I reported my sexist team to HR — and now they’re doing a much bigger investigation than I wanted

A reader writes:

I work with about 10 men and I am the only woman on my team. Over the course of about 2.5 months, I’ve accumulated some experiences of sexism. A lot of it has been jokes or comments that are generally inappropriate or sexual in nature, and other times it’s a difference in treatment from other colleagues that I think has to be because I’m a woman.

My feelings of discontentment have been getting greater and greater these past couple months, and I came to a breaking point last Friday. I felt unwelcome and belittled. I ended having to leave my desk for 30 minutes and crying in the bathroom. I felt like I either needed to leave this job because I wasn’t respected or that I needed to do something about the feeling. I didn’t feel like having a personal conversation with some of the guys was an appropriate course of action because I didn’t feel like I’d be taken seriously. Instead, I set up a meeting on Monday with someone who works for my company who is a representative between us and the company we work for (we work as contractors for a larger company) — let’s call him M.

I came in prepared with notes on my phone about all of the instances I’ve experienced. M was super responsive to my complaints. I was surprised and optimistic about this, and afterwards he asked me to send him an email with a list of the situations I had mentioned. I complied and wrote a brief email about it.

We met up again a couple days later, when he said that he had spoken with his manager and it had been escalated to HR within the contracting company, and that they would be conducting a formal investigation. He reiterated that they would like to protect me, and to do that they would need me to send them another email with every possible description of each situation I had previously listed (things like who was around and might have witnessed it, when and where, what did I reply to the comments/behavior, etc.). M said they would need to speak with every person on the team, starting with people who I didn’t list as making any harrassing remarks or behaviors to “corroborate” my claims.

I immediately felt uneasy about this. Not only is there 100% transparency about these complaints coming from me, but everyone in the office is going to be made aware of every situation I listed. I listed situations with people I’m actually friends with too. M said they need to conduct this formal investigation so that if anything further happens in the future, they can take appropriate action, which may mean termination from assignment. I’ve become SO distraught imagining how people (friends or not) are going to react knowing their job security is now up for debate and how I am going to be able to function in an environment where people are going to be treating me differently following the investigation.

I told M that it took a lot for me to even approach him about the issue and that I feel I’m going to be pushed into a corner by people either being bitter or overly sensitive about interacting with me, and that this in turn is going to affect how I function in my workspace. I don’t feel unsafe and I do enjoy my office, but the inequality was getting to me. I asked if we could do a general office training/education about our company’s sexual harrassment policy instead of an investigation, because frankly we should already be doing that and I also think that option could help reiterate that behavior needs to change. I’m just so nervous that I’ll be further pushed out of my office space and ultimately forced to leave because I’m unhappy with the situation.

I was told that M’s higher-up said an investigation is how we need to proceed and that I need to provide the descriptions of each instance. I feel like my needs of a comfortable work space are being jeopardized and while they say they want to protect me, it is doing the opposite. I want to try and speak to M’s manager because I’m not sure if my concerns are being portrayed properly and I’m uncomfortable with this.

Am I just being spineless and need to follow through with this investigation and hope for the best that my work environment doesn’t change? Do I have any kind of recourse? What if I don’t provide them with any more details to aid in the investigation?

I’m legitimately freaking out about this and it is giving me so much anxiety on top of an already shitty work situation.

This is actually a very by-the-book way for them to be handling the situation. It’s exactly what they’re supposed to do — and in fact, from a legal standpoint, they really have to do it.

I totally get that because you’re the victim in this situation, it feels like you should have some control over how it’s handled. But when someone reports harassment or discrimination, a company has a legal obligation to investigate. If they didn’t investigate and instead just did a general training for everyone, it could open them up to serious legal issues down the road if the problems continue with you or recur with someone else.

However, they also have an obligation to ensure that you don’t face retaliation for reporting it. They’ll be more able to do that if you’re up-front with them about your concerns — as in, “I am concerned that I am going to face retaliation from my team for talking to you. What measures can you take to ensure that things don’t get worse for me?”

A good HR department will make it very, very clear to your colleagues that that kind of thing won’t be tolerated — and they’ll make sure your manager knows that and is watching out for it too.

That said, will your relationships with people be impacted? They might. In particular, people might be irked that you didn’t take it up with them directly first and tell them that their behavior was bothering you.

Ultimately it will come down to what the other people on your team are like. Some people in your coworkers’ shoes will be sheepish and embarrassed. Some will be a-holes. I don’t know which type is most prevalent on your team, but if anyone is overtly a jerk about it, make sure that HR knows about it because they shouldn’t allow flagrant retaliation to occur. The more subtle stuff, though … it’s a lot harder to police, especially when it’s coming from coworkers (as opposed to your manager). So yeah, it’s possible that some of your relationships might change. Hopefully they won’t, but sometimes in this situation they do. That sucks, and I’m sorry.

But I don’t think you should backtrack or refuse to aid in the investigation. That will harm your own credibility … and plus, you spoke up because you’ve become deeply upset about the way you’re being treated. Assuming you still stand by those concerns, give your company the opportunity to do the right thing.

And if it gives you peace of mind, it’s very, very unlikely that anyone is going to get fired as a result of the investigation. It’s rare for companies to fire for first offenses on this kind of thing — counseling, warnings, and training are far more likely. (If it turns out that these aren’t first offenses and they’ve been warned in the past, then the consequences would likely be more serious. But if they’re continuing this kind of thing after already being warned, you’d be doing your company a real service by bringing that to light.)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 306 comments… read them below }

  1. Czhorat*

    As hard as it is for you, this is what needs to happen. There are too many offices in which things like this are swept under the proverbial rug and nothing changes. By launching a full investigation, they are sending a message that they believe you, that they care, and that they are willing and able to work to make things better.

    1. HR Manager*

      Yes. And as an HR Manager myself, I’m curious as to what OP expected to happen when she complained about these issues?

      Presumably she wanted the behaviors to stop, and how will HR aid in stopping them if they can’t approach the folks with a list of grievances. Of course your identity should be protected and not divulged but the details of behavior are very important. No-one is a mind reader, unless you tell them what’s happening how can they be counseled to stop or modify?

      1. The OG Anonsie*

        I think that’s the exact issue, though. She either believes or has been told that her identity will not, in fact, be protected.

        Which isn’t a reach considering she’s the only woman there– if HR suddenly starts asking around about this, even if they handle it very well and never mention her directly, it’s going to be more than a little obvious why.

          1. Fake Eleanor*

            Seems to me that everything HR is doing is appropriate, but that they’re not doing enough.

            Specifically, the OP has not come away from this interaction feeling like she made the right decision, and that’s on HR. Particularly if they would like, in the future, to get similar information about similar problems. The people in HR aren’t mind readers, but they are professionals, and should have a basic familiarity with the kinds of concerns people in the OP’s position have and a plan for addressing them.

            If the OP’s takeaway from this is “I made a huge mistake,” she’s never going to notify them of similar situations, and she’ll discourage anyone she talks to from doing that, as well.

            1. The OG Anonsie*

              Agreed. An investigation as they’re describing makes sense, but if they are in fact taking measures to protect the LW in all this (which I could graciously assume they are, but I have seen such measures be “remind people that retaliation is bad” and assume everyone will behave appropriately, so who knows) then they need to make that very clear to her and make sure she understands what’s going on.

          2. The OG Anonsie*

            You said the LW has no reason to be worried because HR will for sure protect her identity and no one will ever know it was her that complained. I’m pointing out that is most likely not the case, so she has a whole lot of reason to be concerned about how this will shake out with her peers.

        1. JessaB*

          Exactly. It’s pretty impossible to shield the OP’s identity. They are the only woman on the team. It’s pretty obvious on the face of it who made the complaint. I can’t see how they can even remotely promise to keep her identity secret in this.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Alison’s advice is spot-on.

    This is going to be a tough time for you, but you’re doing the right thing. Make sure that you are gentle with yourself.

    1. MillersSpring*

      OP, take deep breaths and reassure yourself that you did the right thing. You are a rock star for standing up for yourself. The company is now at risk for a sexual harassment lawsuit (either in theory or actuality), and they MUST act to ensure that all offenders are addressed and do not put the company at further risk.

      Especially if these are young men fairly new to the workplace or to having a woman on their team, they need to understand how they have risked the organization, how they have risked their job, what inappropriate behavior is, how they cannot retaliate, and what actions are considered retaliation (including leaving you out of plum assignments, critical conversations, or team bonding).

  3. Jen*

    Echoing what Alison said above: from a legal standpoint, they can’t let you control the investigation. Best thing to do now is cooperate with it.

    Do not blame yourself. The fact that you cried for 30 minutes and the fact that your company is taking the seriously suggests there has been some serious misbehavior. You are not at fault for their actions (and you are likely not the only victim here). You are not at fault for any negative fallout – the people who committed misconduct are. Keep saying that to yourself.

  4. Miss Nomer*

    I feel for you so much with this. Your coworkers are only human and will probably have some sort of feelings about the investigation, and you can’t control that. What you can do is ask HR for specifics on how they’ll prevent retaliation and how they’ll mitigate any weirdness. You may find that they have a lot of safeguards in place and feel reassured. If not, you could then tell them what you’re concerned about and see what they say.
    Best of luck with this – I hope things improve!

  5. Katie the Fed*

    OP – just to echo this – they HAVE to investigate. If they ignore your complaint and something worse happens, their liability is much worse. I am a manager and I have an obligation to report any EEO issues I see or hear about. When people try to tell me something confidentially, I tell them up front “I am required to report this, but I want to encourage you to continue because this NEEDS to be investigated.”

    I know it sucks, because I’ve also been in your situation where I just wanted to talk through something without launching a big thing. But look – these guys are the ones who created this situation, not you. You have no reason to be uncomfortable – they did this, not you.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      The last part of your comment really needs said to the OP again and again.

      OP, you are not to blame for any consequences your coworkers suffer- they are, by their sexist behavior. No one in this day and age could honestly claim they didn’t know it was inappropriate or illegal!

      It’s really, really good that your company is taking you so seriously.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I just want to chime in and further support this.

        OP, you did not create this situation. Your coworkers did, by behaving inappropriately.

        If it would help to get you through this, the Friday open threads might be a good place to seek additional support.

        And please remember, again, this is not your fault and you did nothing wrong. And your company is doing exactly what they should. But do talk to them about your concerns about retaliation.

    2. LSP*

      This is a good way for OP to look at it, because it isn’t about her. This is a situation about her coworkers behaving in ways that put the company at risk. OP may have been the one to bring it forward, but ultimately, this situation is far bigger than her.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, this is an excellent framing. It’s like if they were drag racing in the parking lot; the OP’s car got dinged so she’s the one filing the report, but the employer is just looking at the bad behavior of the employees.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I really like that analogy. Being the person who got damaged by bad behavior and thus reported the behavior, doesn’t make you responsible for the bad behavior itself or the consequences people face for it.

        2. Mb13*

          I was confused there for a second. Is this a drag race? Would rupaul be there to judge? What’s the worse that can happen in a drag race? Could a drag queen fall on the op?

  6. CM*

    As a lawyer who has investigated a workplace claim, you’re right, it sucks for the person who reported it but didn’t want to make a huge thing out of it. But Alison is also right that conducting an investigation is what the company has to do. And honestly, things won’t change if everyone is given sensitivity training; sometimes this stuff needs to come out in the open and people need to be called out for their behavior. It’s a painful process.

    My advice for you is to keep acting normal and friendly to your coworkers. Inevitably, some of them will clam up around you and will become very defensive. They may even start avoiding you. If you make it clear that you will continue to treat them normally and try to have a positive coworker relationship, for example by making a point of saying good morning and asking about something in their life, this may defuse some of the tension. (This isn’t legal advice, obviously; it’s just a way to deal with how the fallout from the investigation may affect you. If you hate these guys and don’t want to be friendly, don’t do it. They shouldn’t have been jerks in the first place.)

    1. Adlib*

      I second this. I once reported a guy in a previous job for his constant remarks to me to HR. He was spoken to, and he acted weird around me for a while. I kept acting normally around him and guess what? He got over the awkwardness, and things were fine.

      I know it’s tough now, and I want to second the support everyone else has voiced. Hang in there, and I hope we get a positive update down the road when things calm down.

    2. INFJ*

      Seconding the first part. OP, you said yourself that you didn’t think it would do any good to confront the offenders 1:1 because they wouldn’t take you seriously–so I’m doubting that just having a general sensitivity training for everyone is going to help the situation. Your coworkers need to know specifically what they each are doing that is not acceptable.

