THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Harassment works: For you, the career-climbing woman
Each time that I have ignored sexual harassment aimed at me, I have moved up the corporate ladder. For example, the boss who once pulled all senior management out of the company's sexual harassment seminar because he thought it was a waste of time– and patted me on the butt as he left the room– has turned out to be my most reliable cheerleader (and a very impressive reference).
In my first eight days of my job at a financial software company, I was sexually harassed six times by my new boss. This list does not include his harassment during the interview process, which I chose to ignore since it was my first interview at a respectable company in six months.
Maybe you're wondering what, exactly, I regard as sexual harassment. Try this:
Me: "Thank you for setting up that meeting; it will be very helpful."
Boss: "Big testicles." (He then pretends to squeeze his genitals.)
Here are some other choice moments:
At lunch on my second day on the job, he told me he once fell in love with a woman as tall as I but was intimidated by her height, so they just had casual sex. That afternoon when he said, "I want to hug you, but it would be illegal," I said, "You're right."
Each night, I relayed some of the best lines to my then husband. He couldn't believe these events actually happened in today's workplaces. I told him this was standard.
He told me I should sue so we could go to Tahiti. I told him I'd probably settle out of court for about $200,000– and I'd be a pariah in the workplace.
I told my husband that his very hot, 27-year-old boss gets hit on as much as I do. He said he saw her at work all the time, and this never happened. But I suggested to my husband he was perpetuating the myth that harassment isn't widespread.
In fact, 44 percent of women between ages 35 and 49 report experiencing sexual harassment at the workplace– even though almost every company has a no-tolerance policy. Yet when women leverage the no-tolerance policy, their names are plastered over the business pages, and they get blacklisted in their industry.
So the best way to change corporate America is to gain power. To get power, you have to stay in the workforce, not the court system, and work your way up. Unfortunately, this means learning how to navigate a boys' club. But when you know the system, you then are clear about the root of its problems, and you know how to initiate change.
In this spirit, I hatched a plan to rid myself of my harassing boss. I thought management was so smart enough that if I explained why I wanted to be moved to another department, they would see my request as reasonable and figured they would be grateful for my low-key approach to this sensitive problem, rather than resentful that I had been hired to work in one department and then asked to be switched to a department with no openings.
I was right. I was moved into marketing, which I prefer. I received a more prestigious assignment and gained a smarter boss. Had I reported that I had been sexually harassed during the interview process, I would not have gotten the job. Had I reported the harassment to my boss's boss without presenting a plan for solving the problem, I would not have received the better assignment.
In fact, if you have a strategy, enduring sexual harassment can be a way to gain power and achieve your long-range goals.
Eventually, my boss was fired. Officially for low performance, though I have always fantasized that it was for rampant harassment.
Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more. She penned this column several years ago, but she's busy with new things–- too busy to write new things.