Is This Sexual Harassment? Top 3 Ways to Know
Women often downplay and try to ignore the harassment they experience because they "don't want to be a troublemaker." Things get worse and worse, until they are forced to bring a legal claim. Here's how to identify early if your career is vulnerable to sexual harassment.
First, Do You Tolerate Behavior You Don't Like?Whether or not a legal claim can help you, you do not need to tolerate behavior that you don't like. If you can be very specific about the behavior you don't want to tolerate, you put yourself in a better place to ask for the behavior to stop. If you believe that behavior is based in sexism, it is important to be honest and open about that, rather than trying to hide it. Many employees make the mistake of not addressing the discrimination component of harassment, and that can hurt a future legal claim.
Talking about the behavior you don't like and why you think it is based in sexism, especially if you talk about it in writing, not only can make the legal component of the issue clear (in general it is not illegal to be mean, but it is sometimes illegal to be sexist), but it also makes it clear why it is important for it to stop. Protecting yourself is important in itself, but addressing sexism can also protect other people.
Second, Do You Say Yes To Protect People's Feelings?A common self-protective habit that many women fall into when they start experiencing harassment is that they start to say "yes" to things that they don't really want to do. This isn't about blaming the victim or saying that it will solve harassment for women to say "yes" or "no" differently. That's so not useful. This is about identifying that if you have trouble limiting your "yes" only to the things you are really passionate and excited about and that serve you, it could be a sign that harassment is impacting you.
Saying "yes" to yourself and your goals and letting other things fall to the side is a practice, but for some people it comes naturally. Those of us who were raised or have worked in harassing environments often have more work to do to make sure we learn this practice, but it is possible. Consider whether you have the habit of saying "yes" to things you don't like because you are more focused on other people's feelings than your own goals and your own safety. This could be a sign you are experiencing harassment.
Third, How Do You Feel At Work?What are the top 3 feelings you feel each week at work? This can be a tough question because when we are experiencing harassment, we often cut off our perception of our feelings.
When I was going through harassment of my own, I realized I was feeling fear, hopelessness, and overwhelm most of the time. While It is normal to feel negative feelings around half of the time, when we are experiencing harassment and stuck in survival mode, we can get stuck in feeling negative feelings all the time.
The research shows that people who take an active role in a trauma experience (for example, the passengers in a plane crash who help other passengers to safety) have fewer instances of PTSD than those who don't (for example, the passengers who feel stuck and trapped in a crash). If you are willing to take an active role in your harassment experience and help other women, you are less likely to suffer the worst symptoms associated with trauma.