      That being said, the part of the investigation I’m concerned about is whether or not any of the witnesses are actually going to corroborate OP’s stories. I’m worried they’re all going to band together and say, “no, that didn’t happen.”

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It’s always possible that people will say “it didn’t happen,” but thankfully that’s not how an investigation determines whether something did or did not happen. I’ve worked on management teams that found evidence of discrimination—and disciplined an employee—even when no other witnesses were willing to make a statement or minimized what did occur. The other issue is that HR will often know if there have been prior complaints that tend to support the instant complaint, which an employee might not know about.

        Reporting is valuable and important, regardless of whether you think others will back you up.

        1. Karen D*

          And OP may well be surprised to find that some of the people on the team stand up for her. When I was involved in a harassment investigation, some of the strongest evidence came from the male members of the team who were mortified at what they saw and willing to be brutally honest at what was going on, even if they didn’t step forward initially. That was one of the most surprising things I saw.

          I won’t say things got back to normal quickly – there was a subterranean flow of resentment and hostility from some team members toward the identified victims, including those who weren’t part of the original complaint. And in a few notable cases, that never really went away; in fact, I ran into one of the ones who acted jerkiest at a conference a few years ago (we’ve both moved on to other companies) and he brought the whole thing up AGAIN and made it very clear that he was still resentful that, as he put it, “good people were hurt by people acting like snowflakes.” And yes, to be perfectly clear, in his mind the “good people” were the ones who were making sexualized comments to co-workers and the “snowflakes” were… well, all the women in our group (we all ended up being interviewed and each of us had at least a few incidents to report.)

          1. AnonEMoose*

            Well, if you had any doubts, I guess he told you everything you needed to know about him.

            1. Karen D*

              About this guy, there was never any doubt. He wasn’t one of the directly guilty parties but he was definitely among the “you can’t take a joke” crowd. One of the two actual victims (targeted for real quid pro quo style harassment) worked for him and knew from the start he would never support her if she spoke up.

              The sad thing is he’s risen pretty far in our industry. I’d guess he has at least a few dozen people reporting to him now.

          2. Honeybee*

            That is…infuriating, that even after all that he still can’t understand what he did wrong and is actually blaming other people for his offensive behavior. Ugh.

          3. Annonymouse*

            how I would have loved to flip that on him.

            “Yes, it’s a shame that so many make coworkers decided that respect and treating women like coworkers instead of sex objects didn’t apply to them. I wonder how one ends up with such an attitude. Can to share your thoughts?”

    3. Mb13*

      I have a question if someone wanted to sue for sexual harassment claims how would they go about it? Would they sue the company for not preventing this from happening or the coworkers for being sexist?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You sue the company, not the individuals. However, if the company has a harassment reporting process, you generally have to follow that — otherwise, the fact that you didn’t is generally a solid defense to any lawsuit.

  7. The Cosmic Avenger*

    OP, I’m sorry you’re going through this. It sucks that not only were you the victim, but now you could be victimized further for standing up for yourself. But remember this:

    I felt unwelcome and belittled. I ended having to leave my desk for 30 minutes and crying in the bathroom. I felt like I either needed to leave this job because I wasn’t respected or that I needed to do something about the feeling.

    If the investigation somehow went away now, you’d be right back here again, and some of the jerks would probably feel untouchable and their behavior might actually get worse. The investigation will not be easy, but the alternative isn’t any better. I know that’s not exactly hopeful, but I think it’s easy to minimize problems you’ve found ways to live with, ones you’ve developed some coping strategies for. Having a whole new set of problems is understandably distressing and unsettling, but it sounds like the company really does want to fix the problem, so I hope things get relatively easier for you soon, and maybe even leaps and bounds better in the long run. Just remember how untenable it was, and maybe the upheaval won’t be as daunting.

  8. Mike C.*

    Yeah, I remember when Roger Ailes (formerly of Fox News) was facing serious sexual harassment charges, 21st Century Fox actually hired outside council to perform an in depth investigation as to what was going on.

    I know it’s scary and it seems like a lot, but try to take comfort in the fact that your employer is really taking this issue seriously. They recognize that they have a problem and it looks like they’re making a good faith effort to fix it.

  9. I'll say it*

    This exact situation is why I have never spoken up about blatant sexism. It’s always “you can’t take a joke” or “you’re too insecure” when you do try to talk to these people, and then “you’re making a huge deal out of this”. I totally get everyone saying that they can’t retaliate and they “might” have negative feelings towards you…that doesn’t always reflect reality. It’s not a might, it’s a definitely will. I’d rather find another job.

    1. TL -*

      I think people have actually enacted real change by this. And if I was a guy who was uncomfortable with observing sexist jokes, but never had the courage to say anything, this might be what makes me say, “Hey, dude, we’ve already gotten chewed out for this behavior. Can we knock off the stupid jokes already?”
      One very possible outcome is that everything is super awkward for a bit, people who can’t adjust leave, people who can adjust stay and start enforcing a new normal of not being a sexist jerk, and eventually, the workplace culture shifts drastically and people come in and have sexism actually discouraged by the environment. So, OP, I would ride out the awkward for a bit and see how things settle down before deciding whether or not you want a new job.

      1. Dinosaur*

        This is a great point. There may be other people in your workplace who don’t like what’s happening and see that it is wrong but they don’t know how to combat it when it feels all-pervasive. It’s possible that more people than you would assume may be glad that someone brought it up.

      2. Anon for this*

        Yes, real change can and does happen. I’ve had this situation in a workplace with women outnumbered 10 to 1 by men and cringeworthy sexist talk almost every lunch break. Then HR got wind of it and some people got a stern taking to and an online training. After a couple of weeks of awkwardness everybody got along much better and the culture shifted to a new, much better, normal. There was still occasionally a borderline sexist comment because some people were just unable to change their mindset, but even those people only slipped up very rarely. When they did, they were either ignored or sometimes checked themselves or their peers with a “oh I/you shouldn’t have said that, we might have to redo that boring online training”. Then the team grew and the new people also shifted the balance to normal lunch conversation.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      But that’s not what should determine whether someone makes a complaint or complies with an investigation. If your company allows retaliation for complaints, then you need to make a complaint and leave (but I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t complain/leave—there’s a massive power imbalance, and it’s even scarier when you think it could cost you your job).

      There are plenty of terrible companies that do not deal properly with sexual harassment. But we don’t know if that’s the case for OP, and based on what she’s shared, it sounds like this company is doing everything right—they’re certainly conforming to best practices at this point. If this company had a history of failing to protect complainants, then I’d caution her to start looking immediately. But I wouldn’t tell her to drop her complaint, and I don’t think we should suggest that that’s a preferable course absent evidence that she will be at greater risk of harm from complaining.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think people should get to decide for themselves what price they’re willing to pay when it comes to harassment, etc. I cheer on those who decide to mak ea report, etc., but I don’t think other people have an obligation to sacrifice their emotional well-being.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I didn’t say that people have an obligation to sacrifice their emotional well being, or even to report/leave. Although it’s my strong preference that people report, I specifically noted that I don’t blame or judge people who choose not to do so. Next time I’ll be more careful about saying “should still consider reporting” instead of “need to report.” You’re arguing against a point I didn’t make.

          But since OP has made a report, let’s try to focus on fielding that issue.

        2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          Honestly, I’m more comfortable saying that people _do_ have an obligation to raise the issue if they are experiencing it, but I totally understand why people don’t, and I wouldn’t do anything to compel someone to do so (I learned this the hard way).

          This stuff doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s OP today, but it’s someone else, possibly someone else more vulnerable than OP, next time. Not reporting also robs the company of the opportunity to employ people who object to the behavior in the long term (OP would be likely to look for another job, as would any further person who experienced the behavior and leaves without ever reporting it). It happens in shitty companies, where the harassers stay and live long, storied careers (where they are given more and more credibility and power over time, making it harder to discipline or remove them for the behaviors later on), and the people being harassed leave.

          The company is trying really hard here to not be one of those shitty companies where only harassers stay.

          Again, I would not compel someone to complain against their will. But this is a situation where I would argue that people do have a social or moral obligation to speak up. Like so many other moral decisions, it can be difficult, and is deeply personal.

          1. Security SemiPro*

            I don’t think there is an obligation to report. I think people who report are doing the company the favor of offering an opportunity to improve.

            Companies can also improve without that impetus. Managers can put a stop to inappropriate behavior they observe, cultivate a respectful culture, and make it known what will and will not be tolerated. Upper management leads. Change doesn’t actually require the emotional sacrifice of semi public suffering of the disempowered.

            Its just that most companies only choose to change when forced to.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      I know people feel like you do, and it troubles me. I know of people I work with who have EEO complaints in their background, and really one more would probably be the end of them. But people don’t want to report so they get away with it. In many cases, you’re not the first one who has complained, and you’re DEFINITELY not the only one who has a problem with the behavior.

    4. Jessesgirl72*

      I am not going to deny that a lot of times the only real resolution is for the victim to find another job. And I am never one to say the victim has any obligations to report it for the “greater good” or other women, etc.

      However, if you are going to leave for another job anyway, why not report it, so that the people who are the problem either learn better or suffer the consequences?

      1. Whats In A Name*

        Not to mention the person reporting might not be the only one feeling this way – you can help make the environment better for them. Or the next person who takes the job.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          But see, that emphasis really hurts a lot of victims, who feel victimized again by everyone telling them they have to do it for other women and the greater good. That is why I very specifically said I am against anyone saying the victim has an obligation because of those things. The only obligation the OP has is to herself. The same with I’ll Say It.

          I just wanted to say to I’ll Say It, that if she is going to quit anyway, she might at least consider turning in the sexual harassers.

          1. Natalie*

            In this case, though, where the OP has already reported it and can’t unring the bell, perhaps remembering that this will help other people will bolster her a bit.

            1. Whats In A Name*

              I really was saying it so that she could use it as another reason to not retract the complaint or to help herself feel better, not to make her feel worse!

          2. Detective Amy Santiago*

            I agree that victims should never feel obligated or pressured to report because they are often not treated well in the aftermath. That doesn’t mean I won’t give my wholehearted support to someone who does report or that I would discourage someone from reporting.

            That being said, this is the type of situation where allies are crucial. To all the men who might be reading this, if you witness this type of behavior in the workplace directed at your female colleagues, PLEASE SPEAK UP. Call it out in the moment, if you’re comfortable doing so, because it’s a sad fact that most men are more likely to listen to other men about this type of thing.

            1. Anon for this*

              @Amy Santiago, in principle I agree with you. (I am male.) But whenever I speak up (internally) about the multiple problems in our company (not necessarily related to sexual harassment but with compliance in general), the CEO always chews me out. The one time I did witness sexual harassment was not within our company, but coming from the CEO of an important business partner and directed towards our accountant (who is female). I simply felt the power imbalance was too great and that I could not speak out without jeopardizing my own job. I felt terrible about this, and told the accountant as much, but I have bills to pay, and while I have been looking for other positions, I work in a niche field and appropriate openings don’t come about every day, particularly if you’ve been fired.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                That is perfectly reasonable. I should have specified that I was referring to seeing this type of behavior among your colleagues. Things get much stickier when you’re dealing with a power imbalance on top of everything else.

      2. Lora*

        Lots of reasons:
        -Need a reference from the boss who is harassing you
        -Small industry, will likely work with these guys again and they will 100% be mega-douchebags about it
        -You don’t have a job lined up yet and don’t want to get (wrongfully) fired from this one
        -Lawsuits are stressful, expensive and horrible
        -Complaints from people who are leaving are generally not taken as seriously as those which are reported by people who intend to keep their job
        -That sort of thing follows you around; I’ve known multiple people who made EEOC complaints who were then considered “troublemakers” even at their next job and the job after that too.
        -The punitive damages awarded in EEOC cases are pretty minimal. More likely is if you get anything at all, you’d get compensatory damages, which, if you’re leaving, are 0. The punitive damages in excess of the cost of a company holiday party were all the results of class action lawsuits, not individual complaints. Realistically there’s not enough teeth in the law to make it worth the effort.
        -You’re in one of those companies that tells you to leave as soon as you give your 2 weeks’ notice
        -You’ve seen what happened when other people complained, and it didn’t help anything and only made it worse for themselves (this is one reason you shouldn’t give offenders very many chances to get their act together, and make any repercussions public and well-known rather than kept confidential – it has a chilling effect on other employees).

