Who: Office manager, 35
What: Taking on mansplaining and sexism
I’d been working for a well-known fashion brand for five years before my feet started to itch. I was desperate for a new challenge in a different sector, so I went for an interview to become the office manager at a gym-equipment company. The building was plush, with polished wooden floors, gorgeous couches and refreshments. The two men who conducted the interview seemed nice enough. I aced it, was offered the job, and accepted without hesitation.
On my first day, a gruff man answered the door. I followed him, climbing the concrete stairs, past the polished floor of what I realised was the showroom I’d been interviewed in, and into a poky little space with no windows and six men, including the company director, huddled together on a bank of desks. They all turned to stare at me. I was the first woman, I was told, who had ever set foot in there.
For about a week, no one really spoke to me. That Friday, we went out for work drinks and, loosened with lager, the guys began to warm up. “Sorry we’ve been quiet, we just weren’t sure if you could take our… humour,” one said. “I’m thick-skinned,” I told him, “I’m sure it will be fine.”
The next Monday, it started.
From the moment they walked in, they made crude jokes about women and their weekend conquests. This carried on throughout the day, every day. Then they added me to their WhatsApp group, which included the company director and was used to share highly inappropriate content including sometimes, porn.
I was shocked but didn't know what to to. So, for quite some time, I toughed it out and ignored the behaviour, deleted messages and kept my head down. As well as that I was mansplained to and interrupted often. The company director, who doubled up as HR, was in on it all, and was often one of the worst offenders. At my lowest point I’d regularly end up crying in the bathroom.
Despite the many issues I faced, business was on the up. They allowed me to hire someone else to help with my increased workload. I insisted on having another woman in to balance it out.
With her on board, things became much easier. The two of us were able to stick together, counter the inappropriate remarks and work as a team. Soon, a third woman joined. Together we stood up for ourselves and things really started to change. After some well-argued protests about our equal rights in the workplace and several calls to Citizens Advice, the director agreed to end the sexist office “banter” once and for all. It felt like such a victory.
I’ve since left the company and am now an office coordinator at a huge media agency, which I love. Even during my interview, I knew it was a better fit for me. The panel was diverse and there are strict rules about respect, equality and fairness.
However, I don’t think I’d appreciate it quite so much without the negative experience I had at that job. My one tip for anyone who is going through the same thing? Don’t think you have to put up with it – and don’t be afraid to ask about policies on equality before you take the job. If the company doesn’t have any or can’t answer, back away and find somewhere that deserves you.
It Isn’t Only Physical
Sexual harassment can include criminal offences, such as unwanted touching or assault, but also written or verbal comments of a sexual nature, such as demeaning remarks about an employee’s appearance, questions about their sex life, offensive jokes, explicit images and pornography.
Log any sexist incidents or harassment, as defined above, in as much detail as possible with times and dates in a diary. Save offending messages clearly from the harasser in a separate folder.
Take It Seriously
Any reports of sexual assault should be treated sensitively and seriously by your line manager, HR department or director. If you feel unable to go to those people for whatever reason, or feel you have been victimised in their response to your issue, you can apply for your case to be heard at an employment tribunal, which is free for employees. Sexual assault is a criminal matter and can be reported to and investigated by the police.
Go to acas.org.uk for more information for employers and employees on sexual discrimination at work
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