Sexual Harassment

imgres-2The sexual harassment suit that has played out in the public eye at Fox News is fascinating yet perhaps not surprising.  What is mind-boggling is that once Gretchen Carlson had the guts to file a law suit for Ailes behavior how many other women felt empowered to do the same.  For years each of these women, and I am sure there are more, decided to just either live with it, ignore it or leave the company.

My guess is if any of this actually gets to court that we will all be witness to a culture that everyone knew existed but somehow just accepted it as ok.  Do we believe that Fox is the only company that allows their executives to behave that way?  I doubt it.

In my senior year of college I was making the interview rounds at every top retail program.  One of those programs was Bloomingdales.   My last interview of the day there was with a male VP of all of ready-to-wear. He was one of the handful of top executives in the company.  As the interviewed ended he cornered me in the door and made more than a few inappropriate comments.  It is a bit of a blur now but it was about how I looked and having a drink.

It occurred to me the next day when I was back in Boston that this guy sexually harassed me.  When Bloomingdales called to offer me a job in their program I declined.  I also told the person who called me that the VP had made inappropriate comments to me in the interview and it was not ok.  My guess is nothing ever came of that but I wasn’t going to let it pass.

Then many years later when I was running a company in the garment center, the guy who ran it made sexual comments to every woman in that company except me.  He probably knew I’d kill him but I told him countless times that it was not ok what he was doing and he was going to end up in a law suit.

Even at Macy’s, where I did take my first job out of college, I saw sexual harassment right before I left.  I was in a meeting where all the buyers were presenting the season to the head of the division and the VP who oversaw the division.  All the buyers were women and the heads were men.  The comments about women’s looks, bodies, boobs and more was beyond inappropriate.  One of the men actually felt up one of the women’s legs up while she put her presentation up on the board.  Everyone giggled like it was funny but I was disgusted.

I told the head of HR what had happened and I also told the head of HR that I was told that women do not move as fast as men.  I am sure that I was blackballed after that because of the anger and tension that was being driven towards me from my immediate boss.  Besides the fact that the company just went private and it was a complete mess and I was thoroughly bored in my job, it was the environment that really pushed me out.

I hear from too many women founders who go pitch men that say shit that you can’t make up.  I am not sure if they are just ignorant or that this kind of behavior has just been ignored by their peers.  As more men and women stand up and say we are not going to take it anymore such as the women at Fox did, we will see healthier company cultures and I bet more mutual respect across the board.  Sexual harassment is real and it is NOT ok.

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    I’m in with this 100% and being from my generation I am fully aware that it takes a conscious choice to change.I grew up in the tech world of the late 80s/90s in the valley and this was a completely different world.Change happens over time but not without intent.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Definitely not without intent

    2. Laura Yecies

      Unfortunately I think tech has gotten worse not better (as someone in it since ’88)

      1. awaldstein

        Fortunately not in my slice of the tech world.

  2. pointsnfigures

    My wife had a similar experience to yours regarding comments. Have heard other stories about it and am sensitive to it given that I have daughtersOn the flip side some people use sexual harassment as a threat or hammer which hurts the people who are truly being hurt.I remember when I heard Sheryl Sandberg speak. “If you see an older man with a younger woman att a bar between 4-7pm what do you think? If it’s same situation and it’s just men, do you assume something different?”.Public perception also makes it hard for many men to act as mentors and that’s a shame.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I don’t buy that. Men can be mentors to women. Perception might be one thing but be smart about how your intentions are perceived

      1. pointsnfigures

        I think they can certainly be mentors. I also think men have to overcome public perception-and in many instances they worry about lawsuits. At the same time, I know where men have crossed the line. I liked the way Ms. Sandberg contrasted it to make a point.

      2. LE

        Well fwiw I don’t think my wife would want me to be a mentor to a woman, especially an outwardly attractive one.

    2. awaldstein

      I am advisor to a number of women and suits me perfectly. And they are all younger.Makes me better.

      1. pointsnfigures


        1. awaldstein

          I have a different attitude than most since I worked very closely with some of the earliest tech women executives in the valley in the beginning of my career. Been fortunate to be steeped in gender, racial, sexual preference diversity from the first day I walked into Atari corp for my very first job.

