#metoo I wish I’d known Anita Hill when I first started working in Corporate America in the 1980’s. Looking back at my experiences then, to me sexual harassment (which was not even a term in the 80’s) was thought to be, oh just a little flirtation that some women made a “big-to-do” out of. Listen, women lost their jobs, so yes, it was then, and it is today a “big-to-do”…. One of my first corporate positions was as a marketing assistant to the marketing partner at the largest design firm in the world at that time. My boss, let’s call him Willie, was a powerful, well-known man. He was respected in his industry. He would go to lunch on Thursdays and Fridays, have two or three Tanqueray’s on the rocks, come back to the office and try to pinch me on my derriere or try to get close enough to touch me across my chest, trying to be coo-chi-coo cute with his hands flying everywhere like he was playing with a little baby. The first time this happened to me I was really shaken and without hesitation I headed straight to the Personnel Department.
The woman that was head of personnel tried to calm me down, and then she said, “oh that’s just Willie, he doesn’t mean you any harm, he’s harmless” and she sent me home for the rest of the day. That’s when I first discovered that personnel (now human resources) was in place to protect the executives, the company and not me. I called a more mature woman that I knew to tell her what had happened. She preceded to ask me all kinds of questions like, what did you do to him, how were you dressed? I did nothing to him, I was dressed in a navy-blue suit!! Upset, I hung up the phone. For whatever reason, I did not call my grandmother. Perhaps I didn’t want her to worry about me or to think that I could not take care of my family.
Feeling helpless, having a daughter in private school, I needed this job. So, I stayed and every Thursday or Friday, or whenever my boss had a lunch engagement, I found someplace else to be in the office with other people around me. This did not stop him. He showed up at my apartment building on a Saturday around noon and buzzed my apartment. We were not expecting anyone. We were preparing to leave for Santa Cruz. So, my daughter and I, thinking there must be a delivery, went downstairs together. Again, I was shaken, but this was worse, he was invading our private time and trying to enter my daughter’s and my safe place. He had never been to my home before, he was not invited, why he was there? Trying to be composed as not wanting to frighten my daughter; who Willie was leaning over trying to introduce himself to. I said, in a very low firm and deliberate voice, “if you ever come to my home again, I will call the police”. I took my daughter by her hand walking away from him, away from my apartment building, down the hill quickly, toward the Marina where I knew other people would be. I just wanted us to get away from him…….We had plans for our weekend, I was not going to let this intrusion hinder our trip, so, after a brisk walk around the Marina we headed back up the hill, got in our car and hit the road.
The next working day, my boss came to my desk, half smiling and half laughing he said, “you live in a very nice building, in a nice neighborhood, you drive a corvette, I must be paying you a lot of money”. Then he walked back to his office and closed his glass door. I was so annoyed, irritated and scared, my knees were shaking, I thought, what should I do? I cannot go back to personnel, nothing transpired to help me the last time I did that. I walked out of my office and took the escalators to the lobby of the building, went into a phone booth (didn’t have a mobile phone until 1995) and I called my grandmother. I told her everything, she listened and when she finally spoke, she told me exactly what to do. She told me to collect all of my personal things. Then she said, “walk in his office, leave the door open and to tell him that he is wrong, he does not pay you enough, that you’d rather wash windows than to spend another minute working for him”. Then she said, “tell him that he is lower than a dirty dog”. I did exactly what my grandmother told me to do, except, I told him that he was lower than a “donkey’s ass”. I walked out of that office at 9:55am that morning and never looked back…… My grandmother had my back in the 1980’s! No one believed Anita Hill in 1991……
Change starts at the top of corporations. The good old boys network perpetuated bad behavior for years, I believe they felt entitled. Those CEOs that condoned and covered-up bad behavior by their executive staff needed to go! I want to mention this too; women executives are as good to women as their CEO is. Executives are in place to support the CEO’s agenda. Just because you have a woman boss, does not mean she will support you or protect you. She’ll pay you off to hush you up or find a way to push you out if that’s what her CEO wants. We need more mindful women, people of color and people that practice true diversity at the top of all business industries.
Let’s think about this, I also believe more change will come when at home we start raising our sons and daughters as peers; or raising our children without expecting them to conform to gender norms.
Sexual harassment, sexual abuse or harassment of any kind, no matter how it is disguised, against women, or against anyone needs to stop.
Everyone should tell their story. This is just one of mine #metoo. Be bold and bloom. SuperSelf with Zalise.