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Agreed with this list.
          Adding: It is very difficult to convey all the subtle, gaslighting things cohorts can do to a person. And if this doesn’t wear someone down, then probably nothing will. The steady stream of small digs all day long is almost unbearable.

          1. The Retaliation Can Be Worse*

            Lora & Not So NewReader are right. Fighting the good fight often means a brutal retaliation period. And like Not So NewReader said, sometimes it’s subtle, and hard to prove, but god does it wear you down.

            The friendly “How can we fix this going forward?” approach is forever replaced with a “You did this wrong, you should have known better, and I’m going to punish you” approach. Snark you can hear but that isn’t addressed to you. General Evil stares. Getting written up for nonsense like showing up at 8:02, when everyone else strolls in at 9:30 or 10:00, but if you point this out, you’re told not to monitor your coworkers.

            I’m not saying it’s always this way. It certainly shouldn’t be. A lot of it depends on whether management wants to root out the (people with) problem behavior, or just root out people who complain about it.

    5. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Finding another job isn’t always an option. And frankly, why should OP or anyone else be forced out of a position because their colleagues can’t behave appropriately?

      Nothing is going to change if brave people like the OP don’t speak out and we are doing a huge disservice to the next generation by letting this kind of rampant sexism continue unchecked.

      1. Sue*

        This comes up in many contexts, in the criminal justice system, with references for bad employees/tenants etc. It results in pushing the problem down the road and likely more victims. When it is a child molester, reporting can be a terrible ordeal but living with the guilt/regrets if there are new victims can also be debilitating. If looking at the big picture can help give strength to a reporter, great. Not as a punitive thing if they don’t, just to bolster resolve if they do.
        I admire OP very much for her strength and her help for women going forward.

    6. Althea*

      “You’re right. I can’t take a sexist a joke. I’m extremely insecure about being belittled due to my gender, and you should be insecure about being the person doing it. I am making a huge deal out of something that is an an enormous deal, and that you are only making larger and larger by continuing to marginalize my opinions and feelings on the matter. I suggest you stop now – no seriously, don’t make another joke, and stop smiling right now. You’ve committed a serious offense and opened this organization to a huge liability with your behavior. If you genuinely do not think you’ve done anything wrong, I will need to move on to reporting this to HR so they can enlighten you.”

      1. Statler von Waldorf*

        This stuff reads great on the internet, but I saw a young woman make a similar statement in real life once. She was fired on the spot and provided with the names of the lawyers representing the company. The boss figured, correctly, that he could afford better lawyers and to drag the case out while she could not. Me and several others quit in protest, but AFAIK he suffered zero consequences for his actions.

        I really, really wish that I could recommend hard-line statements like Althea’s. However, in good conscience I can’t. Threats of lawyers, lawsuits and liability are extremely counterproductive unless you are willing to follow through. Even if you are willing, it’s been my experience that things get far worse before they get better.

        Perhaps this is one of those things that varies a lot based on company size. I have primarily worked in small businesses, where the owner and manager are usually the same person and there was no legal or hr department to speak of. I suspect larger companies might be more responsive to legal threats. With small businesses though, I recommend caution.

        1. RVA Cat*

          So many small businesses are petty fiefdoms – in fact, I wonder if a subset of owners start their own businesses in order to have that power.

        2. Althea*

          It’s a way to be assertive in the face of that kind of sexist bullying “joking”, but certainly the prerequisite is that you have to be willing (able) to be assertive.

        3. fposte*

          It’s especially relevant if you’re talking businesses so small they’re under the EEOC threshold.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think it varies significantly based on the organization. There are three types of organizations that tend to react the way your Old Boss did: (1) Organizations that are so small that fair employment laws do not apply (15 employees for Title VII/ADA and 20 employees for ADEA); (2) Organizations where the owner and/or CEO is the harasser; and (3) Insular organizations that have an insular focus on “reputation managing” complainants out of the environment (e.g., the military, universities, law firms), as opposed to minimizing legal liability by ejecting/disciplining harassers.

          I’ve worked at a small organization (12 employees) that handled allegations like OP’s really well. But I’ve also worked for large employers (scenario #3) with large HR outfits who were sued, and in my opinion, 1000% deserved to be sued.

          I think this is a know-your-workplace issue, but also a matter of understanding the risks before you react the way you did. There are thousands of crappy employers; I know because they keep me in business. That said, good employers tend to be rational, as well—it’s in their interest to identify and remove employees who threaten the safety of their coworkers.

        5. Paxton*

          I have to agree with this. I’ve seen better response and change by ‘innocently’ asking the person to explain the joke because you don’t get it and keep going until they are super uncomfortable.

          {sexist joke}
          OP: I don’t get it, can you explain?
          Joke teller: you know because [insert group] does [whatever]
          OP: sorry, I still don’t get it can you elaborate?
          … And on and on until they talk themselves into a blatantly sexist and embarrassing corner.

          1. Snorks*

            To be honest i’d think worse of the person acting dumb than the person making the ‘joke’.

            1. Ann O.*

              I’ve done it online and found it to be very effective most of the time. These jokes rely on the wink, wink, nudge, nudge assumption that everyone agrees with the underlying premise. Challenging that both takes away the premise and forces the person to articulate the stereotype, which they usually feel awkward about doing (because otherwise, they wouldn’t be indirectly doing it through jokes).

              The one time this utterly failed was the one time I was completely sincere. Someone was defending a pretty horrible anti-Semitic meme and claiming it was an Internet joke that didn’t actually have an anti-Semitic meaning. Because of the site I was on, I believed the person believed this (although it was obviously impossible to be true), and I was sincerely interested in learning how they could believe it. They were unable to articulate in any way, but also just got defensive. It didn’t go super nasty by Internet standards, but it was not pleasant, particularly as I am Jewish.

              1. Snorks*

                I wouldn’t say they rely on people agreeing with assumption, they rely on the people knowing the assumption.
                Assuming the ‘joke’ was something mainstream and i was fairly sure you knew what they meant, i would think the person acting dumb was annoying and childish. Basically comparing them to a child who keeps asking why.
                Okay, and in that situation i wouldn’t think any worse of you, because you weren’t acting dumb. If you don’t know, you don’t know!
                But if i were to say something like ‘women belong in the kitchen’ i would expect you to know something about that and not play childish games.

                1. Lucia*

                  And I would expect you to recognise a strategy for managing the situation and not assume the person actually doesn’t know/understand what is being discussed. I would judge you as naive, pedantic and unaware of the risks of these situations if you were to think worse of someone for using a perfectly reasonable strategy.

                2. Snorks*

                  Lucia – I’m not assuming the person doesn’t know, i specifically said the person would know and understand what is being discussed.
                  I’m perfectly aware of the risks in these situations, but if you’re argument against these kind of jokes is so weak that you can’t use logic and discussion then there’s something wrong with your arguments.
                  Reaching back into the memory banks, there is a scene int he movie Big with Tom Hanks. They are at a production meeting and Tom is pitching a product and one of the other guys just keeps saying ‘I don’t get it’. He doesn’t come across well.

    7. Former Retail Manager*

      I came to say exactly this. My own experiences being interviewed as a witness in these types of investigations has never been very positive and the person who made the complaint has always left sooner rather than later (typically within 6 months). I’ve seen some complaints that were valid and some that weren’t. The outcome was the same. I agree with other commenters that ethically, you should still make the complaint and stand up for the right thing, but practically, that rarely works out well for the complainant. I sincerely hope that this has a positive outcome for OP, but my inner cynic says that adult men don’t decide to change who they are because someone filed a complaint. Even if they change their behavior for a short time, most people eventually revert back to who they really are. I’d definitely start looking elsewhere, just in case.

      1. I'll say it*

        “adult men don’t decide to change who they are because someone filed a complaint” – exactly.

        I’ll tell you a bit more about my own situation and why saying something like what Althea spelled out wouldn’t have worked for me in my specific situation: the men were a peer, my manager, and his manager (a VP), along with other directors and VPs that would join in. This was over the entire tenure of my time there. I was not the only woman, BUT – I was the only woman who they did this in front of. And they talked about my peers. They rated women. They made jokes. The talked about female clients. All awful – but they also were in total control of what work I did, who I was able to talk to, and how I could move up. I was in their “inner circle” and I am not super attractive, so I knew what my chances were of doing well if not in the inner circle. If I said what Althea eloquently typed out, they would be civil, courteous, and would discuss it behind my back constantly. I know this because someone else did it, and it was an endless source of discussion in this inner circle.

        Moving up/keeping the work was super important to me because I had 2 kids, needed the insurance, and was digging out of a large financial hole. You choose your battles, I suppose.

        I really just wanted to mention that this situation is why I – and I am sure many other women – would be in the same panicked predicament that OP is in after trying to make things right and wishing I’d just quit, or wouldn’t even try in the first place. I admire women who can – at the time, I wasn’t one of them.

        1. Althea*

          Certainly a lot of people can’t afford to take the risk.

          In your initial post you phrased it as interpersonal communications and preference to take another job to avoid the backlash of reactions, rather than as a personal risk.

          I do think there is some obligation for people who can afford to take a risk to be assertive and speak up, because others can’t. But it’s always an individual choice and risk calculation.

        2. Mb13*

          Would it have been possible to document (i.e. Record the talks if it’s a one person consent state) build a strong defense and sued the company with it? Could you have documented everything and once you got a new job send release all of the information to the clients? This is a scenario I am always worried about and always try and plan for an “me comes out on top” plan.

      2. Brogrammer*

        Sure, there are plenty of people who will behave badly so long as they can get away with it. It’s management’s responsibility to not let them get away with it.

    8. Clever Name*

      And this is why management legally has to investigate if you report, because just getting to the point of reporting is often a huge deal.

      And as other commenters have noted, sometimes the people making comments really are just clueless. I had one coworker who would make comments about a particular pair of pants I owned. It felt gross, like he was imagining what was beneath those pants every time he commented. One day, after he commented on them, I said to him (in front of other people) “Dude, you really have to stop commenting on my pants. It’s getting weird, so just stop.” And he’s never said another word about them since. It was a little weird between us afterwards, but I tried really hard to treat him normally and show that I had no hard feelings, and things are fine between us. People can change.

      1. o.b.*

        Yeah, sure, some people are clueless, and *debatably* deserve the benefit of the doubt, but I think your point is almost irrelevant here. If OP is crying in the bathroom, and if her experiences are persistent and sustained, that doesn’t sound clueless. Also, when dealing with sexism, racism, etc., it’s impact, not intent, that carries the greatest weight.

  10. AndersonDarling*

    OP, it is possible that this has been an ongoing issue and there have been other complaints but you have been the only one with good documentation. Now they can really move forward and do a proper investigation.
    Remember, the investigation isn’t happening because of you, it is happening because employees are behaving inappropriately. You are doing the company a service by allowing them to nip this early before it turns into a big situation.

  11. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP, with the exception of dealing with maintaining your anonymity, the company is doing exactly what we want employers to do when faced with serious allegations of persistent discrimination. There are a few things I want to remind you of:

    1. An investigation is a fact-finding mission. Questions about whether someone has violated policy/law come later.
    2. People are rarely fired for “low-level” sexism, however…
    3. People should be fired, or at least severely disciplined, for persistent or particularly egregious acts of discrimination.
    4. You are not getting people in trouble or jeopardizing their jobs. They put their employment at risk when they contributed to a hostile work environment that has left you feeling isolated, demoralized, and reduced to tears. You would never blame yourself for someone being arrested for mugging you—don’t blame yourself here, either.

    I want to second what Alison said re: asking specifically about protection from retaliation. Do that. And don’t decline to comply with investigation requests—honestly, it will make it more difficult to make a subsequent complaint if things don’t improve or become worse.

    If it would make you feel more supported, hire a lawyer who can help you navigate the process (but also note that if you hire an attorney to represent you—as opposed to simply offering advice/guidance—the company will be required to have their lawyer talk to your lawyer, which tends to escalate the situation).

    Finally, your relationships with your peers might change. But right now it sounds like things are pretty awful, so is change inherently bad? People are either going to see this as a wake-up call, or they’ll become stand-offish if they figure out you were the complainant. If they are nasty, unprofessional, or further impede your ability to do your job, they’re inviting discipline/termination because they’d be opening the company to greater legal liability. But that’s not much different from how you’re currently being treated, right?