          1. Gotham Gal

            From what you have written over the years you also have strong females in your life

          2. awaldstein

            Yes I have been very fortunate that way.I should post on this.Dunno if you saw the post on my mom, the largest influence of all to me.

          3. Gotham Gal

            what a wonderful post. i am pretty sure i read it before but nice to read again. 🙂

    3. Anne Libby

      Jeff, do you really think that there’s any upside for a woman who “cries wolf” on harassment? As Joanne points out in this post, the opposite is actually the norm. And it’s because of the censure that people experience when we do speak up.(I am the person who can’t keep her mouth shut; I got out of one of my early careers rather than investing more time in it. I remember actually thinking, “If I stay, I’ll be blackballed,” which was an awfully mature thought for the 25 year old I was at the time. In that case, the harassment was baked into the culture, and everyone knew about it.)And WTH, I got “hey’d” by some dude on the street this morning on my way into the office. It wasn’t even 7am. What is that even about?

      1. pointsnfigures

        Personally, I don’t see any-but it’s not incomprehensible. Here is a google search:… The only way I see an “upside” is if someone is fired and they sue to get a settlement-when if fact they were fired or passed over because they were not the right person, unqualified or underperforming.In another part of Sandberg’s book she asked women how their yearly “assessment” conversations went with senior partners in an investment bank. The partners stuck to the script. Asked only pre-written questions. Never probed deeper. Men had a totally different experience. Why? Fear of a lawsuit.That’s wrong. It creates a different playing field for women and makes it much harder for them to navigate.I don’t automatically doubt when someone makes a claim or an accusation. I have seen it and heard about it enough to know it goes on. At the same time, there are people that will take advantage of the system. Corporations often settle because it’s cheaper than fighting it. Cost/Opportunity Cost. Same reason you settle with the Feds on some issue-too expensive to fight even if you are right.Different case, but I was happy to see Mark Cuban fight the SEC rather than settle on insider trading-and he won-even though it would have been cheaper for him to settle. I think that goes on a lot more than we know.

        1. Anne Libby

          Yeah, and I repeat my original statement. I call BS on women who “cry wolf” to work the system. There are no doubt numerous ways to work any system. Most of them would be far easier and far more obvious than crying wolf about being harrassed.And I would lay a meaningful amount of money down to bet that it’s rare performance evaluation in banking that doesn’t just x the box. Whether the reviewee is male or female. My last evaluation in banking, my poor boss looked so forlorn that I suggested that we get a glass of wine in lieu of a review discussion. (We did.)

          1. pointsnfigures

            : )

          2. Gotham Gal

            hilarious on the wine.

      2. laurie kalmanson

        Smart men do not play the ‘Man Card’ to get ahead, pretend to represent all men or use their gender to get ahead. Men in STEM should get jobs merit alone, and not for any other reason, however attractive they are.http://manwhohasitall.tumbl

        1. Anne Libby


        2. Kirsten Lambertsen


      3. LE

        I got “hey’d” by some dude on the street this morning on my way into the officeI was thinking about gross things like this recently and in particular men and their pickup lines they use to “get laid”. And stories that I’ve heard over time. And that apparently for some people it might actually be working because they are so persistent in the face of rejection.I was thinking that it happens with enough frequency it seems that the dynamic going on must be one of intermittent reinforcement .What I mean is you probably have a bunch of guys that have heard from other guys how they use these lines with women and they hear about how it worked (or maybe a tall tale of it working etc.). And they only hear when it works, not when it hasn’t worked. So maybe they are spurred on to give it a shot with the hope that some woman will actually fall for it and they will have success. Further maybe for every “hey’d” out there that a guy does, 1 in 100 or 1 in 500 women actually gives positive feedback to the person. So hence they are spurred on to looking for the next “hit” that comes with success. That’s intermittent reinforcement at work.

        1. Anne Libby

          Maybe. It usually feels more like an aspirational attempt to display dominance.

