Salesmen in the 1970’s and 1980’s had no appreciation for the fact the make-up of their target audience was evolving. Formerly one hundred percent white male, the engineers became mixed with minorities, females, people of color, the word diversity hadn’t been invented for the corporate world. Some of the sales representatives chose to ignore the fact that we were a part of the professional workforce.
I sat through a sales pitch one guy made. He was probably selling pumps or agitators. Without power point, the vendor had created a set of slides, the real, picture-type slides, that lay in a carousel attached to a slide projector.
As he was flipping thru the slides talking ad nauseum about the gadget he was trying to sell, up pops a pic of a scantily clad female. “Whoa, how’d that get in there?” the idiot said, a broad grin across his clean-shaven face. With only two females in the meeting, including me, the other guys, our co-workers, didn’t dare to even break a smile. No one said a word and after a few pregnant pauses the salesman completed his presentation. What a jerk.
There were other instances, obviously not as impressionable as the three I’ve mentioned. I only wanted to be accepted as an engineer. And in my naiveté, I struggled to understand why this was a big deal for some of my male counterparts. Once in awhile I run into ‘the attitude’ still to this day. It’s time we moved on and all work to add value to the company regardless of who or what we are.