    1. LBK*

      4. You are not getting people in trouble or jeopardizing their jobs. They put their employment at risk when they contributed to a hostile work environment that has left you feeling isolated, demoralized, and reduced to tears. You would never blame yourself for someone being arrested for mugging you—don’t blame yourself here, either.

      Yes, yes, yes. If people don’t want their jobs to be jeopardized, a great way to do that is to not exhibit openly sexist behavior.

      1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        Exactly! I posted about my partner’s situation below. It was a constant refrain at my house when she reported. I just kept having to tell her “no, you didn’t cost them their jobs. The moment they started watching porn at work and making jokes about violence to women they cost themselves their jobs. You just made the environment safer for everyone.”

      2. Annonymouse*

        Would you feel guilty for reporting someone at work stealing everyone’s 401k or walking out with your handbag and coat?

        It is NOT your action that gets them fired, it’s their own.

        If they didn’t do anything worthy of being fired it, wouldn’t happen, right?

    2. Retail HR Guy*

      I don’t see how the company can be blamed for not protecting anonymity in a case like this. She’s the only female in the group, and even if she wasn’t small offices like this would immediately know who the complainant was anyway due to the specifics of what is being investigated.

      Also, please, OP, do not get represented by an attorney just to “make you feel more supported.” So far there is no indication that the company is not following the law, and you being represented could greatly increase the costs to the company. It’s also a “nuclear option” that risks you alienating HR and other higher-ups who might have otherwise been more on your side. (Just receiving advice/guidance, though, without full-blown representation, is fine.)

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        So I disagree with you. It’s true that they may not be able to keep the complaint entirely anonymous. But there are things that workplaces with skewed demographics can do to mask that person’s identity and to prevent retaliation, and OP should ask about it.

        I think I was pretty clear that OP should not lawyer up at this point, but we both agree on the part of my advice that matters: hiring an attorney to give you advice—not to represent you—is a legit and non-escalating way to approach a situation when you feel over your head.

        1. Retail HR Guy*

          Well, I agree that the company can and should try to keep it anonymous, I just believe it’s doomed to failure. Which means the real focus should be on protecting her from retaliation via other means.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Fair enough—then we agree, and I retract my disagreement! :)

            1. Retail HR Guy*

              Dang it, that’s not how the internet works! You’re supposed to start a flame war now.

        2. Starbuck*

          Well, if the complaint is “you said X offensive thing to someone” and that person remembers who they said it to, it’s going to be pretty obvious, no? Especially if there weren’t many/any witnesses. If they’re being that specific about what the allegations are, I don’t know how you would keep things anonymous? Hopefully LW can still be protected from retaliation.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I have seen people only reference examples where others were present for this reason. The accused could not be sure if the witnesses or the recipient made the complaint.

            If OP has enough examples, I don’t see why this method could not be used. There are plenty of good men out there who would report an injustice such as this. We just don’t hear about it every time it happens.

            1. Darren*

              Honestly even if it had been one of the guys that reported it do we really think that an already clearly sexist man isn’t going to leap to the conclusion that it was the only woman on the team that mentioned the incident(s) to HR?

              This also leads into the that even if she choose not to cooperate at this point if any of the others (particularly those not involved) actually did find the commentary distasteful but wouldn’t have reported it themselves they might be perfectly happy to help the investigation now that it was started she would still end up in exactly the same boat as if she had cooperated with the investigation (with a bit less good will from the head office due to her lack of cooperation with a serious investigation).

  12. Adam*

    Just want throw another word of support to OP. I know this sucks now, but at least if the company is doing its job correctly then a better outcome can be established where if you had said nothing things would just suck forever. You did the right thing.

  13. ann perkins*

    I just want to say that I’m sorry you’re going through this, BUT be grateful your company is taking this so seriously. A lot of companies wouldn’t. Hang in there!

  14. Is it Friday Yet?*

    OP I just want to commend you for speaking out because so many women experience this but are too afraid to say anything (myself included).

  15. specialist*

    Can you ask them to re-frame the discussion? Instead of saying, “we’ve had complaints” can you ask them to say that they are exploring the environment. They have one woman on a team of men, there is a good chance that they will hire more women in the future, and they are looking at the environment with an eye to keeping future hires. What they’ve found is that the environment is not only worse than they expected, but bad enough that it could land the company in hot water legally. Make it seem like they went to you, not you went to them. You are helping them with their investigations.
    And hang in there. If you get any questions, you let them know that the current environment isn’t in the best interests of the team. You want maximum productivity because that means better reimbursement for everyone, and you can’t believe that anyone would choose stupid jokes over a bigger paycheck.

    1. Jwal*

      This is good – I’ve never been involved in these kind of investigations so I’m not sure how feasible this would be, but if I were in OP’s shoes then I would feel better about it this way.

      I think that it would be only natural if, on hearing that there have been complaints about sexism, people assumed that they came from the only woman in the office. It would definitely be good to hear what steps HR/management would look to take to prevent retaliation, and it shouldn’t be hard for them to provide some general information there.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’ve been at a workplace that framed the investigation as a “climate” assessment, and I think it went better than if it were framed as an investigation of a specific complaint (but there were also repeat offenders and complaints from several people). It did offer some anonymity to the complainant at the beginning, although it didn’t stop people from wildly speculating and trying to figure out who had complained, even when managers told people it was a management-identified problem. But if people are managing properly, they should also help ensure people knock it off re: trying to identify a complainant.

  16. RJ*

    I completely understand why you don’t want to escalate this situation. There is a serious concern about the work environment being uncomfortable, potentially hostile, unfriendly, etc. But remember, OP, that it was the coworkers who were making the workspace hostile and unfriendly to you. Shouldering the emotional toll necessary to deal with sexist treatment should not be your responsibility; it is their responsibility to accept the consequences of bad behaviour.
    You got this OP!

    1. NoMoreMrFixit*

      Seconding this. You were the victim in this situation and whatever happens is not your fault at all.

      Many years ago a subordinate was having problems with being harassed at work. Despite her desire to not make an issue of it I proceeded to escalate things to my superior immediately. While I don’t know the exact details, her problem person got stomped on good and hard by his boss and the harassment stopped that day. My person thanked me afterwards for sticking up for her and escalating things.

      You deserve to be able to work and live in peace, free from troubles. Whatever comes is purely them reaping what they’ve sown. You’re innocent.

  17. Bolt*

    One thing I would be doing is going over ALL of the descriptions/events for accuracy. From my own experience it can be easy to slightly embellish when you are concerned that management isn’t going to take the initial claims seriously, but it really comes back to bite you when an official investigation is opened up and everyone is interviewed. Every single detail will be scrutinized by management and your coworkers; one false statement in an ocean of truth can throw your credibility out the window and cast you as the troublemaker.

    If coworkers say anything there is a reasonable explanation you can give them. You tell the truth that there were some incidents that made you uncomfortable and you had a meeting with management since you did not know how to address it, then the matter was out of your hands and they had to investigate (most will assume it was you pushing an investigation)… but then leave it at that.

      1. Jwal*

        I don’t think Bolt is saying that the OP deliberately lied, just saying that when she is going over her original email she should double check that everything is exactly what she means to say. Just because if there is an error, then people (especially people who are trying to refute the complaint) could interpret that as deliberately lying, and then cast aspersions on the whole things.

        Especially when one is the minority in the situation or worrying about not being believed/understood, then it’s probably a good CYA thing.

        1. Mazzy*

          This was my take. If you think of other examples. I was just dealing with a complaint about how an outside vendor does nothing and is so horrible – well the list of their backlog did not look anywhere near as bad as the complaints sounded. I could see that if I had let the original complaint as it was lodged go to upper management, some of my staff would have lost credibility.

        2. Karen D*

          I agree. I read Bolt’s post not as accusing the OP, but as offering pretty sound advice about how to conduct oneself during an investigation. Victims of harassment should not have to worry about bolstering their credibility, but the reality is that in many situations they DO have to worry about that — because the elephant in the room, unfortunately, is that there are instances where reports of sexual harassment are exaggerated or outright falsified, and instances where the behavior being complained about is something that most people would regard as inoffensive.

          So: Be careful and thoughtful when reporting. When you are not sure of details – especially ones that are tangential to the actual problem, like the precise date on which a particular harassing behavior occurred – say so. If you can think of something that makes it easier to verify what you are saying, offer it up.

          And finally, accept the fact that — as the OP has discovered, somewhat ruefully — there is going to come a point (probably fairly early on) where the investigation is out of the victim’s hands and the bell can’t be unrung. That needs to be kept in mind throughout the process, but particularly in the initial stages of a complaint, where the investigator is laying out the basic foundation that s/he will work from in investigating the complaint.

          1. Karen D*

            (I would hope, however, that most HR people with training will recognize that “one false statement in an ocean of truth” should not sink an otherwise credible complaint. Victims of harassment are often terrified and under great stress; the urge to embellish just a bit is probably a pretty common phenomenon. I know police investigators are trained to understand that, to resist “aha!” type conclusions and look at the totality of the circumstances before deciding who is most credible overall.)

      2. Liane*

        This. Taking an OP at their word is straight out of the commenting guidelines.
        So is not being rude or insulting and that assumption is right on the edge of those IMO.

        1. MommyMD*

          No insult was lobbied. The advice was to make sure the written incidents happened exactly as described. When upset, everyone can have a tendency to make sure they are believed and taken seriously and to shore up their side of the story. Simply sticking to the facts is good advice.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Saying things like “one false statement in an ocean of truth can throw your credibility out the window and cast you as the troublemaker” is … sort of fear-mongering and the type of thing that scares people out of reporting. Bolt, I’m not saying that was your intent; this is the kind of thing that even well-meaning people can inadvertently fall into. But it’s worth identifying it and pushing back against it.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      But people who are not affected by sexist conduct often fail to see it or register it as serious. It’s like last week’s SNL skit about Handmaid’s Tale.

      OP should be as truthful as possible. It’s ok to share subjective experiences and those experiences should be shared with investigators; a person can say something totally innocuous, and it can still have sexist impacts based on the context and how it’s said. I would encourage OP to start with “just the facts” and then go back and supplement with the affect of those incidents on her.

      If the impact of an event on OP was significant, that’s not an exaggeration—it’s an accurate and factual reflection of her experience. Particularly when it comes to sex/gender discrimination, it’s often the constellation of low-level sexist conduct that adds up to a big problem.

      We shouldn’t encourage OP to filter or downplay her experiences out of fear that others won’t back her up.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        “It’s ok to share subjective experiences and those experiences should be shared with investigators;”

        I think it is actually critically *important* to share those subjective experiences. I do not know the gender or experience makeup of the HR team investigating, but if none of them has experienced sexism and misogyny in the workplace, they may perceive things differently; they may not understand the cumulative effect of the constant, background (and sometimes overt) sexism OP is experiencing. It is important that they understand this is A Big Problem, and not just because sexism and misogyny in the workforce are technically, objectively not legal, but also because they are demoralizing for the targets, because they lower productivity, because they are toxic.

        And: facts matter. But so do perceptions. Plenty of women get their experiences minimized on a fairly regular basis. Being told not to explain how things have affected her because it doesn’t matter, only the facts matter, is simply untrue but it’s also dismissive and minimizing. We need LESS dismissing.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Wow, it’s so weird that you’re jumping right in with the possibility that the OP has embellished, when the OP’s honesty and accuracy are in no way a part of this letter.

      1. AMPG*

        I don’t think that was the implication. I understand how a first draft of this kind of list could include descriptions that conflate the facts of the incidents with the OP’s reactions to or interpretations of them, and that can make things confusing in an investigation. I agree with PCBH that stating the facts of each incident and then their effects separately will help the OP’s case.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I should be clear, though, that I was pushing back against Bolt’s suggestion that OP is exaggerating. I do think there’s an implication that OP embellished.

          I don’t think OP exaggerated anything (if anything, it sounds like she’s downplaying), and I think it’s problematic to warn her off of how she reports by fear-mongering. Bolt may not have intended to fear-monger, but imo, that’s the practical effect of responding to someone’s concerns with “well, make sure you tell the truth and don’t exaggerate because people will think you’re a lying troublemaker, and you’ll have no credibility.” That’s frankly a weird response to the original letter.

          OP should absolutely include information on her perception of what happened and the effects. It’s part of the factual background of what happened and is not an “exaggeration.” Distinguishing between the conduct and its effect will make it easier for investigators, but to be fair, that’s not really OP’s responsibility.

