She who shares her story of…

Not just silenced, but gagged!

The Story

I tried to share this story when it happened, but back then no one wanted to listen. The people I spoke to about it, wanted it to go away the quickest and easiest way possible. Back then, the quickest and easiest way to make it all vanish was to have me go away and to silence me.

I was a high performer and regularly was recognised for that. I was making my way up the corporate ladder for the company I worked for. I could almost see the next step was going to be the one that would definitely see me heading for an executive position in my area of expertise over the next several years. All my hard work was going to pay off.

Except that there was one barrier to me getting there.

That was a man who was 20 years older than me and was known by many to abuse his power by abusing women. Yes…known by many to abuse his power by abusing women! It was something people said they had heard about him as if they were talking about the sport he played for his extra-curriculum activities.

This man was literally between where I was in the business and where I wanted to be – he was my boss and would be the final decision maker on this advancement.

Late in the evening at a work event, the old man drunkenly stumbled over to me. I can still remember the smell of his poisonous breath. He winked. He licked his lips. He slurred something about me needing him to make a decision on that promotion, while he placed in my hand the spare key to his hotel room and said, “There is one more test you have to pass, and I bet you can do it like a pro!”

He walked away with another awkward wink and he headed up to the hotel room. I felt there were eyes on me from those many who he was known to do this. I looked at the key card in my hand. I looked back around the room at the many heads that turned away as my eyes met theirs.

I left the key card on the bar and I went home.

I didn’t get the promotion. It took me weeks to get the courage to make a complaint. I was nervous of the response I would get, but finally convinced myself it was the right thing to do.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I was treated like I was a nuisance. I was questioned like I was to blame. I was given an opportunity to leave quietly like I was the perpetrator. I was told to sign a non-disclosure agreement like I was guilty.

I was silenced. I was left alone without support. I was left feeling devalued. I was left without any job. I was left without being able to speak about it when I felt ready and wanted to. And I know they would believe that the measly amount of money that closed the deal was sufficient to “resolve any and all matters arising from or in connection with my employment”. They have obviously only read an NDA and never actually tried to understand what I experienced, not just that evening, but the weeks that followed and what they have left me scared with for the rest of my life. No money makes that go away.

The Message

Sexual harassment causes profound physical, emotional and psychological impacts to those affected. It is unacceptable, against the law and must be eliminated from our industry’s culture and workplaces.

Any victim of workplace sexual harassment or abuse should feel safe and protected when coming forward to their employer.

Victims feel it’s a grave risk to their careers to come forward with an issues, because they believe they will get blacklisted as a ‘trouble maker’. The fact women believe this is a shameful indictment on the culture created.

Non-disclosure agreements are designed to gag victims of sexual harassment, protect perpetrators and the toxic company culture.  They prevent managers from communicating with staff about the action taken after a complaint, or discussing the systemic issues that might need to be dealt with in a workplace. NDAs are notoriously harmful for victims of sex crimes and other forms of misconduct

The Call to Action

Businesses should avoid the use of non-disclosure clauses in any agreements with persons impacted by sexual harassment and enable reporters to speak openly about experiences in a manner and at a time of their choosing.

Everyone in a business should ensure that all sexual harassment reports are treated seriously, confidentially and sensitively.

Leaders should take responsibility to shape a respectful culture that supports speaking up and active bystander behaviours.

Businesses should ensure people feel cared for and respected when exercising their right to report an incident and provide counselling and support to all affected persons following conclusion of an investigation.

For more guidance on how to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in your business review the Minerals Council of Australia Industry Code on Eliminating Sexual Harassment.