Being hit on

Due to the utter shitstorm of transparency of outing bad characters in the tech world last week, I have been thinking about the two times that I have been in situations where power was abused by men.

Before graduating from college, I went on the job interview circuit as many do.  I was a retail/finance major and going to work for the big department stores after graduating, specifically Macy’s or Bloomingdales, was the job you wanted to secure if you were going to be in the retail space.  I interviewed with at least 15 companies and ended up taking the job offered to me from Macy’s.

I did not quite realize what had happened at my interview at Bloomingdales until the next day when I started to think about it.  I spent the day there going through a series of interviews.  The last interview took place in a GMM’s office ( General Merchandise Manager – this guy was a VP who oversaw all of ready-to-wear).  He basically hit on me.  He was a big guy and got extremely close to me as I was leaving his office hovering over me in the door frame commenting on my looks and smarts and then the close which was asking if I was staying in the city that night and perhaps we could talk more.

I was so focused on getting the job offer, that I ignored the behavior in the moment.  Although when Bloomingdales called a week or so later to offer me the job, I declined and told them exactly what had happened in my interview.  That the senior VP who interviewed me hit on me and made inappropriate comments.  They asked who it was, I had blocked him out of my brain, but suggested that they go back and figure it out as they must know who I interviewed with.  Never been great with name recall.  I am sure nothing came of it but I did feel empowered by telling them what happened.  I also felt I dodged a bullet.

Fast forward, I was at Macy’s as a buyer and the GMM (again a VP of all of women’s ready-to-wear) not only made inappropriate comments in a full on division meeting he also felt up the legs of a female buyer who was on a chair putting her presentation up on the wall while we all watched.  The head of my division, also a man among the all-female buying division, got into the game and found it hilarious and powerful.  I was mortified.  I remember thinking what’s up with these assholes.  This GMM is also the guy who told me that women do not move as quickly as men in the organization.

I took that comment and what had happened in the meeting and went to speak to the head of personnel, another man.  I was obviously not that politically astute because the head of HR, as he listened to me, basically told me that they would talk to them and it is what it is.  Once the head of HR spoke to my boss, the head of the division, I was ostracized.  He had been called out by HR and he did not like it one bit.  Talk about a boy’s club.

Truth is, I was bored out of my mind there although my boss kept giving me more responsibility he was completely inept in the majority of his decision making so I was learning zero from him.  He was part of the boy’s club and now I made him look bad so it was time for me to depart.  I left for a variety of reasons.  The first being told that women don’t move as quickly as men, the second because I was bored and not challenged, the third because Macy’s had just gone private and I got nothing for that except more micro-managing from the powers that be because they took on so much debt that they were freaked and the lack of respect for women.  At that time, the majority of buyers were women but the majority of the senior management were men.  Not shocking for those times.

I knew that by calling those guys out was the right thing to do regardless of how both companies (Bloomingdales and Macy’s) dealt with the knowledge.  My hope is that now more than ever, more women and particularly men, have the confidence to call out more bad players in the moment.  One voice can quickly become many when nobody looks the other way…and we all have to stop looking the other way.

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    I’ve read this post twice, waiting for a call to come in.If I think of all the things that have changed and are unacceptable in our lives today, it is remarkable that our treatment of each other as people as pertains to our gender has not changed.We can’t during interviews address age, race, religion,sexual preference and on.High time for change. I’m all in.

    1. Gotham Gal

      It has stuck with me all these years.

  2. Sunchowder

    I had this type of treatment and I stayed. I stayed. And I stayed. I tolerated it, I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought I was not being a quitter. 29 years I stayed, not with the same type of treatment, not always sexual, but always treated with the current that I was the underdog, and it is a man’s world, and the good old boy’s club. I stayed until i was told it was only a numbers game, and they were so sorry, and I was downsized out of my position. I was thrown out like a piece of useless garbage with 4 weeks of pay. And this will stick with me for the rest of my days as well. As you know I have not stood still and have enjoyed personal success, but I can never forget.

    1. Gotham Gal

      And you never should forget. You should also share your story so others can learn

    2. JLM

      .OK, so there is this — the slings and arrows we suffer in life are the fuel which propels us to achieve and excel.If you cannot be encouraged by a mentor, then be cursed by a bastard — “You can’t do that.” is some of the most powerful motivational elixir ever bottled. It is up to us to uncork it and drink it.Life is not a straight line. Life is not fair. Life is, however, good.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. Sunchowder

        I was stating my truth around this issue.

