I was once the CTO of a company that operated clinics across the country. One day during a routine visit to the corporate headquarters, and during a routine conversation with the director of billing and a vendor of our billing software – both of whom were women – I had to diagnose one of the billing computers that was having issues connecting to the network.
That was when the director of billing grabbed my butt while I was under the desk replacing a network cable. She did this in front of our female vendor. The director laughed, the vendor chuckled. I walked out of the building and left for the day.
I approached the director the next day and explained that the event was totally unacceptable. Had I done the same to her, I would have been fired on the spot. To make things worse, I had to now deal with the vendor to explain that this was not acceptable company behavior. I was furious because I had to apologize for a co-worker’s misconduct towards me. But with those two conversations out of the way, and an apology accepted, I dismissed the matter as water under the bridge, never to be repeated.
Right up until the CEO called me into her office. I sat as she wrapped up a phone call, smoking a pencil-thin Capri cigarette (this was her company, she could smoke anywhere she damned well pleased).
“I heard there was an incident last week” she began.
“Yeah, I dealt with it.” I explained, and described how I addressed it with the director, then the vendor and how I wasn’t intending to bring it up further. This was all really embarrassing, but it was over in my opinion.
“She came to me,” the CEO explained, “to confess about it. I obviously told her it was wrong.” She exhaled a cloud of smoke, “But I can’t say that I blame her.”
I just sat there for a moment, not breathing, before asking if there was anything else to discuss.
I was laid off by the company 3 weeks later.
Workplace harassment is wrong, period. It does have its own nuances based on gender, though. For a man amongst other men, the norm implies that he should consider himself so lucky, even if the female is a direct supervisor. Even better if she’s attractive. I know this firsthand because most men I’ve told this story to ask immediately, “Was she hot?” One once asked if I punched her, as if that was somehow an acceptable response.
I’ve held off mentioning this in light of the #meToo movement because – in my opinion – I wasn’t victimized, I wasn’t abused, I didn’t have to endure anything that I couldn’t address in person with the individual who was not my supervisor. Except for the CEO. That part blew my mind. To me, this was dismissed until the CEO turned it into something completely different. The only reason I’m bringing this up now is so that other men who have had to deal with this kind of situation understand that they aren’t alone. As men, we don’t have a network of support when things don’t go our way. We have to man up, get over it, quit being such a bitch and move on.
It happens on both sides of the desk. While men are less likely to deal with being the unwanted recipient, it does happen. The reaction of corporation and the law should be the same, regardless of gender.
I obviously moved on but the events definitely changed how I interacted with my co-workers and later my staff over the years, for the better I think. I hope something helpful came out of it. I hope me sharing this makes a difference for you, too.