I was witness to sexual harassment (of a co-worker) of a verbal nature in 1994. I was a Sales Manager for a database marketing firm based in Denver. We had a scheduled meeting at a conference in Las Vegas with a prominent client (male) and my two female colleagues (one was my manager). We met our client a casino owner who I shall call MJ (major jerk) at dinner for a meeting that was intended to be more relationship building than a formal business discussion.
The problems started early when MJ arrived fairly inebriated which should have given us our first clue. I had ZERO experience on what the proper protocol was when your client is inebriated and felt I had to defer to my manager seated further away. My other female colleague was seated next to MJ and withstood a barrage of inappropriate comments including an invitation to meetup later. The environment was noisy so neither my manager or me witnessed the incident as it unfolded.
When we walked out of the restaurant my colleague said “I’ve been verbally assaulted by MJ” and I feel disgraced and ashamed. We rushed to her hotel room where I listened and sympathized with her, allowing her to vent and wondered what to do next. Both of our emotions were running hot and we made a pact between us that we would NOT do business with this client again no matter what!
A few days later, we met with the VP Sales and the CEO of the company for a recap of what occurred. At the time we had no formal “sexual harassment” policy on the books, yet we were about to create one from this incident. Our opinions were considered and heard but the company continued to work with this established client. We were appalled and disappointed but asked to be removed from the account directly. The incident generated a formal sexual policy and training for the 1st time at the company. This experience shattered both of our confidences as young career women but we did the right thing to speak up and call this guy out.
No one should endure any feelings of sexual harassment (verbal or physical) at anytime in the workplace!! If this same situation were to to occur now, I would politely excuse myself from the meeting and leave the room. I remember being afraid to speak up for fear of being accusatory of a key client. Everyone has a right to being treated respectfully in the workplace and if you get an “ooo-ick” feeling in the workplace, go to HR immediately. If HR doesn’t respond appropriately, go up the ladder to the CEO and don’t wait to do it. As more women come forward there is more awareness and dialogue about the problem. Speaking up is the best way to curb this behavior!