        1. JLM

          .I was agreeing more with you than you agree with yourself.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  3. Twain Twain

    There are GENTLEMEN out there — even in the “Masters of the Universe” environment of investment banking and I worked with them, which is why tech’s sexism is completely stupid. I attended a mixed high school and competing+collaborating with guys from a young age may be why I have the confidence to call them out.https://uploads.disquscdn.c…In SF, I’ve seen new female graduates being hit on by sleaze balls, having their ideas stolen by guys, being reduced to tears, relegated to uninteresting tasks and not being allowed to pitch (even when it was their idea in the first place).Yes, it is my responsibility to call out the bad behavior of guys against other women and I do that. The things women experience at the coal-faces are worse than female investors are aware of.It’s also on women like us to show that women can lead guys to success, be publicly credited by our teams and to give back to women via hands-on workshops that tool them to make things and to have the confidence to do it.https://uploads.disquscdn.chttps://uploads.disquscdn.chttps://uploads.disquscdn.c

  4. cpryor

    Our generation had it bad (how about the CEO of my company running after me with mistletoe at a Christmas party demanding a French kiss) but I think it is worse today particularly in the Bay Area. We have glorified the hard charging guy for whom no rules apply. That attitude gets translated into sexual harassment. Because of my profession as an executive recruiter, women confide in me and it is terrible in tech whether you are at the biggest companies or the startups. We need to start putting real pressure on board members and VC’s.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Totally agree with you that glorifying the hard charging guy is at the heart of the matter

  5. lisa hickey

    Thanks for telling these stories. This is important.At the media company I run, we now have weekly phone calls with people from all over the world to talk about some of these incredibly difficult topics—topics like yes, sexism, and also racism, CTE in football, education, mental health, environmentalism, political activism…with more to come. The calls have allowed me to see how not just the problems overlap—but also the potential solutions.In your two stories, what strikes me is that the culture is preventing a “lack of access” to women of the same places and opportunities that men have. You can’t get a job unless you “play the game”, which is really a euphemism for “ignoring abuse and allowing it to perpetuate.” In the second example, you were ostracized for going to HR. The attempt was to deny you, and others like you, access to the one place that might actually help you deal with this abuse of power. Because that is what it is, an abuse of power.I live in Pasadena and bicycle to my office every day. I’ve biked to work for decades—in Manhattan and Boston. I am often the only solo women bicyclist I ever see. I keep thinking “this can’t be…I can’t be the only one.” And yet I rarely see another women, and if I do she is invariably with one or more men.I also get catcalled all the time while bicycling. ALL the time. When I was young I would sometimes count the number of times…38 times in an hour wasn’t unusual. Now that I’m older, it’s less than that—but it still happens almost daily.And in thinking about sexual harassment creating a “lack of access” for women, I can’t help but think “Is that why there are no women bicycle riders on the streets? Is catcalling preventing a lack of access for solo women in public places?” And that leads to the overlap of bigger problems—how are we ever going to fix the environment if women only feel safe in cars? It just makes me incredibly sad that women would feel so unsafe on the streets they can’t even bicycle.Solutions—I can’t stress enough how important this sentence of yours is: “My hope is that now more than ever, more women and particularly men, have the confidence to call out more bad players in the moment.”Let’s all start there.

    1. JLM

      .It is not the bad doers who must be called out by themselves. It is also the enablers.In many ways the enablers are worse than the bad guys.The guy who sits there watching and laughs provides an imprimatur for the bad behavior. The woman who sees it and doesn’t do anything about it is also an enabler.We all know the difference between right and wrong. Some have the courage to speak out in favor of right v wrong. Very few have the courage to act to right a wrong.Recently, I helped a CEO fire a guy who was a perfect interview and hire. Very senior position and a hire made after a long, expensive search.Everything was great until the new hire got into a situation which involved alcohol and gender power. Then the guy was a total creep.The CEO, first time guy, knew it was wrong and had perfect instincts. He needed just the slightest bit of steel in his spine to act. He could have taken some mealy mouthed approach and given someone a warning, but he reasoned to what I viewed as the right conclusion. I told him it was a defining moment for the culture of his company.Everybody says they have values until the price tag, the invoice show up. You don’t know your values until you pay for them at full retail. Then and only then you know who you are. Not before.Act, he did. He fired the guy, faded the heat from the board, and dealt with it. He said it was uncomfortable and the guy asked for a second chance. Begged him. The CEO stuck to his guns and showed him the door. Pretty brave act for a young CEO.The result within his company was an outpouring of support and appreciation which bridged gender and position. The more important outcome was it made their culture real and it made it GOOD. The search firm agreed to comp the second effort, but the big payoff? The CEO manned up and took control. In life, you don’t get power — you take it.If you want to be a powerful force for good, then you have to show up, stand up, and man up. You have to stop talking and start doing. It’s called being a man.In a lot of this nonsense, it is about having the courage to be good and to suffer the consequences.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. Twain Twain

        Yes, some guys in the Valley act entitled and some women are enablers of bad behavior.Then there are guys like my former flatmate who decided against joining Uber as an engineer — even though they were offering a lot more — because I advised him not to (reasoning that their culture and values wouldn’t be good for his soul). After that, he went on to create the Diversity & Inclusion initiative at his Series C startup because I said it isn’t enough for anyone to rah-rah about equality. Both genders have to DO THE HEAVY-LIFTING of getting women in the pipeline and KEEPING US IN IT.So I helped him avoid the implosion at Uber AND he’s really happy at his startup.We have the choice to steer and to enable in good ways. And ours is the opportunity to be guided by the many who are better than we are.

