Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What She Said

This article really puts into perspective exactly how I ended up feeling about my job as an investigator with Lucent Technologies Corporate Computer and Network Security by the time I finally got myself out of there in April of 2001.

Although it was one of the most interesting jobs I've ever done, I initially got into that line of work because I wanted to help people. Among other things, I wanted to protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace and help them feel and actually be safer at work.

However, by the time I left the job, not only had I realized I wasn't even helping the company, but I had also become a victim of gender harassment myself many times over. I worked in one of the two organizations which was supposed to SET THE EXAMPLE for the rest of the company (the other being the Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action, or EEO/AA group); I had a B.A. and an M.S. in criminal justice; and I dealt with severe violations all day, every day; but I couldn't even manage to protect myself from victimization because I worked in a dramatically male-dominated field.

In fact, I had reported my own situation to the EEO/AA group no less than five times -- and WON the investigation every time. The problem, though, remained because, as the only female employee in my group, I was the only one complaining about gender harassment, and so it was rather a simple solution to just ignore me. I actually was told often, "Nobody else has a problem," and after I heard it enough times, it did start to sound an awful lot like, "You are crazy." Even the EEO/AA investigator (who was a male, by the way, and a very decent one, too) couldn't help much with that, since he couldn't be in my shoes all the time. I had to deal with reality, and I had to deal with it alone. It was as natural to my male bosses and coworkers to treat me as a second class citizen as it was for them to urinate while standing. It would never have occurred to them to analyze their own actions, and even when someone pointed out to them exactly how they were treating me differently from everyone else, they still had difficulty seeing it for themselves. More importantly, they refused to change their behavior. Or maybe more accurately, they didn't think they SHOULD change their behavior because I was ONLY a woman and therefore not worth showing that much respect.

Earlier on the day I decided to resign, it had become clear to me that I needed to go back to the EEO/AA group again because the harassment was still continuing. But something inside me broke that day. I just couldn't do it anymore. It didn't matter. Or maybe I didn't matter. It was a losing battle I had been trying to fight, and the only person I was capable of saving was MYSELF.

There were always going to be more people looking at pornographic websites on company time using company resources because they were ADDICTED (we should have been referring them to therapists and doctors, rather than terminating their employment); job security wasn't a problem. But if eliminating pornography from the workplace was our measure of how we were making sure to treat women better and to provide a safe workplace for them, then the fact that we did NOT have to worry about job security meant we were clearly failing. And I knew from my own experience as a victim that using pornography or the lack thereof as a measure of my safety as a woman in that workplace was grossly in error. I also knew that working within the system to try to change it and make it better had been unsuccessful. I finally gave myself the freedom to move on, or maybe I just gave up. Either way, I ended up here -- somewhere else, somewhere a little bit less painful to my psyche most days.

So that's the experience I bring with me to this conversation, and I think Susie Bright has a terrific idea -- one that certainly has yet to be tried:

Here's a tip: Wanna stop the cycle of "safety panics" at your workplace? Give each person who works some privacy and dignity.

Then look at the pay scales of everyone in the company, and give all the secretaries, assistants, and janitorial staff a gigantic raise. Watch how suddenly, all the "unsafe" feelings disappear as if by magic!

I'd like to find out what would happen if her idea were put into practice, but I doubt it will ever happen. Sadly, I think the biggest reason it won't ever happen is because a woman suggested it.

But in case some male corporate type is reading this, I DARE YOU to give her idea a try. And don't you forget to give her the credit for it, either.

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