In my sophomore year of College I decided to trade my free time of watching re-runs of Sex and the City and eating chunky monkey with an internship that actually related to my professional aspirations. I made myself a nice little resume and sent it out to a couple of local businesses looking for an intern. I waited for two weeks and almost gave up hope when I finally received an email back asking if I would be interested in interviewing later in the week. I typed out a cool and collected (trying not to sound too eager) email back saying I was interested and shortly after we set a date.
I went to the interview with a sore throat and sounded like Robert De Niro for thirty minuets while trying to explain my part as a writer in my high school newspaper. But this was not as bad as the nervous twitch my eyes were making. Somehow at the end of the interview I was informed that I was hired!
As my days as an intern went by and I became good at the tasks I was given, I was offered more responsibilities. The more those in charge of me saw that I was capable of handling big projects, the more respect I earned in the office. This meant going to lunch with the bosses and “shooting the shit” every now and then in between projects. As I began to become more settled in my role in the office, I became friends with those above me. Everyone now spoke freely of the annoying tasks we were obligated to take care of and how hungover we were in the office on Friday mornings. Eventually, these casual conversations turned personal. I kept hearing remarks of how “I’m lucky I’m pretty” when I messed up on a small task. Or how the main reason I was hired was because “I wasn’t bad on the eyes.”
These little casual comments were not the greatest thing for to hear at this age being that it was my first real work experience in an office. I began to become paranoid of my work being done incorrectly and spent much more time then necessary on little tasks. I went on doing this for the remainder of the internship. Finally, when it was time to move on to bigger and better things I asked the person who had been in charge of me throughout the internship if I could list him as a reference on my resume, and he responded with a coy remark about us going to dinner to discuss it. I laughed this off and went on to put him as a reference regardless.
It is now two years later and I am a graduating senior in College. I realized that this behavior that I was experiencing was extremely detrimental to my professional confidence. I do not feel comfortable with interviewing during job interviews because I find myself worrying that I will not be able to land the job simply on my experience and knowledge alone. Not only am I completely estranged from the person I worked under, since I was not romantically interested in him and he did not care to remain in touch otherwise, but It is also extremely degrading to get dressed for an interview and wonder if you will get hired if the interviewer does not find you attractive.
I feel it is important to tell this story because there is really no protection of young girls in the professional world. There are many people out there who are aware of our lack of experience and know-how. I wonder if comments like the ones said to me would have been said to a woman a couple of years older then me? Probably not. Not because I believe myself to be so attractive that men in the office can not help but makes comments to me, but because I am now older and wiser and I understand the manipulative behavior of those men.
If I told anyone at the time, I ran the risk of being humiliated when the culprits denied it (as they definitely would have). It is funny how every time I speak to a woman who has experienced behavior such as this during their intern session the culprits have always pulled them into their office to explain how “they were reading way too into it” and “they are sorry for offending them, but they were only making jokes.”
Even if they were, they were not making them to the male interns, or to older interns. It seems to be that this behavior only affects women of a certain age. So in order to help some of my fellow ladies out there who are hoping to break into the professional world soon, I have devised a plot of how to handle (and how I should have handled) what happened to me.
At the first instance of occurrence, the best way to handle the situation is to nip it in the bud! The longer the amount of time that passes between the first incident and the second the more it looks as if you do not mind this behavior, and by behavior lets all just all it what it really is, sexual harassment.
If anything at any point makes you uncomfortable the best solution is to tell the creep right away, and as soon as. This way there is no confusion about he type of behavior that is acceptable around you. If you have doubts about this behavior and tell yourself it was just a misunderstanding, that’s fine, you could still throw a line in there about how you thought that something inappropriate was going to happen for a minute.. But thank god it didn’t right? Jokes like this in uncomfortable situations are not meant to make light of the situation, they are simply meant to get a message across without running the risk of causing tension in the workplace.
With this said, it is important to note that if tension does occur, it is not your fault. You are not the one responsible for crossing a very firm line in the workplace, the culprit is. So if the situation ever progresses to the point of making you uncomfortable or has you reconsidering your job then you fight for yourself my fellow feminist. You speak up for your right to enter the workforce un-harassed just like every man in the office.
Women are constantly taught to make light of situations that make them uncomfortable at work, because “he didn’t mean it.” But if you feel he DID mean it, you speak up! The best solution is to speak to the culprit directly and see if you can cease any inappropriate behavior head on, if this is not an option do not be afraid to go over their head. No company or firm wants this type of behavior in the office, no matter how prestigious or small and homely it is.
We all deserve to be treated equally in the office, regardless of experience or salary. There is no reason for me to doubt myself during interviews just because one loser wanted to feel as if he had control over me and insinuate that the reason I was hired was because he thought I was pretty, not because of my consistent years of being on the dean’s list, or nearly perfect grade point average. No one deserves to feel less valued then they are, especially at a place you willingly entered for experience and wisdom while trying to better yourself professionally. Make it clear that you are there to do what you came to do, learn about your field of interest, not to play the field.
By: Julia E.