        1. lisa hickey

          It is important to understand that it is both men and women who are enablers. Thank you for sharing your story. “We have the choice to steer and to enable in good ways.” Yes.

      2. lisa hickey

        Wow, really grateful you shared those stories JLM. And this line of yours really rings true for me: “In a lot of this nonsense, it is about having the courage to be good and to suffer the consequences.”That seems to me an important part of the solution—how do we make sure there are fewer consequences for doing good? And more people with courage?Thank you.

  6. Anne Libby

    Stories I could tell about a lab at a major research university in the 80s. There was Ice Storm style key party stuff going on, and I routinely fended off comments about my body and my appearance.Banking, my next stop, was better than academia. Which is really saying something. Like, at least when I complained about finding porn in the back of a black car, the person who managed our relationship with the car service company (a woman) called the company. And they apologized. (Maybe they were smirking, who knows.) It was there, though. In interviews, in social settings, and in the every day.I got into a conversation yesterday with a man I respect around all of this, and the word “victim” came up. In hindsight, part of the reason I think that I didn’t surface the many instances of harassment was that I didn’t want to be accused of “playing the victim card.” Which is of course a refrain we’re hearing now.Everywhere I’ve gone, there were more who behaved well than not. If calling out someone in the moment feels too risky, another good step would be to talk with someone else in the same company or ecosystem — someone who seems like a good guy.

  7. Gretchen

    A friend shared this post in our Stop Sexism facebook group. Thank you so much for speaking out and sharing your story. This is the comment I left on our page and I’m sharing it here:This: ” One voice can quickly become many when nobody looks the other way…and we all have to stop looking the other way.” Sometimes speaking up doesn’t seem like enough, but using our platforms to speak on these experiences is no small thing. The article about the former Uber employee has opened the floodgates and now women in tech are going public with their stories and naming names. Cell phones are shining a light on police brutality and racist interactions in public places, our words are our spotlight when it comes to sexual harassment and everyday sexism.”

  8. JLM

    .Whenever I hear these stories, I am struck by an appalling lack of perceived manliness in our culture right now. Men have forgotten how to be gentlemen — more accurately, there is nothing out there training them to be gentlemen. Many of the institutions which provided this kind of training are gone. We are approaching a tipping point at which parental impact is non-existent. It is as if we have lost our knowledge as to how to turn our sons into gentlemen.Real men don’t resort to using fleeting, personal power to attain their mating or sexual desires. It seems an admission that the man is not able to win based on his own merits and requires the additional leverage of power to get what they want. Who wants to be the guy who has to resort to using conveyed power to define themselves?When I look at the creeps who have been outed in SV, I am struck by how fundamentally unmanly they all appear and speak. When I read these apologies it makes my skin crawl. It’s like these tech pencil necks feel a necessity to compete with each other for how smarmy they can make their apologies. It may be the skinny jeans.The shadow of a lack of manliness is a total lack of manners.I am also struck by the opposite I see in places like rural Texas wherein men have a sort of courtly cowboy manners. These are not business guys, but they treat women with dignity and respect. I also see it at the church I go to.I think it’s just plain old fashioned character.Here’s an odd thought — I think guys need to take dancing lessons. Most of the creeps I have met in life cannot dance. My dancing instructor (when I went to aide-de-camp charm school, Madame Francois) used to say, “Gentlemen, women love men who can dance. It is vertical foreplay. Learn to dance if you want to be attractive to women.” Madame Francois was on the money.Why aren’t guys struggling to make themselves attractive to women? Look at that Dave McClure character — bald, bad hair that remains, skinny, no physique, bad dress — why would any woman be attracted to that guy?As to women — my advice is to learn to slap the snot out of guys. It’s sort of like learning hand-to-hand combat. You don’t need it every day, but some days it comes in handy. Perfect a damn good slap and tell guys you have a big brother who’s a Ranger or a SEAL and he’s coming home on leave next week. But, first slap them.The other day I had an interesting chat with a guy who was taking the under to my over on the discussion. You have to reason with people, but sometimes you have to slap them to get their attention.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. lisa hickey

      This ^^^! A misunderstanding about what manliness is, or “should” be, or what is culturally acceptable, is so much of the heart of what is going on. And I am all for more dancing lessons!

  9. Kirsten Lambertsen

    “One voice can quickly become many when nobody looks the other way…and we all have to stop looking the other way.”Right on. It’s all about the solidarity, baby.

    1. lisa hickey

      I’m with you. ^^^

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        Well played 🙂

  10. pixiedust8

    I think every woman has a similar story. I have them, plus I worked at a company where the head of our division was having an affair with an employee and she was murdered by her husband when he discovered it. Obviously, her death was not the fault of the head of our division, but her husband sent out their texts to the entire company–and the head was not only not fired, he was promoted shortly afterward. I never liked him before (he always seemed to be after a woman who was not the woman he was sleeping with), but I had zero respect for him after that.