I’ve written before about some of the sexual harassment that transpired over the early years of my career. There was a time when a Seattle engineer who came down to Oklahoma City to share his technical knowledge subjected a co-worker and me, both of us single at the time, to some maneuvers, for lack of a better word. Only he had a little more in mind.
Dick, his real name, but fitting, made some light references to after hours activities like dinner and then pushed further into inquiring about our home life. My co-worker, Lorraine, and I began to compare notes and realized this married out-of-towner had eyes on one or both of us for some extra-curricular activities.
I had been faced with harassment several years before in the form of an inappropriate image on one of my male counterpart’s computer monitor. We all sat in what you might call a bullpen. This bullpen was an open floor laid out with desk after desk. On top of each desk sat a computer monitor; the images of the monitors were in full view of workers and passers-by.
This was the early 1990’s and federal laws and company rules governing appropriate behavior were still in their infancy. The ‘boys will be boys’ excuses, while running thin, were still being used to justify bad decisions.
So one day I’m working and I turn to see a few monitors down the aisle a picture of a bare-breasted woman maximized on this jerk’s monitor. I couldn’t believe it. This guy was a bad seed anyway and was one of those who were passed from department to department instead of being shown the door.
That aside, I complained to our engineering lead, Larry, and he calmly told me he would take care of it. He explained that, at that time anyway, a complaint from me would actually backfire on me. And so he ‘handled’ it. I still don’t know what he did exactly, but I never saw any evidence of time off or even so much as a hand slap.
Keeping this experience in mind several years later when Lorraine and I were dealing with Dick, we decided to confide in our manager. We both had a great relationship with Gene. In my experience there have been only a handful of men I’ve worked with or for who truly valued my expertise based solely on my knowledge. Gene was one of these men.
Without spilling names, Lorraine and I told Gene we were having a potential issue and would he please ask the program to present the generic harassment training to each group as a reminder. I was surprised at Gene’s response. Evidently he called the program manager immediately and soon I had a call from someone in Human Resources asking for the ‘411’ on the incident. Talk about your knee-jerk reaction, make that over reaction.
Appalled, I told the Human Resources person that we had only suggested some training and didn’t want to file a formal complaint. The company was quite insistent and so Lorraine and I composed a letter that spelled out our intentions and that we didn’t want to pursue any more action.
As most things do, this situation resolved itself when Dick retired and that part of the program transferred to Oklahoma soon after.
I do believe there are times and places for making formal complaints. As I’ve noticed over more recent years, I’ve not experienced nor have I been made aware of any kind of overtures like Dick made. Could be that I’m older and not as ‘perky’; there is a stereotype that only the young things are involved with these older guys.
I would like to think we are growing up and that this kind of behavior exists only after work hours. Yeah, I doubt it too.