    3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I’m sure you didn’t intend this to stifle the OP’s or other people’s reporting of sexual harassment, but this is exactly the kind of comment that has chilling effects. “It really comes back to bite you,” “throw your credibility out the window and cast you as the troublemaker,” “most will assume it was you pushing an investigation.” This is why women often don’t report sexual harassment — because they suspect these things themselves, and because they are told that this will happen.

      1. Hills to Die on (formerly AMG)*

        Okay, I can see where Bolt is coming from. I have been through this, and was absolutely labeled as the troublemaker. I know other people who have been in the same position.

        OP, that doesn’t mean you have embellished, or that you actually are the troublemaker, but it means that there are people who will view it that way.

        You just have to focus on what others are saying here–that just because people will be weird about it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.

      2. Observer*

        It’s actually happening – the basis of this comment is an implicit accusation that the OP has embellished or made at least one untrue statement. That may not be what the commenter meant, but it’s the only real basis, if you think about it.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        YUP. There will always be people who suggest that a complaint is invalid or exaggerated. Just as Bill O’Reilly attacked Megan Kelly for “making her employer look bad,” there are people who will always blame the victims of discrimination for identifying that discrimination. (And I agree with Kelly’s response that Ailes made the employer look bad by being a serial harasser.) It’s frankly the same playbook that people use to dissuade and silence victims of sexual assault.

        Which is why it’s incumbent upon people who believe in inclusive, non-predatory workplaces to push back on comments like this. We need to support people who make the difficult choice to report this kind of garbage, because people should be able to be safe at work.

      4. Ramona Flowers*


        Years ago I wrote to Dear Jeremy in the Guardian about a colleague from another office who made a pass at me at the Christmas party. I wasn’t interested. A while later I moved to the same office as him. He used to do stuff like slam doors in my face and have my name taken off projects.

        I wrote to the Jeremy column after he prevented me from getting a major freelance project worth over £1,500 by telling the project lead I wasn’t to be used for freelance. I didn’t say how I knew this (the project lead ended up telling me). They did not have the rule about taking commenters at face value.

        The reply and most of the comments were about how I didn’t know that’s why I lost the work and basically people implied I was somehow arrogant to think this was what I thought it was. I had to stop reading.

        I don’t want this LW to feel like that.

          1. Starbuck*

            Wow, I would call that straight-up terrible advice, from both Jeremy and the commentors. I’m particularly frustrated that one of his first directives for you was having you consider what option would do the least harm to this guy. Yikes. And then rather than providing helpful advice, he goes on the explain for you what he thinks actually happened. Ugh. Seems like the commentors chose to put themselves in your colleague’s shoes rather than yours. (Hmm, I wonder why??)

    4. Nervous Accountant*

      Am I the only one who is NOT reading this as Bolt accusing OP of lying/exaggerating but simply stating that this is something that can happen?

      1. AMPG*

        No, I read it the same way. But I agree with the others about the potential chilling effect. This sort of thing does happen, but a) it’s always wrong and the OP shouldn’t be talked out of the investigation because of it, and b) there’s actually a good chance the OP’s company won’t act this way, considering how seriously they’ve taken her report up to now.

      2. Retail HR Guy*

        I’m right there with you. I read it as Bolt just saying OP should check to make sure everything is embellishment-free because it will be scrutinized. It might be a little bit of fearmongering, but Bolt doesn’t seem to be accusing OP of anything.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I don’t think Bolt intended to accuse OP of lying/exaggerating, but the way that the advice is framed implies that OP is exaggerating or prone to exaggeration. And for the reasons Victoria Nonprofit (USA) provided, I think the framing creates a chilling effect that is worse/more harmful than the advice provided is helpful.

      4. JamieS*

        I interpreted it as Bolt essentially saying to proofread her account to minimize chance of push-back. However it’s extremely difficult for me to take into account how a post can make a person feel so my interpretation is probably going to be wildly different from others.

  18. Shadow*

    “… and hope for the best that my work environment doesn’t change?”

    But you do want it to change. That’s the point.

    HR isn’t going to care who you’re friends with. They’re concerned with stopping the behavior no matter who’s doing it. And they’ll also have a problem with anyone in a leadership position who condoned it through inaction.

    1. Hills to Die on (formerly AMG)*

      This–HR’s ultimate responsibility is to the company, not to you. Fortunately, they can often do both but if they must choose, they will choose the company.

    2. Interviewer*

      If they’re a really good HR group, they will continue with the investigation, even if you quit your job tomorrow. The aim is to document the events, address the legal issues, and provide resolution. These things should happen, with or without you.

  19. MommyMD*

    Just let the chips fall where they may. If you know in your heart your allegations are true and not the reaction of a bad day, cooperate and let HR do its job. Serious allegations are always investigated in larger companies. As they should be.

  20. LBK*

    I think my big question here is if the OP genuinely believes that just doing a sexual harassment training would change anything in the long-term. I mean, you broke down crying for half an hour at the office…that’s really not normal (that you have to work somewhere that brings you to that point, not that you cried at work).

    Do you really believe that a situation so severe would be resolved without naming names and specific offenders being spoken to in no uncertain terms about how unacceptable their behavior is? I seriously doubt that people who are taking such gross actions are only doing it because they don’t realize there’s a rule telling them not to. This is morally bad behavior whether there’s a rule against it or not, and giving them a gentle reminder that maybe they shouldn’t do it isn’t going to change anything.

    I think in situations like this, you wish for a resolution that doesn’t come through such potentially uncomfortable means, but unfortunately those really don’t exist. I think if you reached the point that this wasn’t tenable anymore, you have to accept that this is the process for how those situations get fixed. It sucks but it’s better in the long run.

  21. Mustache Cat*

    I’ve become SO distraught imagining….how I am going to be able to function in an environment where people are going to be treating me differently following the investigation.

    Forgive me, I know this is hard for you, but don’t you WANT people in your office to treat you differently than they are now? The environment of sexism you’ve been describing sounds awful, but you state several times in your letter that you don’t actually want anything in your office to change.

    I think you do actually want your office to change, but it feels like you have some kind of mental block that keeps you from imagining that your office can change for the better, not the worse. Which is totally normal and understandable, but you’ve got to power through it and imagine a better future for yourself and the office. This investigation could very well help with that.

    I’m seconding Alison’s advice about not refusing aid or backtracking with the power of a thousand suns. Losing credibility now could backfire on you really hard. Don’t exaggerate, of course (and it doesn’t sound like you would) but don’t play down your experiences either.

    1. ZVA*

      I think you do actually want your office to change, but it feels like you have some kind of mental block that keeps you from imagining that your office can change for the better, not the worse.

      Yes, this. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Stick to your guns, OP. Change for the better is what you wanted, and I very much hope it’s what this achieves.

  22. Nonnonnon*

    OP, you did the right thing. It’s painful and so frustrating that you didn’t have a say in the process. Please stay strong and update us on what happened. You are helping expose a systemic problem and others (and hopefully you) will benefit.
    I’ve gone through this, too. The difference is that my sexual harassment complaint was not investigated at all, and I was terminated within a month. I’m glad your company is taking this seriously.

  23. Still Another Alison*

    Please also remember – HR departments exist to to keep the company legal and out of court. (With respect to HR issues). They have other functions, of course, such as employee development, recruiting, compensation analysis – but at the end of the day – keeping the company out of court on HR issues is the biggest function. The investigation they are conducting in the letter is also a means for them to cover the company backside if the need arises for them to terminate the offenders.

    1. Shadow*

      No. HRs main function is not compliance. Compliance is a piece of what they do but it’s merely a bar for some minimum standards. HRs true function is to manage the people strategy of the company. basically the strategies that outline what people the company needs, their functions and costs, and policies/practices/initiatives that are designed to maximize their output.

        1. Jadelyn*

          No. It doesn’t. That’s ONE FUNCTION. Not even, I would argue as an HR professional, our main function.

          1. Natalie*

            For that matter, there are plenty of situations where “protecting the company” and doing the right thing overlap.

            1. Jadelyn*

              And, I would argue, that if there comes a point where protecting the company is incompatible with doing the right thing, our ethical duty is to go with the right thing over the company. Which is why it makes me so angry when people portray HR as supporting the company no matter what.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Thank you! Maybe someday we’ll be able to stop having this argument…not holding my breath, but maybe.

    2. Retail HR Guy*

      Let me join other HR folk here in telling you that that’s flat-out wrong. I work in a part of my HR team that has quite a bit of interaction with the legal world (FMLA, ADA, Workers’ Comp, General Liability) and keeping the company out of court is a small percentage of my day-to-day.

      It’s really like saying conspiratorially, “Payroll doesn’t really exist to give employees a paycheck. They just exist to protect the company from the FLSA!”

      1. Jadelyn*

        I love that comparison. That’s so perfect. Stealing that for the next time someone pulls an “HR is only there to protect the company!”

  24. CA in CA*

    No advice OP, just solidarity. I had a coworker make a sexist comment to me in front of my other coworkers and boss. My boss immediately pulled my coworker into his office to talk about it. Problem is, my coworker is from a country where women aren’t viewed as much more than property and while he had adjusted pretty well to life in Canada, old habits die hard. My boss told me he talked to coworker, I suggested we see about getting coworker some kind of workplace/social norms training as this wasn’t the first time something like this happened. Boss thought it was a great idea and emailed HR to suggest that. Ten minutes later my phone rings and its the director of HR for the entire organization, wanting to know what happened and if I was okay and that behaviour isn’t tolerated. I wasn’t that upset and again suggested the training. Next day I came in and my boss told me he had directions to immediately dismiss my coworker. I. Felt. Terrible. We both did. The whole thing escalated way beyond what was necessary and I considered it handled once my boss spoke to my coworker. However, I did (begrudgingly) understand why HR reacted the way they did. I was the only woman in an all-male office in a male-dominated field.

    All that to say, again, I hear ya OP. My situation wasn’t as bad as yours at all, but I do understand the fear of someone losing their job over your complaint. Keep in mind that if anyone in your office loses their job over this, it’s their behaviour that did it, not you refusing to put up with it.

    1. Observer*

      The difference is that you were dealing with ONE incident, and it’s possible that in your case some training might have done the trick. In the OP’s case it’s not ONE incident, so if there are negative repercussions, it’s on them.

      And, btw, it’s quite possible that your coworker was dismissed because there was a history – “old habits die hard” in the context of “women aren’t viewed as much more than property” sounds like a lot of potential for issues. Unless this coworker has been managed by your manager throughout the coworker’s tenure and didn’t interact with anyone outside of your department, it’s possible that neither of you would know about this.

    2. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

      CA in CA – you felt terrible, but it’s also possible that if *you* knew this wasn’t the first time your coworker had made a sexist remark like that, HR did too. Perhaps his behavior had been reported previously. Maybe they offered him training, counseled him on the consequences of behaving in that manner again, and that’s why they were so (seemingly) quick to let your colleague go.

    3. Malibu Stacey*

      It could be that HR met with your coworker with the intent to coach him and his reaction made it clear they were no longer dealing with an isolated remark. And that’s not necessarily something you would – or should – be privy to.

      1. blackcat*

        This, or the above, seems super likely.
        If HR approached him and said, “Do something like this again, and you will be fired”
        and he said, “It’s my culture, I can’t help myself.”
        or, “Come on, man, you know women are all [insert x offensive thing]”
        I can see them jumping to firing.

        Also, it is possible that the HR person he spoke to was female (you said your office is all male, so feel free to correct me if HR counts as part of that), and said something similar to her.

        Or that clients or contractors or other business contacts had complained before.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Agreed. He said or did something that lead them to believe there was no fix here, ever. They are just not sharing with you what happened.

    4. Honoria Glossop*

      Solidarity here too!
      In today’s global workplace, we will come across some colleagues who are acting completely appropriately, even progressively, for their cultures and still may have behavior that is 100% Not Okay in our society. Global companies really need to articulate clear guidelines for professional behavior that transcend physical location, and have plans in place to correct inappropriate behavior rather than immediate termination.

  25. LO*

    OP, I know this is hard for you. But you’re doing the right thing. I’ve worked in an environment that was rife with this kind of behavior (and so much worse) and it took a serious toll on me. I came to resent everyone around me. The harassers and the people who chose to stay silent and let bad things happen or join in to try to fit in. I would have crying fits in my car before I went in every day. Do not torture yourself!

    You have the right to work in a peaceful, productive environment without harassment. Don’t let any person make you feel like anything less than that is acceptable.

    This will be a stressful time for you as your company investigates, but you are absolutely doing the right thing and your actions could possibly help someone else come out and tell their story. All it takes is one person with the strength to demand change and great things happen.