          1. laurie kalmanson

            manwhohasitall ‏@manwhohasitall Aug 28″No, I don’t think men & boys should be banned from labs. They might be distracting but they make great helpers. I say keep them,” Claire

          2. Anne Libby

            That twitter account is so funny.

      4. Kirsten Lambertsen

        Yup. The one time I complained about blatant sexual harassment against me and other women at the company, the retaliation went on for months while the leadership team looked the other way.

  3. Pranay Srinivasan

    I’ve heard horror stories from senior Execs in our team about both their experiences, and other founders who have had to go to extreme lengths to save their business. I’ve been horrified by how cavalier men are especially considering how open as a society I consider the US. Its also shocking how much victim-shaming goes on.

  4. Susan Rubinsky

    I’ve experienced this kind of thing throughout my career. It’s part of why I prefer being an independent consultant. I can choose who I want to work with and not have to deal with all the organizational bullshit.In the early days of tech, I was often the only woman in the room. There was a lot of inappropriate comments and sexual harassment. I recall once going to a seminar at a tech conference and the presenter held up a router and ran his fingers along it like it was a woman’s leg and talked about how sexy and streamlined it was (the router was huge, but, true, very streamlined at that time). All the men chuckled and joked knowingly. I was the only woman in the room. I got up and left. I never bought anything from that vendor again.

    1. Gotham Gal

      And of course nobody else realized how inappropriate that was.

      1. Susan Rubinsky

        No, no one did.

    2. laurie kalmanson

      related: when a dinner invitation from a supervisor is not a mentoring opportunoity

  5. LE

    I remember growing up and going with my Dad to the NY Gift Show. All of the salesman (in booths and standing around) were making comments about the woman (was the 70’s). My dad (at least in front of me) said nothing. In fact although my Dad had typical prejudices of that time (that I knew about) one thing he didn’t ever do was say anything about woman at all in a negative way. Never. (I had two sisters and always was respectful..) My sisters thought I was treated better than they were but I thought they were treated better than I was actually.So I was quite surprised when I went into the working world seeing how men treated woman and the things that they said such as you have described.Some highlights, not a complete list by any means:Early quasi mentor whose wife was an attorney who I thought was pretty smart: “LE, they are all stupid” (after he told me some story that she did and I said “but I thought she was smart???”). Noting that their daughter became a district attorney for a major county in our area and is now a judge. (Back in her mom’s day women didn’t have that type of opportunity..)Early person who sold me machinery in business: “They are all idiots” or something like that.First manager who worked for me (the 80’s). Interviews and hires an attractive assistant who was engaged at the time. After the interview tells me “I will end up sleeping with her”. I said something like “she is engaged what are you talking about!!”. He ended up doing that (was consensual). At a turnpike rest stop. Fwiw, small company, he was super valuable, couldn’t fire him even if I wanted to. (Odd coincidence her brother in law was one of the 911 pilots I found out years later when googling ala “what every happened to X”.Was she qualified at least? I guess she went on to cofound a company that ended up at 300 employees which she sold.My first wife comes back from an appointment selling her coupons (small coupon book). Tells me 2 Israeli customers told her “your tits look good in purple”. (Bear and Dov remember their names..)Lastly, a person who is not a friend anymore. He worked in the garment industry in NYC. (His father in law was a philandering “garmento” known to have women on the side.) When I was divorced this friend at the time tried to fix me up with a girl that worked for the company. He told me “I told her she has to sleep with you”. This was after the date when I told him I had no interest in her whatsoever.. This was definitely the type of guy that grabbed women’s asses etc, he used to harass my ex wife somewhat. (Nice friendly “NY” kind of guy to be clear…) Was always trying to get me (when I was single) to go to the meat packing district (this was when he was married). He is divorced now I think.Simplistically, to me, it’s a matter of:a) How you are raised (Father and if you have brothers and how they are, I didn’t)b) Who you hang around with (Your friends and how they behave)c) How easily you are influenced by others. (Leader or follower, lemming etc.)I had a-c covered I think, hence this is fish out of water stuff for me to be sure.

