The recent unleashing of all the years of pent up secret keeping about sexual harassment has me absolutely giddy. It’s as if all of us women who have experienced some degree of sexual degradation at work now have permission—from society and more importantly ourselves—to tell the truth. No longer do any of us have to grin and bear or fake laugh our way through painful situations so we aren’t labeled “that girl.” Now we can actually say “it’s not okay” when it’s not okay. It seems, at least for now, that the victim won’t be re-victimized by telling it like it is. Thank you seven pound eight ounce baby Jesus!
And while it can seem like this is the year where as one of my dear friends put it, “2017, when the floor for being a good co-worker became the ability to refrain from whipping your junk out all the time,” I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the 99% of our male co-workers who were not sociopathic sexual predators.
I’d like to start by thanking all of the men—both managers and peers—who pushed me and mentored me to be a successful professional. My personal list of these men is so long that I actually became teary and choked up when I took a moment to think about how many truly kick ass men I’ve had the honor to work with and for. If you are reading this and think you might be on this list, you are.
Like it or not (and I’m definitely in the “not” camp) but men far outnumber women in positions of power. According to the Center for American Progress women are only 14.6% of executive officers, 8.1% of top earners, 4.6 of Fortune 500 CEOs, hold only 16.9% of Fortune 500 board seats, and in the financial industry (of which I am a part) is truly dismal as though women make up 54.2% of the labor force but are only 12.4% of executive officers, 18.3% of board directors and none—NONE—are CEOs.
The numbers don’t lie. At this point it is critical to have men advocating for women. Statistically they are the ones in charge, making decisions on who moves forward and who doesn’t. Men’s support can help move us forward. Certainly we can get there on our own merit, but to have men cheerleading for our success can move the needle a whole lot faster than if we have to fight the fight on our own. To all the men I know professionally who pushed me and supported me into the woman I am today keep leading by example. You are doing important work. And for your efforts I am grateful.
I am as far from a damsel in distress as you can get. I hate relying on anyone for anything. But even I have to admit that I’ve been the beneficiary of years of protection by the men I worked with. As I’ve indicated before I’ve had the good fortune of working with respectful, encouraging men. It wasn’t until several years ago when I realized these men afforded me a level of protection I hadn’t been aware existed. The realization came when a friend asked me if I was hit on when I traveled for work. I shook my head, perplexed. She explained that she had other friends who traveled for work as I did. She went on to explain that they always complained about the mentality of men on the road who acted as if traveling to another state gave them a hall pass. I was really at a loss. I hadn’t ever had that experience. When it dawned on me that I typically travel with my business partner who is one of the most principled ethical men I know. He is married to a strong woman and has raised two strong daughters (and a lovely son) who are his world. In essence I’ve traveled with a chaperone.
Having a personal chaperone is a bit extreme. But I contend that having a male manager or co-workers who advocate for women’s equality and fair treatment creates an environment where it’s difficult for misogyny to take root much less thrive. If you are one of the good guys who this speaks to I want to thank you. What you might feel is no big deal but believe me it is everything to your female co-workers.
Mr. Rogers once told an interviewer that when he would see scary things in the news his mother would tell him to, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” We women have a long road ahead of us when it comes to completely leveling the professional playing field. But with the continued support of the good guys—our helpers—we can get there.