    I’ll be sending giod vibes your way OP. Be strong and stay the course.

    1. Shadow*

      I don’t know why but your comment made me think that doing the right thing doesn’t mean always mean reporting it. There are some people who just aren’t strong enough or willing enough or credible enough to come out of this with a positive outcome.

      But yes I agree that everyone deserves a respectful environment.

  26. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Your coworkers ought to be treating you differently after the investigation — what they’re doing now is hurting you! But I understand your concern about them getting passive-aggressive about the investigation.

    One good thing to keep in your back pocket is a raised eyebrow and an exasperated “Really?” It works wonders when someone starts in on “Ohhh, I can’t use dirty words, there’s a ~lady~ present~” or whatever weird thing they’re going to do. They’re hoping to make you feel defensive; if you need to, practice the ‘you’re acting like a five-year-old’ stinkeye in the mirror at home.

    1. shegotzen*

      I don’t know that I’m seeing a substantial difference between the stinkeye and shrugging it off as long as you can until you’re crying in the bathroom again. Another response might be, “So you’re saying you behave differently around your female coworkers than your male coworkers?” and let that sink in a bit. And report it, regardless of the response, since it’s really just a new form of the same sexual harassment.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Well, shrugging it off is not reacting; the stinkeye is giving a reaction that’s not necessarily verbal (though it can include a comment) but is pushing back on the attitude.

  27. Roscoe*

    I think by going to HR as opposed to speaking up or talking to even your friends about this first, you are definitely going to change your relationships with people. And I’d argue its warranted. I’ve had co-workers complain to my boss about stuff that was , in my opinion, harmless. Now, had they just spoken to me about it, we could have solved it. But by bringing in the boss, you have now decided to escalate it. So yeah, my guard is going to be WAY up about you now, meaning our relationship probably will be different. I wouldn’t say I’m retaliating, but its CYA when there is a person who is willing to go that route before discussing it with the individual.

    Now, Im not saying in any way you were WRONG to go to HR. But to go above their head and not expect there to be ramifications is unrealistic

    1. Katie the Fed*

      If your relationship with this person is different in a way that affects work, then it is retaliating.

      And frankly, while it’s nice for someone to talk to you first, there is literally not a man in the US that doesn’t know this kind of behavior can get them in trouble. Whether they believe it or care is another matter, but anyone who remembers Anita Hill or has ever attended a mandatory HR-sponsored training knows this. Ignorance isn’t an excuse, and you aren’t entitled to a warning before someone reports it. Conduct yourself professionally and treat people respectfully, and you probably won’t have this problem.

      1. Stop That Goat*

        As long as it doesn’t effect getting the job done, some folks will likely treat her differently. They will be on-guard and standoffish. It may not be fair to the OP but it sounds like it would still be a better outcome than the status quo anyways.

      2. Whats In A Name*

        Conduct yourself professionally and treat people respectfully, and you probably won’t have this problem.


      3. AMPG*

        And furthermore, maybe think a bit about WHY that co-worker wasn’t willing to come to you directly in the first place. There’s a good chance she felt it wouldn’t be well-received. And the fact that your reaction to the complaint was to get your back up instead of saying, “Oh wow, I’m so sorry – I hate that I made you uncomfortable,” suggests that maybe she did choose the right course of action.

      4. Retail HR Guy*

        I’ve got to disagree that there is literally “not a man in the US that doesn’t know this kind of behavior can get them in trouble.” Very often harassers do not feel like what they are doing “counts” as harassment when confronted with it. Odd and sad in this day and age, but humans are weird like that.

        1. JamieS*

          Agreed. I think most people know sexual harassment can get them in trouble but some may minimize their own behavior.

          There’s also the possibility of a person legitimately not knowing a certain behavior/action could be harassment which is why it’s important to have sexual harassment training that goes beyond “don’t grab other people’s unmentionables”.

    2. Fictional Butt*

      Who cares? OP’s behavior is not the problem. The sexism is the problem. Saying “you should have talked to me first” is just a distraction from the real issue.

      Or to put it another way– if your behavior was really harmless, you wouldn’t care if someone mentioned it to your boss.

      1. Fictional Butt*

        Gonna keep going cuz I have more thoughts: this is kind of like the “chewing gum vs. throwing a tantrum” analogy someone used in the multiquestion thread this morning. Talking to a manager is like chewing gum. It may or may not be an appropriate action in the situation, but it’s never a morally wrong thing to do.

        Acting like a sexist jerk in the workplace is like throwing a tantrum in the workplace–it IS the wrong thing to do, and no one should have to tell you that.

        So basically, one person may have done the wrong thing for the situation, but the other person did the wrong thing, period. If you’re focusing on the person who did the wrong thing for the situation, your focus is in the wrong place.

      2. KellyK*

        That’s an extremely good point. If it wasn’t sexist, or if the person doing it had no reason to think OP would see it as sexist, then that’s going to become apparent during the investigation. If it was sexist, then they shouldn’t have needed the OP to complain to know it wasn’t okay.

        Also, people can really only say “you should’ve talked to me first” if they’ve shown themselves to be approachable and willing to modify their behavior. In an awful lot of cases, telling a guy “Please don’t say stuff like X; it’s sexist,” will result in snide remarks about how sensitive the person complaining is, an *increase* in sexist remarks, or a long, defensive explanation about why it’s not really sexist. Very rarely will it result in “Oh, sorry, I won’t say stuff like that around you any more.”

        If you’re someone who responds positively and reasonably to criticism, then sure, it feels crappy to go through a step that you don’t feel is warranted. But you’re probably not in the majority, especially not where sexism is concerned. Nor should the OP be expected to know that you’d react well unless she’s actually seen you do so in the past.

        1. Starbuck*

          Kelly, this isn’t a disagreement with anything you said-but guys, if this stuff is pointed out to you, “Oh, sorry, I won’t say stuff like that *around you* any more.” is actually not a great response. You shouldn’t make sexist comments even when women aren’t present, because it’s 1. still sexist, duh and 2. is a great way to encourage other guys to do the same. And Kelly, your point about why women often don’t address these things directly with the person who is making the sexist comments is spot on, and is also why it’s so important for male allies to step in and express their disapproval when things like this happen. Not speaking up in these cases isn’t staying neutral- it’s a tacit endorsement.

          1. KellyK*

            Good point, thank you for adding that! I think where I was going with that was that “around you” is the bare minimum, even if you don’t agree that it’s sexist and think they’re totally overreacting. If it’s not one of those edge cases where reasonable people can disagree on whether it’s sexist, dropping “around you” is much better.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        “You should have talked to me first.”

        And what would you have said?
        Would you have understood the seriousness of the issue?
        I will remind you that you said that.

        I have actually said the last one. And I have actually reminded the person. I have to say, this works. “You said I should come to you first. So now I am coming to you and saying we have new problem X. I am here telling you directly, just as you asked me to do.”
        This can turn the tables sometimes.

    3. Nea*

      Treating a women differently due to her gender is not “harmless.” Gender is a protected class.

      Having someone tell HR that she is subjected to a hostile workplace by multiple coworkers is not something that can be discussed in casual 0ne-on-one conversations.

      Telling someone that there are “warranted” ramifications *to her* for reporting the kind of behavior that has been illegal in the workplace for over 30 years is unhelpful to the OP, to say the least.

      1. Observer*

        It does, however, help explain the OP’s fears. She’s not wrong, as can be seen from this reaction.

    4. TL -*

      I think maybe if you are more careful about not behaving in a way that other person perceives as you being a jerk that’s – actually a good outcome? Like, if the desired outcome (for her) was for you to think about what you’re saying and doing when you’re interacting with her, and that’s what you’re doing now because she went to HR, she actually got her desired outcome.
      You might have not gotten yours, but it doesn’t seem like that was her aim anyways.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You’re comparing this to a situation where people complained about things you thought were harmless. That’s not at all the same as a situation where someone is being harassed and discriminated against.

      1. TL -*

        I would actually hazard a guess that most of the men the OP works with also think their behavior is harmless, especially as she identifies some of them as being her friends. So I guess whether or not it’s the same depends on the viewpoint of the person asking the question (without knowing the particulars of Roscoe’s situation, of course!)

        1. Shadow*

          That’s on them though for deciding that discriminatory behavior is harmless. It’s not like this is some new concept.

          1. TL -*

            I was making that point that what Roscoe considers harmless behavior could be the same behavior that left the OP crying in the bathroom for half an hour so I don’t think it’s fair to say that they’re entirely different things. I was definitely not arguing that discriminatory behavior is harmless.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        And, you know, it probably didn’t seem harmless to the people who reported it. And if you’re getting reported several times for stuff you consider “harmless,” you might want to recalibrate your understanding of what’s harmless.

    6. hbc*

      If you’re talking about reporting something like “Roscoe speaks too softly and I think he’s doing it on purpose so I can’t understand him” or “He takes the one chair in the conference room that can support my weight,” you have a point. Something that is a reasonable matter of coworker compatibility or simple oversight should be addressed directly.

      But if you’re violating things that are explicitly laid out in the employee handbook, you’re basically inviting the conversation with HR. I don’t get to stomp on someone’s foot and then be all “Why didn’t you telllll me, I thought everyone loved our foot stomping game?!” Neither do I get to be all “Huh, even though company rules and general expectations in polite society didn’t give me pause, one random person saying they didn’t appreciate my high-larious riff about top-heavy women would have stopped that behavior cold with no negative consequences.”

    7. Gazebo Slayer*

      “Discussing it with the individual” is risky – a lot of people will ramp things up because “ohhh, she’s *offended*, such a whiny little special snowflake” or some such. Sometimes it’s a good idea, but with someone who’s an asshole instead of just not thinking enough about his words it’s futile and only going to hurt you.

      1. Alton*

        It’s especially a risk when it’s a recurring issue coming from more than one person, because the person complaining can be perceived as a “wet blanket” who just doesn’t fit into the office culture. And for women in male-dominated environments, there can be pressure to be “one of the guys” and not impede on the guys’ “banter.” When I was studying engineering, I had several classes where I was the only female-presenting student, and I would actually have some of the guys say things to me like, “You’re not offended by sexist jokes, right?” with the implication being that they were asking as a formality but didn’t actually expect any complaints from me.

        It can be a very different dynamic than something like letting a friend know that they inadvertently said something that bothered you.

        I also think there are benefits to having guidance from HR in certain cases. One of the things HR should be able to do is offer guidance on how to respond, if at all, and what to do in the event of a negative reaction.

    8. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

      You’re conflating interpersonal challenges and “harmless” stuff with sex-based discrimination and the creation of a hostile workplace. That is not helpful in the slightest to the OP.

    9. Jessie the First (or second)*

      Yeah, she is reporting illegal sexism. I’m sorry, if a group of men are acting in a sexist and misogynist way then I do not actually owe them a heads-up before going to HR. How do you imagine that conversation is supposed to go? “Oh, hey, Dave, you are *such* a great guy. But I wanted to let you know that I get a little bothered when you say that all women are disgusting wh*res, and then when you laugh at things I say in meetings and tell everyone that women aren’t smart enough to do the job, I have kind of a hard time. Do you think you could maybe tone it down a little? For me?”

      Sexism in the workplace is not actually legal. If any one of OP’s coworkers think that their sexism is just “harmless,” then there is a serious problem – and it is not the OP’s problem to solve. If they are in fact aware that it is harmful, then they are being actually malicious, and again, not OP’s problem to solve.

      Whatever you, Roscoe, were doing that you decided was “harmless” and that people should have come to you first hopefully is in no way similar to the OP’s situation – right? You were not behaving in a sexist manner, violating employer codes of conduct, or actively working to create a hostile work environment, right? And because it is in no way similar, your “you should have talked me first!” doesn’t apply. The idea that reporting misogyny in the workplace “warrants” some static from coworkers is amazing. It does not.

    10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I find this puzzling and not very helpful to OP.

      First, someone complaining about something harmless (although, as you note, it was harmless in your opinion and may not have been harmless in your boss’s estimation) is in no way analogous to rampant and persistent workplace sexism. It is absolutely within an employee’s rights to go straight to their manager or HR with a serious discrimination complaint like OP’s—the complainant does not “owe” it to their harasser to give them a head’s up. Second, if those coworkers complained about discriminatory conduct and you’re treating them in a manner that continues to interfere with their safety or ability to do their jobs, then you are, as a factual/legal matter, retaliating.

