Sorry to break it to you, but chances are you probably know a woman who has been sexually harassed at work.
According to a report published on Wednesday, more than half (52%) of women have been victims of sexual harassment at work, rising to almost two-thirds (63%) of young women aged 18 to 24 years old.
Whether it’s sexual innuendos, unwanted touching or comments about their body or clothes, many women are left feeling ‘ashamed or frightened’.
The vast majority (79%) say nothing to their employer, according to the survey conducted by TUC and Everyday Sexism project.
We asked our female readers to share their stories about sexual harassment in the workplace.
Many of the women we spoke to felt unable to talk about their experience at the time, with very few speaking to their employer, and all of them asked for anonymity for this piece.
This speaks volumes about the culture of silence around such an abhorrent issue. It’s time we all started talking, anonymously or not, and it’s time employers started taking action.
‘My Pregnant Wife’s Tits Aren’t As Big As Yours’
I was fresh out of uni and my senior manager started making inappropriate comments about how I looked.
A real low point came when we were at a social event. We were all joking and laughing and he loudly said: “The best thing about my wife being pregnant is how big her tits have got – they’re not as big as yours – but still, it’s a win for me.” I was so humiliated and my immediate response was to want to cry. One of the women in the group told him to be quiet, but it was quickly brushed under the carpet.
I never spoke to my colleagues or managers formally about it. Given how senior and well liked he was, and the integral part he played in my performance review – I was nervous that any negativity that I cast upon him would go down badly for me. I was still very new to the working world. I didn’t know what I should do.
Now, I really wish I had said something – I feel like I’ve let down so many other women that he would have interacted with by not speaking up. The only positive I can take from this, is that I have a very clear sense of what is right and what is wrong and now I will do everything I can to ensure this behaviour never happens again.
‘You Should Wear Something Fitted To Show Off Your Curves’
I worked in my local village pub as a teenager. At my “interview” which was actually the landlord sitting inappropriately close to me for fifteen minutes, he told me that I should wear something “fitted” so that I could “show off” my “curves”.
When I worked there I was seriously nervous of him and avoided being alone with him. Whenever he wanted to move past me behind the bar he’s put his hands on my waist and run them down my hips to my thighs, rather than just saying excuse me.
Eventually I got so nervy of it that I asked one of the old barmaids who’d worked there for about 10 years about it. She told me he was “harmless” and did it to all the girls, which I think was supposed to make me feel better but really didn’t.
‘I Bet You Love Men, Really’
When I was in my early twenties, I was working in a restaurant with my girlfriend. The second chef suddenly started taking an interest in me, saying inappropriate stuff about me and my girlfriend and then finding moments to touch me in some way. I asked him to stop as I thought it was inappropriate, but he continued, saying: “Ah it’s just a bit of harmless flirting. I bet you quite like men, really.” He was a big, powerful man and quite intimidating.
One evening he bit my shoulder one evening and I decided to report him to the head chef, who gave him a formal warning. He then didn’t speak to me for a while, but one evening made me some food as a ‘peace offering’. I dread to think what he did to that burger but it made me really sick. When I returned to work, I found out he had left. He had just walked out that evening and never returned.
The reason I’d not reported anything sooner was because at that age, I was keen to fit in and be part of the team. I wondered if I had been overreacting when he said it was all harmless. Everyone seemed to really like him and get on with him.
If this happened in my current work place, there is no way I would have accepted it and allowed it to continue.
‘Have You Done Her Yet?’
During an informal coffee meeting, an external contributor to our publishing program got out his phone to text my senior colleague, who he was due to meet for lunch that same day. He asked my colleague what time to meet, stating that he was currently in a meeting with me. He had the phone on the bar table right in front of both of us. My colleague replied instantly, with the words: “Have you done her yet?”
It was immediately obvious to both of us that I had seen the message. To his (highly relative) credit, the author present did look embarrassed and said “oh my god, that’s awful”. But he then tried to “explain” the situation by describing how he, together with the colleague in question, and another senior board member had spent the previous evening discussing whether or not they found me a “very sexy woman”.
I told him this was not helping things. I continued with my questions and I managed to keep some kind of professional cool for the rest of our meeting. But the shock, the sting, and the humiliation that message made me feel left me reeling for weeks, maybe still.
I didn’t tell anyone at work and I think that’s what made it feel much worse. This was a situation that involved three men, all older than me, and all much more senior to me. A complaint over the situation would have been a complaint against some of the most influential and powerful figures within the company.
Bluntly, I was at best resigned to the fact that there would be no action taken against them, and at worst afraid of the implications for my own career.