My Name is Sally

My name is not Sally.

My Worst Moments: There are four top ones that come to mind (limiting the scope to STEM employment only, but these experiences could easily happen anywhere), at three different employers:

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“Sally’s” disability and small size made it harder to defend herself from the men who licked, grabbed, groped and assaulted her. She says she’s given up on justice.

2002 The joke: My new colleague, an engineer, married with a daughter my age, one day while working late alone in the office snuck up behind me, grabbed me by the hair, licked the back of my neck and swirled his tongue in my ear. When I fought him and yelled to get off me, he looked annoyed and said, “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you take a joke?”. I told my manager the next day. He said, “That sounds like an HR problem.” HR told me, “Why don’t just try to get along with people, OK?”. They never even spoke to the engineer. My contract was almost up and I left without asking for renewal.

2004 The assaults: In a staff meeting, my co-worker said he’d told me about a scheduling change, but I hadn’t been notified. I asked him to repeat the information, he said he shouldn’t have to since I was already told. I insisted I don’t know, let’s discuss it now, and he told me we need to speak in private immediately so we left the meeting to go to a private room. As soon as the door was closed, he exploded in anger screaming about how could I embarrass him in the meeting like that! He punched me in the face. A month later, a different co-worker karate kicked me in the neck when I tried to give him a mop and told him to clean the floor after he deliberately poured a cup of tea out on the floor of my office. The employer told me in both instances, “It’s your fault that he was angry. You should just apologize.” I said no. I got fired.

2014: The new manager: In our first one on one meeting, my new manager told me he, “can’t stand the look of my stupid face.” He also accused me of lying about my qualifications. When I told him I was ending our meeting because of his unprofessionalism and his comments were uncalled for, he responded that he’d never said those things, I’m a liar and I’m attacking him. When I told my director, he replied, “He never talks to me like that, are you sure that really happened? You probably just misunderstood.” In that one moment I lost all my credibility for the next four years until that manager left. He purposefully made my life hell for four years. The answer to every difficult question I asked him was either, “Why are you so emotional today?” or, “You’ll never understand the answer anyway so I’m not going to bother wasting my time telling you.” or “What you don’t understand is…”. I ended up with less important assignments and was disenfranchised from participating in meetings and major projects, which ultimately stagnated my career.

The ultimatum: The manager described above made a misogynistic joke about me specifically and I called him out on it on the spot. He filed an official complaint about me in retaliation for not laughing at his joke. Our director was brought in to mediate. The manager explained that he was just yelling stuff at random, he doesn’t know what the words he said even mean, and he doesn’t have control over what comes out of his mouth anyway, so it’s not fair to hold him accountable for what he says and does. Everyone else should learn to work around it because it’s not possible for him to change. I insisted he can and should do better, but the director bought his story. The director told me, “Men are up here, women are down here, that’s the way it is. That’s the way it is at (this company) and that’s the way it is at (our department). That will never change. You MUST accept this.” He told me that I need to accept my subordinate role, put up and shut up, or leave. If I have the audacity to complain to HR, don’t bother, just leave. I decided I don’t accept, but was picky about what job I should take next. Both the manager and director left shortly afterwards so I’m glad I stuck this one out.

Screen Shot 2021-06-19 at 2.55.34 PMI’ve Given Up On: Competing for leadership and management roles in my career. I don’t get taken seriously no matter what I do. I realize I either work for myself, or market myself as a high level independent contributor.
I’ve given up on the idea that human resources is for the benefit of employees and can help resolve employee disagreements. HR is there to serve to best interest of the company, and usually that means getting rid of complainers.
I gave up on pursuing more education. I’ve been told by several people over the years, “If you get too much education, you’ll never find a good husband.”

I’ve given up on justice for incidents in the past. After following some of the high profile court cases around sex assaults in the last few years, most of which are he said/she said, it’s difficult to prove anything that happens in private, women get ruthlessly cross examined and are seen as less credible in the first place. If I were in the same position, I doubt I could recall every minute detail of a specific assault years after the fact. It happens so often that each individual event becomes less and less significant until they blur together and the details get mixed up in my mind.

I’m Afraid: I get a lot less support from other women than I think there should be, like competition for the attention of a male manager. Whatever nonsense I reject to preserve my dignity, there’s always someone who’s happy to accept it in order to get ahead. I don’t want to sink to that level, but my resistance to take part makes me look like the uncooperative one who’s causing a problem, where my intention is actually to raise the level of professionalism.

This Has Cost Me: I’ve ended up unemployed and even homeless to avoid harassment and assaults from particular coworkers. Bouncing from one job to another to escape bad situations rather than moving towards something I want looks bad on a resume. It became difficult to find new employment and to get meaningful references. Constantly changing employers means starting on the bottom rung of the ladder over and over with little chance to build a professional reputation.

I make a point to approach my work feeling disengaged so I won’t be disappointed if it goes sour. Something I was once passionate about I need to set passion aside to manage my expectations about my career prospects. This affects my outlook on the future. It’s depressing. I used to be very enthusiastic, now apathy is my best defense.

The assaults I described above, not only did I lose my job, I also had to move since the housing was provided by the employer. Since it was deemed the assaults were my fault, the employer would not pay the $1300 it cost to get my teeth fixed after being punched in the face.
At another employer, the company policy was that female employees, regardless of seniority, must not work unattended in the office, (for our own safety), and should have a male chaperone at all times. If the male employees were leaving early or taking vacation, female employees had to work around the male schedules. Female employees therefore had their hours cut short on some days and had limited choices about when to take vacation. The policy was strictly enforced and cost me real wages. Additionally, because we were forced to wait outside for a male employee to open the office in the morning, some female employees ended up harassed and assaulted by homeless people in the parking lot, I personally was attacked by a dog. If we had not been locked out of the building, these events would not have occurred. I ended up having to sue the employer (for other reasons) and got some limited compensation ($6300) for lost wages.
Going to work sometimes fills me with the same feeling as when you get a tummy ache when you don’t want to go to school because you know there’s a bully there waiting for you. Depression and anxiety, and low self-esteem, and all the physical symptoms that go with it come with the territory. I have a family to support now so I don’t have the luxury of changing jobs when the working conditions are hostile. The high stress level affects underlying conditions as well.

Something You Should Know About Me: Not only am I a petite woman, I also have a disability. I get overlooked double. I get dismissed double. I look like an easy target double. I have nothing to defend myself with except my big mouth.

Is There a Bright Side: Living well is the best revenge. I have a chance to break the cycle. I’m a mother to a little boy who thinks the world of me. I have the chance to model a good family dynamic and raise him with my husband to be the kind of man he ought to be. It’s my small contribution to the future.

Fight Song: Independent Woman, Destiny’s Child.

Secret Weapon: Sometimes I try to channel the spirit of Lisa Simpson.