      OP had no obligation to tell her coworkers/work-friends. She explicitly noted that she did not think they would take her complaints seriously based on her prior interactions with them. There are many circumstances in which employees should try to resolve issues before escalating them, but unlawful discrimination is not one of those circumstances.

  28. Jadelyn*

    OP, I am hearing a lot of “but my complaining prompted the investigation which will strain working relationships and make things awkward!” and I just want to correct you on that: THEY MADE IT AWKWARD. Not you.

    By making the jokes and comments and treating you disrespectfully in the first place, your coworkers are the ones who set up this situation. This is not your fault for standing up to it. Even if the investigation uncovers some really big stuff and someone DOES get fired over it, they’re not getting fired because you triggered an investigation. They’re getting fired because they were being sexist a-holes at work. If you have strained work relationships, it’s because they were being sexist a-holes at work, not because you called them on it. If they wanted good working relationships and to avoid disciplinary action for sexist behavior, they should’ve not engaged in said behavior, and that’s on them.

    Don’t take any part of this on yourself. It’s so easy to do that, I know this firsthand, because that’s where so many of our cultural/social scripts take us, but remind yourself: if they didn’t want to be investigated and possibly disciplined for sexist behavior, they shouldn’t have engaged in sexist behavior. They chose to engage in sexist behavior, so the consequences for that are on their heads 100%.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      THIS. This.this.this.this.this.

      I love the way Captain Awkward phrases it – she says that you didn’t create the awkward, you’re just returning it to Sunday.

      You did not “make” your coworkers behave inappropriately toward you; they chose to do that. You’re just not shielding from the consequences of that. And there is no reason you should.

        1. Retail HR Guy*

          Awww… I thought I was learning a new phrase. “Returning it to Sunday? What’s that? Sounds like a deep South old school Christian thing or something like that. Interesting! I should Google it.”

  29. A Nony Mouse*

    I’m sorry this is happening to you. In a predominately male industry myself, I know sometimes it’s hard to see past the boy’s club mentality and realize when you are making someone uncomfortable or when you are being inappropriate. I hope the increased scrutiny puts everyone on better behavior. The only other thing I can offer is that you might want to have a one-on-one discussion with those guys in your workplace that you said were your friends and explain to them what is going on. If they are truly your friends, they will be nothing but mortified, apologetic and supportive. If you don’t say anything to them – well if my friend reported me for workplace harassment and I was under investigation, without ever having said a word to me – that friendship would be over….

    1. Savannnah*

      I think this suggestion is a bit naive to the effects of the boy’s club mentality you reference. Many women have pointed out uncomfortable behavior only to be told ‘its a joke’ and other defensive and minimizing responses. I would also say its 2017 and time to see past that boys club mentality independently before making someone cry at work for half an hour.

    2. hbc*

      So if she gives you a heads up, you’re mortified by your behavior. But if she doesn’t let you know, you’re taking no responsibility for your behavior?

      It’s the same bad behavior. Your kid sister tattling on you from stealing a cookie from the cookie jar doesn’t make it any more or less wrong.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        This is actually the best comment. You are 100% right about this – it’s the behavior, not the manner in which it was reported.

      2. Jessie the First (or second)*

        Especially when the problem is a serious one – sexism in the workplace – and not something minor (like, I don’t know, “Nony Mouse always grabs the best cookie from the communal snacks in the break room!”). When the subject is discriminatory behavior, I can’t see a reason to get angry or quibble about how the *target* of the sexism decided not to have a private talk with the *perpetrator*.

      3. Fictional Butt*

        YES! I was clumsily trying to make this point under Roscoe’s post, but you phrased it so much better.

      4. A Nony Mouse*

        oops. You are right. I reread the original post. Jokes and off-color comments at work are non-negotiable. Those guys should be boiled in oil, and any “friend” of the OP who lets that kind of talk happen without speaking up isn’t really her friend.

        I can admit when I’m wrong. Sorry. No sugar in my coffee today as penance…

    3. Jadelyn*

      To be honest, if you did something to a friend that could be classified as workplace harassment to the point that HR gets involved and investigates you, you were a terrible “friend” to that person and forfeited any right you might’ve had to a polite heads-up before your former friend got someone else involved.

      Whether your friend talks to you first or not, you’re still responsible for your behavior. Deciding that the friendship is over because your feelings are hurt that she didn’t choose to do emotional labor on your behalf by gently coaching you through not harassing her, but instead availed herself of the resources intended to protect her from that kind of conduct, probably means your former friend is better off without that friendship.

    4. The OG Anonsie*

      Aside from hbc’s comment being spot on here– you still did the thing, how she reacts does not change your responsibility for doing it in the first place –I am troubled by you holding your “friendship” and fair treatment hostage. In a larger complaint about the environment, your actions are included in that whether you are office friends or not. To say that you would end your friendship, implying she could not longer expect you to treat her normally, is pretty much a direct threat of retaliation for reporting. You don’t need to be buddies outside work, but there is a lot more implied in there than that. And boy, if ever you could prove she was right to complain about the environment including you, that would be one way to do it.

      Aside from that… If you are being belittling or harassing to her in the first place, then your friendship isn’t really worth a whole lot to her, is it?

    5. Sue Wilson*

      As you’re now relegating sexual harassment to the realm of a difference of opinion or perspective, you might understand how someone would believe you would be unsympathetic and take it up the line.

  30. Stop That Goat*

    Sounds like a tough situation but it’s a good thing that the company is taking it so seriously.

    I’d bet that a number of your work relationships are going to change. Folks are going to be uncomfortable around you for awhile. It’ll pass or it won’t. That being said, it sounds like you’ve been uncomfortable around them for a long time already. I doubt it’s going to make it worse. I hope it all works out for you.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I do agree that I have hit times where I have said, “Well it was not going to get better on it’s own. I had to do something. So I did and here I am.”

      We can’t lose a job that we don’t want to be at. Let me hit that one again. If I am driving to and from work every day in tears, that job is lost to me even though my body keeps showing up for work. My brain is out the door of that workplace and it’s gone-gone.

      Sometimes I hear that old song, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose..” The context in the song was different, of course, but the phrase has many different applications. If this job is horrible as it is sounds, OP, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
      One thing I have learned about standing up for myself on larger issues is to build a group and stick with the group. You could touch base with HR on a semi-regular basis. Even if they don’t tell you much you can tell them what you are seeing on your end. I also agree with the poster who suggested that some of your coworkers will actually support you. These folks will add to your group that you are building. Keep going. On the home front do you have a supportive friend or family member? Touch base with them regularly and decide to allow them to cheer you on, even on days where you are not so sure.

      It still amazes me after all these years, that some of the hardest work we do at work has absolutely nothing to do with the actually daily tasks.

  31. Fictional Butt*

    Just wanted to add another voice of support, OP. You definitely did the right thing by reporting the sexism you’ve faced, and it sounds like the company is doing the right thing by investigating. I’m so sorry that you’ve had to deal with this, and I hope things work out for the best.

  32. TootsNYC*

    I just read (for work) the advance proof of a book by someone who works with people who are being harassed through the organization C r a s h O v e r r i d e. It’s out in September–please buy it and read it. It is a lovely read (from a “writerly” point of view), and it’s got great info.

    And she pointed out that when you take harassment to the police, you become extraneous. It’s not about you anymore; you become a tool for the prosecution to use in THEIR battle against the accused. You become sidelined, and almost as de-humanized as the abuser/harasser has made you. And that taking this sort of thing to the cops may not be the best-for-you-overall move.

    She points out, It -is- “The State of New York vs. Defendant.”

    And even if it’s a civil trial, the victim again becomes a witness (i.e., a thing–a piece of evidence), which is a tool that their very own lawyer will use.

    For someone in the OP’s situation, where work is not particularly unsafe, just upsetting, speaking up in the moment might be much more powerful and still allow THEM to have some control over what gets said and done on their behalf.

    Finding an ally among the rest of the time is a way to approach it as well. And taking it to your own boss might yield a better, “Hey, let’s all recognize this and stop it,” solution.

    Because yes, once you involve the bigger system, that system will act on its OWN agenda–which may not be yours–and you will have no way to control that.

    1. Cobol*

      I think this gets to the heart of what OP may be feeling. CA in CA said something similar up top. OP has the right to decide how big a deal this is, and that right is in many ways taken away once HR is involved.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I think OP was blindsided by the investigative approach. I think she expected training sessions, policies and so on.

        Which makes me wonder where are the training sessions and policies in this story? Why is OP expecting them to develop something, is it because NONE are in place?? This would make sense to me then that she is surprised by the investigation if none of these basics are in place.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I agree with you that part of OP’s discomfort likely comes from realizing that you can’t always “own” your complaint or how it’s treated. For example, I was briefly a mandatory reporter. I had to tell people, up front, that if they had a Title IX complaint that I would have to report it and then the decision-making power over the complaint would transfer to the Title IX office. That same principle is true for OP, although in this case the employer has separate interests that, while overlapping, require them to pursue investigation regardless of whether that’s the method or format OP wants.

      But I don’t think the analogy to the legal system is entirely accurate.

      It’s certainly true that in criminal prosecutions, the decision to prosecute is in the sole discretion of the prosecutor. But that’s because of how we conceptualize crime. There can be victims, but the purpose of criminal prosecution is not retribution on behalf of the victim (which is why “The People” bring the case against the defendant, and “the people” includes the defendant).

      In civil cases, the plaintiff absolutely controls the litigation. Although lawyers get to make strategic decisions about what evidence to introduce, how to structure the claim, and what witnesses to call, they do not get to pursue your case without your approval. That approval extends to “big picture” strategic decisions, including whether you testify as a witness, what the theory of causation/liability is, and whether you go to trial or not. If a client wants to cut bait and drop the lawsuit, then lawyers are required to honor that request. All that said, bringing a lawsuit certainly transfers everyday decision-making power from the plaintiff/victim to their attorney.

  33. Tammy*

    As someone who was on the receiving end of harassment (both because I’m female and because I check several of the LGBTQIAP* boxes) early in my career, I want to add on the support and also share something about the impact not reporting what happened has had on me.

    The behavior I was subjected to was awful, left me isolated and ashamed and demoralized, and I ended up quitting that job and walking away because I was too afraid of what would happen if I spoke up. That decision, though it was the best one I could make at the time, has left me with lingering feelings of helplessness and regret nearly two decades later. I still find those reflexive pangs of helplessness and fear when I’m alone with men in situations that remind me of the ones I dealt with at that job. I still wonder what would have happened for me had I been able to find the confidence to speak up, and I wonder how many other people were harassed and mistreated by those people because they were emboldened by getting away with it with me.

    I’ve seen sexual harassment investigations (both well-managed and mismanaged) now that I’m in a leadership role, and OP, I know this is hard for you. I know it may well be rocky for a while. You may even end up deciding to leave the job anyway. But you’re doing the right thing, your company is mostly going about this the right way, and you don’t owe the people that are doing these things your silence and your compliance. And you’re not getting them in trouble; they’re reaping the natural consequences of their behavior. If they don’t want to get in trouble for being sexist jerks, they should maybe try not being sexist jerks. Victim-blaming is never right, and we shouldn’t do it to ourselves any more than we should allow others to do it to us.

    You’re doing the right thing, OP, and you’re not alone. The younger me who wishes she’d had the guts to stand up like you’re doing applauds you.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      You are so right about how our own failure to stand up for ourselves will eat at us decades later. It’s a huge deal. This ties into why childhood abuse forever shapes us also, that helplessness/fear/lack of power is something we never forget. It’s similar feelings that adults can experience with workplace issues.

      Take back your power, OP, and keep it for the rest of your days.

  34. Nea*

    OP, I’m going to ask the callous question. You’re already crying, humiliated, professionally stifled, and wondering if you have to quit this job. Just how much worse can it get? I know that this job has taught you that you’re going to be on the wrong end of anything that happens, but the truth is that THEY are responsible for the consequences of THEIR actions; you are not responsible for “getting” them in trouble.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been pulled into work investigations on other matters. It was very much “What did you see on the afternoon of Tuesday the 12th?” and emphatically not “Gal Friday was whining about Spencer Tracy, who do you think we should believe?”