  6. LE

    Fwiw there is another side of this with women and men to be considered.Back when I was single and newly divorced I used to hang out at Starbucks. I noted an attractive girl there, much younger than I was. I started up a conversation with her and over time helped her with various things with her business. She used to return and seek me out to get help for quite awhile. She would take out a notebook and scribble down whatever I said and ask all sorts of questions. Later when I got married she invited my wife and I over to her house when she was being featured on a reality tv show to celebrate her new business. She said to my wife (we were newly married at the time) “Your husband was great he gave me a great deal of advice and help” (or something like that). Which felt really great obviously.In all honestly had she not been attractive I would have never struck up a conversation with her. I am sure I am not the only man who has done things like this. Nothing inappropriate happened between us obviously (she was married, younger and so on) but as a man you are still motivated by physical attraction even in cases where it won’t end up with any more benefit than someone not attractive.

  7. Kirsten Lambertsen

    I have a memorable story for the campfire:I was working for an ill-fated micro-payments startup in SF. The CEO (my friend) who’d hired me had brought in an industry bro to actually run the company as COO. Several of us were seated around a Polycom on the table (yeah, this was 2003) meeting with a colleague who was traveling. I was the only woman in the room at that moment. The COO was in attendance.Someone’s cell phone was on the table and started to buzz and vibrate, signaling an incoming call. It must have sounded outrageous to the guy at the other end of the Polycom because he exclaimed, “Oh my God, what WAS that?” And the COO replied, “Kirsten’s vibrator.”Yes. That’s exactly what he said. And no, it wasn’t the only thing like that he did. A male colleague quit because he said he couldn’t stand to listen to him say inappropriate things about the CEO’s female assistant any more in the leadership meetings.One time, he brought his Glock to work to show everyone and said it was fine that he was waving a gun around the office because he was deputized in Alameda.I eventually left to run my own startup. He went on to run that company straight into the ground and burn a lot of my friend’s money.

    1. Gotham Gal

      incredible. you can’t make this stuff up!

    2. Anne Libby

      And I have to wonder what happened to that COO. (rhetorical q)

  8. JLM

    .We are at an all time low in the history of the US in producing a very simple but desirable product — gentlemen.Young men, in particular, have no idea what the code of a gentleman is or should be or why. They have no manners including simple table manners. It is appalling.A man who is in a position of leadership in any business must go to the extreme to ensure his actions are never inappropriate or perceived as inappropriate. Both because it is the right thing to do but also because he sets the example for the entire company.When I was running a good size company which had a lot of attractive women employees, I would never meet alone with a woman, would never ride alone with a woman, would never go to lunch alone with a woman. I was quite old fashioned about it.I would never leave any woman out of the business of the business but I would never put myself in a position any suggestion of impropriety could be credible. I was protecting myself as much as I was ensuring it simply could not happen.The respect that is due to any person in the workplace is something that a man in leadership should ensure is there whether it is a woman or a man. It is just basic decency.I used to be engaged in a business in which there was a lot of golf played. I sent all of my women execs to my country club — at company expense — to take golf lessons so they would be comfortable on the golf course playing with and against men. It worked like a champ and the women felt comfortable and were damn good golfers.The other thing that is rampant now and which is related is age discrimination. Particularly toward women.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. Will Fight 4 Justice

      JLM, I wish there were more professionals like you all over the world. I salute you.

  9. TanyaMonteiro

    I cower a little to admit that I tried to fit in on wall street when some of these remarks were made by traders, I can’t go back and change that but I’ve made great changes in speaking when confronted with this type of conduct since and even more strides in not keeping silent. Thank you for raising these critical discussions Joanne. I bet almost every women, 30 and over, will have a story (or two) to share.

