The ‘Me Too’ campaign started soon after Harvey Weinstien’s fall from grace this past fall. Since October, news people, actors, politicians and the like have been dropping like flies under allegations of sexual misconduct. This morning, I woke up to the headline that Matt Lauer had been fired by NBC for such claims.
Really? Matt Lauer?
I worked for almost thirty years at the same company. This archaic company had no procedures in place to monitor, let alone deal with safety issues, employee issues and the like. My boss’s idea of dealing with a conflict between another office lady and me was to go into an empty office, call me on the telephone and tell me how to handle the tirade from the other co-worker.
I started working part-time there during my senior year in high school. I went to my high school classes in the morning, went home for lunch, then drove downtown to work a few hours doing general office work.
It was not a large company, but well established in the area. It had little or no turnover within the salaried employees, but, of course, with the 100 or so manufacturing employees, that was a different story, Everybody knew each other, relatives and friends were hired on as sales increased. Promotions were mostly done from inside, with hardly any coming from the ‘outside’. Most of us were intertwined in some strange way.
Case in point : Randy and his first wife worked there, as did his father, and his oldest brother. His oldest brother met his wife there. One of my best friends is the niece-in-law of my former boss. I could go on …
I say this as fact with no editorial opinion on sexual equality: at that time, it was a man’s world. The company I worked for was dominated by men and that was the way it was. And again, archaic in many, many areas.
Early on in my ‘career’, off-color and suggestive comments were made to me, I was invited to lunch, to dinner by various male employees, some who were married, and I was (creepily) touched and squeezed. Some things I ignored, some I laughed off, but never once did I look a person in the eyes and say, “Your conduct is inappropriate. Do not do that ever again.”
By the strictest of definitions, I was verbally abused and touched inappropriately. I was not alone in this. Did I do anything about it? No. Why? Because I didn’t know anything differently. Would I today if the same thing happened to me? I don’t know. Not every look, touch or comment I take wrong justifies a harassment complaint.
Until Las Vegas.
In 2003, I had been at the company for close to twenty-six years. My immediate boss, and others within management, had retired. Changes, were happening (I had voice mail installed !). I was working my way upwards on that ladder.
One of our larger customers was hosting a show for their vendors in Las Vegas. The sales manager from our office and his counterpart at the California facility had decided that our company needed a presence at said show. The president of the company was doubtful of our need to be there, and had I agreed with him. The next thing I know, I am on a plane to Las Vegas to see firsthand if the expenditures for the show would be justified by the product orders our companies received.
There were four of us in Las Vegas : the sales manager from the Washington office, the sales manager from the California office (whom I had never met face-to-face, but had a telephone working relationship with), and his wife, who went along for the ride. And me.
All went reasonably well until dinner the first night.
The Washington sales manager (I shall call him Larry), was intoxicated when their taxi picked me up for dinner. I was trapped in a booth at a restaurant, with Larry on one side of me. On the other side was a couple who seemed nice enough, but I really didn’t know them at all. And I was on my very first business trip in a strange city too far from home. Throughout dinner, Larry proceeded to eat off of my plate, to rub my knee and thigh and grab my breast. Finally, I had enough and got up to leave. The bill was hastily paid and we were outside in search of a taxi. I kept my eye and my distance from Larry. He sat on the sidewalk, so I placed myself away from him, with the other couple in-between us. The next thing I know, a hand is rubbing my calf, from under my pant leg. I kicked Larry away and told him to leave me alone. A taxi was finally found and I rode back to my hotel in the backseat with the other couple and Larry was in the front seat.
The longest taxi ride in my entire life. It even beats the taxi ride Randy and I had in New York City, which was more of a roller coaster ride than a taxi ride.
Thank the Good Lord that I was not staying in the same hotel as the others. We reached my hotel first and Larry got out of the taxi in an attempt to go inside with me. This was a side entrance with no doorman. I had my key in my hand and was walking as fast as I could to the door. The California sales manager got out and hustled Larry back into the taxi.
Did I sleep that night? Not one bit.
Larry called me the next morning to go over the plans for the day. I cut him off and said, “Your conduct last night was inappropriate and I no longer want to talk to you” and then hung up. I called the California sales manager and told him what I had told Larry, then I called the airline and changed my flight to get home.
Oh, yeah, I called Randy and told him what had happened. Larry called me a few more times that day, but I didn’t answer those calls.
And this is the way that the backwards company we worked for handled the situation : Larry was sent home for a couple of days (with pay). His office was moved from the front office area (where mine was) to an office located in the middle of the manufacturing plant. He was given instructions not to contact me directly.
After about three months, having to go around me to get to me wasn’t working for Larry. I was told that I would have create a working relationship with him. I was instructed to call him and ‘break the ice.’
And I did, because I was a good company gal. I always did what I was told, tackled all the new projects, learned all I could about the manufacturing aspect, went over and above, etc. I wanted nothing but for the company to prosper, so I would prosper. I never gave a second thought to legal action. A first thought, maybe, but not a second thought.
Eventually, Larry was let go for driving a company vehicle intoxicated.
There are sometimes when I think of what I would do differently. But that is looking at the situation through the lens of time gone by. To use an overused saying, ‘It was what it was.’ Yes, it could have been worse and it could have ended badly for me. But it didn’t. Was I affected by what happened? Of course. We are all made from what happens to us.
My granddaughter is now the same age that I was when I started to work. Today, in my mind, I place her at that dinner in the strange city, sitting next to strange people with ‘not quite right’ things happening and not knowing what to do.
While I would never want that for that sweet girl, I pray for her to have wisdom ~ wisdom not to over react, wisdom to say the right thing, wisdom to safely remove herself from any uncomfortable situation.
Wisdom to do the right thing that works for her.