DISCLAIMER: This article contains discussion and specific examples of sexual harassment and abuse in workplace settings. Please engage in self-care as you read this article.
In all my writing about workplace abuses, I try to be objective and write from a third-person. However, I feel sure there is at least one person who really needs to hear my story. Like
the popular childhood game “the floor is lava”, business-focused blogs tend to high-step around extremely personal issues. I am three months into a PhD in Business Administration and have been repeatedly told by some of the most respected academics in the field that “business” is, in fact, a social science. So here goes:
In 1999, I was groomed and sexually assaulted by a “professional superior” while working a college summer job at the headquarters for the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the U
nited Methodist Church. I continued to encounter repeated sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and multiple hostile work environments in every, single entity I worked for until my last position in corporate America before starting my company. There are many reasons I work for myself.
After completing my bachelor’s degree, I was hired at a church in the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church of the USA) system. I was cussed out my first day on the job by the church’s Business Administrator. He was eventually asked to resign. A few months later, my new boss, an “Affiliate Minister”, told me various stories about the supposed generous size of his penis. A year and a half later, I accepted a position at a church halfway across the state, but that “affiliate minister” had strong ties to that church as well. He continued to say horrific things to me in casual settings where church members of my then-employer were present. I mention one of these incidents in my TED Talk. It quickly became clear that people assumed this was my only such experience.
Two years into that second position, I decided to get my MBA. I quit the church and got a job at a local Gold’s Gym as a personal trainer. It was flexible with my class schedule, and I knew several of the other trainers. Our boss, the Lead Trainer, was another creep. Among other incidents, upon seeing my frustration with an argumentative text from my then-boyfriend, he advised me that when he and his wife argued, they would “69” as a remedy to “calm frustrations” and work things out with a “cool head”.
I remember the day that one of my gym coworkers told me that Lead Trainer had texted her a “dick pic” over the weekend. Who the hell is sitting around on a Saturday afternoon going, “Should I fire up the grill or send Roz a picture of my weenus”? I became the unofficial documentarian of sexual harassment for the gym’s staff. I wrote out a full report of all the incidents and reported them to our HR hotline. Nothing ever came of it. I expected as little.
One day, I will finish my book with all the details, but that is not important here. You need to know that my experience is not rare. If you are reading this and saying #MeToo, you WILL wake up one day and forget his name. You will forget all their names. Over the years, I have had amazing therapists and support. However, I never really believed people when they told me one day I would forget.
This past Thursday, October 13, 2022, I was speaking with a new client who had been previously employed in the PCUSA system. I went to ask if they knew the “Affiliate Minister” and froze. I could not, for the life of me, remember his name. I was blank. I held my composure long enough to get through an amazing session with my amazing client. Then, I celebrated. I closed the Zoom tele-session and took a deep breath. I gleefully sat in my new-found ignorance, savoring the mental and emotional freedom.
Then, I realized I couldn’t remember my rapist-groomer supervisor’s last name. I could not remember the name of the horrific boss who cussed me out my first day in the church job. I could not remember the name of the pervert that enjoyed saying disgusting things to me and at least 10 of my Gold’s Gym coworkers.
For anyone wondering if there is any justice, there is. But in my experience, it will never come in the ways you imagine. For better or worse, I know that my rapist-groomer is an undergraduate professor in the North Carolina University system. My perverted boss-minister is still actively employed in the PCUSA system as a prominent leader of a congregation. I have no idea what happened to Gold’s Gym guy, and I don’t care. I think the boss that cussed me out took early retirement. I know he exited his professional life in a way that was vastly contracted and personally shameful compared to how he had hoped.
Remember, these are just the stories I am bothering to tell you about. These predators are rarely stopped, if slowed down, and all too often, rewarded by organizations with misplaced values. We endemically focus on the sterility of “business” while conveniently forgetting that predators are just as pervasive in the workplace. As long as businesses have employees, there is opportunity for insidious abuse. Research continues to find that at least 1% of the human population are psychopaths. For a company like Amazon who employs 1.6 million people, there are at least 16,000 psychopaths on their payroll. Managerial abuse and sexual harassment are business issues. They are productivity issues. They are economic issues. They affect us all.
So, here’s to the victims - nay, survivors. I am here to say that one day, before you know it, you will get to tell the traumatized person you used to be that the monsters are gone. In the words of my brilliant husband, “[they] no longer live in your head”. I have reclaimed that parcel of real estate in my brain and am using it to get a PhD. Should I ever encounter any of my past abusers, I may remember their name. I may not. But they will have to address me as Dr.
McLaughlin, H., Uggen, C., & Blackstone, A. (2017). The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women. Gender & Society, 31(3), 333–358. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243217704631
Merchant, N. (2017). The insidious economic impact of sexual harassment. Havard Business Review.