  10. Grim View

    I have 3 extreme stories from within the last 15 years:1. My female employer told me, she wouldn’t let me in for overtime because the bulk of the work was emptying the woman’s fitting rooms. Since the retail store let women in the men’s fitting rooms & no signs were actually posted on the fitting room to label them as women only, I wrote corporate a letter about the loss of wages. The company head justify the discrimination by ask me how my mother would feel. If society didn’t spread fear & disgust of men, then maybe women would be more comfortable around them.2. In retail, we clean up an area as team where women out number men about 10 to 3, with a female supervisor. So these 2 girls were following this guy around asking him if he knew what “wet” meant, as these 3 new hires got close to me, I got so tired of it, that I blurted out its the “opposite of dry”. The 2 girls laughed & then I realized they though we talking about the same body part being wet/dry, but at the time it didn’t occur to me that my comment could be dirty too. I didn’t mind the suggestive language, but was bothered by the real harassment where the girls non-stop loudly repeated the same question while following him around. The guy was obviously trying to get away from them while doing his job. If we over analyse every conversation we can find lots of hiding meanings that were never meant to be there. Heck with all racks blocking our view, we can only imaging where the girls hands were when they’re so close to him. Words have the meaning we give then, so if a word bothers us then maybe its our mind that needs to get out the gutter.3. Temps can be fired if employees don’t like them. If temp reports an issue the temp reassigned. In warehouse at lunch, the employees encouraged a female employee to ask out a temp (me), to which I replied “I don’t think that would be appropriate”, however, her response was “you can be my boy friend for one night”. I repeated my response & waited to see if I kept my job. It was unconformable when my job required me to talk to her but I tried to resist the urge to avoid contact & had to stop climbing over the conveyor belt (short cut) as she though I looked like spider-man. Eventually the assignment ended but I like to think it was not because I refused her advances at one lunch & eventually she got tired of seeing what see could not have.I think people should be able to ask questions at lunch, but unlike high school, we don’t want to hurt the feeling of the people we need to work with. Maybe we should focus on how to communicate instead of how not to communicate.

  11. Will Fight 4 Justice

    Joanne,I am taking the liberty of writing to you in order to look for direction. I am fighting a personal war.I was terminated on June 30th of this year, unjustly after working 18 years at a corporation and one day before I was to get the promised set of shares to the company. This was pre-planned as I refused to go along with the owners of the company amongst other things.I have retained a lawyer to represent me against my former company which is owned by unscrupulous individuals and have built an empire of intimidation over the last 6 years. However, the legal costs are crushing me and this is just the beginning. I am at a cross roads where I have to decide if I give up my fight for justice.During my tenure at the company, I exhibited the highest standards of professionalism and integrity, however, I was not treated with the respect and was humiliated over and over. I endured demeaning treatment, crude and inappropriate remarks, vulgar behavior, career sabotage as punishment for objecting among other things. The behavior did not stop even after they terminated me as the trio/owners alleged fraud charges on me in order to deny me a fair severance pay and fair share value for the shares I own and they also are trying to steal the shares that are supposed to be transferred to me from retired founder who was a honest man. The emotional distress for being harassed and then retaliated against after being terminated has been immense and has taken a toll on me and my family. I started working for the organization when I was a new immigrant from India. I am now 50 years old and gave this company 18 years of loyalty and commitment. I feel I have to do something to not only clear my name of the unfounded allegations against me but also ensure that the trio, in future, are not able to mistreat any other woman the way they have treated me and other women in the recent past. I want to fight for justice. If I let it go, I will be doing injustice to myself and other women going through the same mistreatment. I am being forced into mediation as I cannot afford the cost of litigation to out the trio. I would rather litigate so that they are never able to abuse anyone in future the way they have abused me and others in the organisation. I need help of strong people like yourselves in guiding me how to out them publicly. I know that you believe in empowering women in the workplace and their businesses. All employees including women deserve a dignified and respectful workplace. It is unfortunate that employees especially women who have been abused by their employers are further beaten by the system as the corporations have the money, the power, the corruption to deprive the employee from their right to be heard. I want to be able to change this travesty.I am respectfully hoping that I will get guidance from you on how to raise funds so I can fight for justice.Sincerely,R

    1. Gotham Gal

      There are crowdsourcing platforms where this might make sense. I can’t tell you which one but do the research and figure it out. If you get the right one and they support this you might find a lot of interest.

      1. Will Fight 4 Justice

        Thank you Joanne. Will keep you updated on my journey if you are ok with it. Sincerely, RM