Do you ever wonder what you would change if you knew THEN what you know NOW?
When I set my heart on a career in sports radio in high school and started pursuing my dream in college, no one warned me about the challenges of being a female in a “man’s world.” A tomboy when I was young, I was always comfortable around guys, and I could hold my own whether we were talking sports or playing them. As I began working in radio, I did what came naturally to me. I tried to be “one of the guys.” It didn’t work. Despite my best attempts, I was always the odd one out. But that was only part of the challenge.
At some point early in my career, I made a conscious decision to keep the harassment to myself. I wanted the career more than I wanted to expose how I was treated in the workplace. Even if bosses or managers took me seriously, I knew I’d be labeled a “problem” or “bitch” or “troublemaker” and hurt my chances of getting and keeping jobs. In some cases, my superiors were the ones doing the harassing, so complaining would’ve been pointless.
For the first decade of my journey, the newsroom resembled a locker room. Far too often, that equated to getting hit on non-stop. Instead of being taken seriously as a journalist and being appreciated for my brains and work ethic, my value was often tied to my appearance. The locker room atmosphere meant constant jokes about sex and stories about sex. While they didn’t necessarily offend me, hearing them from a bunch of men when I was the only woman often made me uncomfortable. And I frequently turned into a target. In some newsrooms, I had to work in front of pictures of mostly naked women or log into computers with similar screensavers. Derogatory and disgusting nicknames, vulgar language that made me cringe, inappropriate and insulting comments, emails or texts with nasty photos–I navigated all of it for years. But outside of venting to people I trusted, I did very little to protest.
I’m not sharing these stories from my past to garner sympathy. It was my own choice to keep quiet, my own decision not to fight back. I wanted the career more than I wanted it to stop. I’m not recommending the same course of action for other women in my position. I don’t have foolproof methods to handle every situation. But I want people facing similar challenges to know they aren’t alone. Looking back, there are many things I would do differently. I also know my experiences made me stronger, smarter, tougher, wiser, more determined, and more professional than the ones who harassed me
In 2016, the climate is vastly different. Companies educate employees about workplace harassment because they fear whistle-blowers or lawsuits. Employee rights are now a top priority. Beyond that, I don’t hesitate to stand up for myself. I remind men I’m in the room if their language or stories make me uncomfortable, and I don’t care who likes me or dislikes me because of it. I no longer need to fit in. I’m proud of the fact that I never will. Being different, being unique, being unconventional is a huge part of my success. I finally recognized that standing out instead of blending in can be my greatest asset.