    1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      Yes, this. OP, I totally understand that you feel like what should have been minor event has turned into a Big Thing, but you are sobbing in the bathroom and considering quitting. There’s no comfortable way back to status quo here, and I’m willing to bet at least some of your fears are because right now, you know what bad behaviour you’re going to be subjected to, but if your team is investigated, that behaviour might change into some new badness. (Which would also be reportable)

      A seminar will do nothing at this stage – the guys freezing you out/making comments/etc. are not going to have an epiphany that their behavior is unacceptable based on some corporate-speak powerpoint. I’m really sorry you’re in this spot, and I hope the company investigation gets your sexist co-workers to knock it off.

    2. MommyMD*

      Yes. Work investigations are pretty cut and dry and mainly are to determine if you witnessed anything that could be significant. It’s not “Sandra from Accounting says you are sexually harassing her!”

  35. Girasol*

    If a person has been cornered behind the watercooler and groped, then that person should go to HR even though someone may be fired. But this is a different situation, the sort of everyday sexist microaggression that absolutely should not exist but does in so many companies. It piles up every day until it’s really unbearable but it’s many small things, not a single reprehensible incident that simply must be addressed. What I have seen from such in the past is that HR will decide that all the men of the organization all need training in how to behave appropriately. But the training annoys and belittles them. They say what they have to say to pass the class, talk about it afterward, and agree that they’ve been scolded over doing nothing wrong at all just to pacify some fragile female. They figure out (correctly or not) which woman was the cause of all this politically correct nonsense and then she’s a target of passive aggressive backlash – more microaggressions too small to be considered punishable retribution. It’s not fair to her. It’s insult added to injury. But for that reason I have to disagree with folks here and say that for sexist microaggressions – the stuff that’s smaller than groping or provable salary discrimination – a woman has better odds of satisfaction in leaving than in speaking to HR. Real change will happen when they can prove with statistics that the company is losing money because it’s leaking smart capable women, but those women have to give up their hope of seeing it.

    1. beanie beans*

      Satisfaction in leaving? There is no satisfaction in leaving, especially if it just means going to another male-dominated company if she’s in a field of mostly men.

      I get what you’re saying I just really disagree. Long term minor sexism is just as illegal in terms of sexual harassment.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Yeah, it really doesn’t help to leave. If you are the only woman out of 10, chances are that most other companies in your industry will also be male-dominated, which means you’ll just run into the same thing again.

        1. blackcat*

          I don’t know. My experience in male-dominated fields is that if 10% of the workers are women, they’ll be concentrated in particular companies. So you’ll see some that have 0-5% female workers and others at 15-25%

          And as a woman in a male-dominated environment, I take it as a BIG RED FLAG if I don’t see other women in similar positions. I’ve had more than one friend end up being the only woman in a large department in academia and outside of it, and it has always gone badly. Being one of two or three women tends to be fine, and the OP can look for other employers that have a larger percentage of women in equivalent roles.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      I couldn’t possibly disagree with you more.

      First off, calling these “microaggressions” really downplays how serious they are. These aren’t microaggressions – these are actions that constitute an ILLEGAL hostile environment. And just because you have seen things play out this way doesn’t make it true for everyone. I’ve seen these things handled really well – much more than simple sensitivity training.

      Encouraging women to find new jobs rather than confront these issues won’t fix it. Companies don’t always connect this to their bottom lines. There are laws in place because companies can’t be trusted to do the right thing based on the bottom line alone.

    3. Still Another Alison*

      Girasol brings up some very, in my experience, valid points. Microaggression can take many subtle and seemingly innocent forms – such as 1. They don’t get back to you on your requests for information in a timely manner. 2. Subtle negative facial expressions when told they will be working with you 3. “Forgetting” to include you on an email that you would otherwise receive – example – department meeting. All of these little things, individually, do not mean much but several in a day will start to wear on you. This is very difficult for HR to monitor.

      I work with a male dominated company in a male dominated field and I am female. Currently, my manager is a man and has been fantastic. But, he is known to strictly reward performance – independent of genitals. I have never seen him tolerate any nastiness against women and I work with him closely. Sometimes it is very sad that I have to realize how lucky I am – and emails like the OP’s make me realize this. Until, and I speak for the US, women in this country are truly viewed as just as valuable in the workforce as men – we will have issues like this. In my opinion, this has roots in the lack of respect some men have for women fueled, in part, by upbringing and influenced heavily by religion.

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      No. Just… no.

      Women should not have to put up with sexist microaggressions to protect men’s feelings. Men need to learn that their behavior is wrong and will not be tolerated. If men go through a sensitivity training and come out of it more determined to act inappropriately, then the company needs to do more.

      The fact that it is 2017 and we are still having these discussions depresses me.

      1. Lee*

        I think you are painting all men with a very broad brush, speaking of “sexist microaggressions”… ;)

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think Lee was joking, but then people started responding as if it were a serious statement. Sometimes I think it would be helpful to have a “/sarcasm” tag.

    5. Awkward Interviewee*

      So you’re saying that unless she’s being groped, a woman’s options should be to either take it, or leave their job? No. That’s not ok. I was sexually harassed by one person at OldJob (but not to the point of being groped!) but it was otherwise a great job – exactly what I wanted to be doing careerwise, great coworkers besides this guy, etc. I wasn’t going to let this one jerk derail my career. That’s incredibly unfair.

      1. AJHall*

        I’ve also been told about groping “Take it or leave the job.” By a gay man, who claimed (without any evidence whatsoever, incidentally) that I’d have had no problem with tolerating the harassment if the groper had been groping men.
        Reader, I left the job.

    6. Shadow*

      Wrong. Real change happens when someone with a brain realizes that no one should be made to feel uncomfortable at work.

    7. Natalie*

      Real change will happen when they can prove with statistics that the company is losing money because it’s leaking smart capable women, but those women have to give up their hope of seeing it.

      This isn’t a thing. It’s a hard-to-impossible thing to “prove with statistics”, for one, and companies don’t find things if they don’t look, for two. And it’s a faulty assumption, IMO, will drop biased attitudes if they find out unequivocally that they’re losing money, or that they even can drop those attitudes so easily.

      The changes that have been made in the last few decades largely came about because of the concerted efforts of women & POC to force those changes to happen.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        Exactly. Women (and people of color) are constantly leaving large law firms because of pervasive sexism. As of this year, about 45% of first-year associates are female, but make up less than 20% of equity partners. Even at firms known to be good for women, women are sidelined on the way to making partner, especially if they have children, and have to put up with all sorts of “micro-aggressions”. Women end up being shifted to staff attorney positions or leaving for government positions. Common knowledge is that women “self select” out of the high pressure environment because they’re not cut out for it, or because they value “work life balance”, not that law firms need to make real changes to address systemic sexism so as not to lose all those smart, capable women.

        1. AJHall*

          Preach it, sister. And recruitment in law costs a bomb, and yet somehow the firms seem more willing to pay out 15% of starting salary to headhunters year in, year out than gather together the moral courage to say, “Keep your grubby mitts to yourself, Charlie” to the head of litigation.

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        It also doesn’t apply specifically in this context. 10 employees—9 men, 1 woman. If the 1 woman leaves, and they replace her with 1 man, is the company going to all of a sudden lose money?

        1. AJHall*

          Not until the next big tender comes in from a firm with a female CEO and she looks at the profile and says, “What? Really? 2017? No way am I having those dinosaurs on my project.”

          Which depends on there being customers with female CEOs, of course. But it does happen, from time to time.

    8. Kate*

      From what the LW said, it isn’t just comments and jokes, they are actually treating her differently, which sounds like it is spilling over into work, and to take a “what’s in it for the company” angle, could damage how the company is run in the short term, and end the company in the long run.

      So I think LW should, as Alison and others have said, go through with the investigation, for herself, for all the women after her, and for the company.

    9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      No. Just full on, no. This is not how any of this works.

      I’m sorry that you’ve apparently worked at businesses that adopted this mindset, but what you’re describing is not normal and is not the conduct of a functional, competent HR department or organization.

      First, you don’t know that these are microaggressions, and it is ridiculous to suggest that anything “smaller” than “groping or provable salary discrimination” is somehow not complaint-worthy. There are literally hundreds of cases about the illegality of conduct that you’ve wrongly described as “microaggressions,” and those lawsuits have materially changed work conditions—for the better—for women.

      Second, what does it even mean that women will be better “satisfied” by leaving a profession? Are you seriously arguing that it’s ok for sexist industries to stay sexist because no one has proven “with statistics” that discrimination is bad for business? There are dozens of studies that do exactly that, but even if there weren’t, this argument is exactly why sexism persists in the workplace.

      Smart, capable women should not “give up hope” of “real change” occurring. They shouldn’t have to subject themselves to hostile environments, but they also shouldn’t suck it up and resign themselves to the fate you’re describing. Again, I’m sorry this has been your experience, but it’s not an accurate or fair reflection of workplace standards.

      1. AJHall*

        I read Girasol’s comment as despair, not advice. And regrettably I share that despair. I keep fighting because that’s all one can do, but the bulk of the evidence is behind Girasol’s main point which is not, I believe, that nothing short of “groping or provable salary discrimination” is complaint-worthy, but that nothing short of that will be treated by the organsiation in questionas complaint-worthy. As Girasol says, the resentment of the men in the case is unlikely to lead to a change in attitude on their part. I feel desperately sorry for OP because I’ve been OP on so many prior occasions over the last thirty years. And despite the lawsuits so little has changed.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          That’s a much kinder and compassionate reading than mine. I apologize; the constant barrage of “don’t complain; it makes it worse,” really bothers me, and it bothers me in exactly the same way that I get upset when people discourage women from reporting abuse/assault. Your post was a really helpful reminder to breathe and take a step back. There are absolutely valid reasons not to report, including the futility of making a report to an employer who is really really shitty about how they handle discrimination complaints. And it’s true that there are employers who treat anything less than a grope as the complainant’s problem or will try to isolate and push out the complainant.

          My concern is that OP and other women may read these comments and think, “Wow, there are no good employers. They will all try to ruin me if I bring up this issue that’s causing me direct, constant harm.” We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do to make workplaces safe and inclusive. But it’s really important for people who are in your situation, or Girasol’s, or Kat’s, to know that your employers are not the norm, that there are places where complaining will not harm you professionally, and that there have been concrete changes, even if those changes have not yet brought us to gender equity.

    1. SansaStark*

      Who may not have the standing, years of experience, or confidence in herself to be brave like you are.

  36. Anonymousaurus Rex*

    A similar situation happened to my partner. She had the same concerns–being friends with many of the harassers but at the same time deeply uneasy at times with the sexist environment.

    She was part of a mostly male sales team–so not the only woman, but one of 3-4 out of 20 or so. She first requested from her (female) manager to move her desk away from some of the worst offenders (who were doing things like watching porn at work and comparing my partner’s body to those in the film). Her manager brushed it off and refused to move her–though to be fair my partner was so embarrassed she didn’t fully explain how bad the situation was, just that she was really uncomfortable with the sexist environment. Eventually she plucked up the courage to go to HR– their reaction was swift with a full investigation. Six people on the team were fired, plus her manager who didn’t report the issue earlier. Several more people were reprimanded.

    Unfortunately, after the investigation it was really hard for my partner, since there was a strong sense of loyalty among some of the team to the fired teammates. Two people expected of being the reporters (not my partner) had their tires slashed in the parking lot. My partner wasn’t outed as the person who reported the situation, but she was so stressed about it that she ended up quitting about a month after the investigation closed. It’s really hard, because she did the right thing, and still felt like she lost her job over it.

    However–eighteen months later she was actually rehired by the same department at the same company for a seasonal position. At that point there had been a lot of turnover and the environment had stabilized into a place that she could work more-or-less happily and she plans to go back for this year’s seasonal position again. So all in all, happy ending?

    1. Observer*

      How did the company not immediately find and fire the perpetrators of the tire slashing?! Talk about illegal retaliation!

      1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        Nobody could “prove” that the tire slashing was related to the reported harassment, or that it was an employee at the company that did the tire slashing at all. Apparently it “could have been” someone just passing through the parking lot. Not an argument that holds much water to me, but that was their rationale.

        1. Observer*

          Proximity in time is a pretty good indicator in this type of case. And, in any case, it doesn’t matter why it was done – how do you keep on a person who slashes tires for ANY reason.

          Did the company not have any security cameras?

          1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

            No cameras in the parking lot, unfortunately. They never figured out who did the tire slashing.

      2. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        Well, they said they couldn’t “prove” that the tire slashing had anything to do with the reported harassment or even figure out who was responsible–apparently it “could have been” someone just passing through the parking lot. I think it was pretty egregious, but apparently the company didn’t think so. (I also thought my partner had a pretty good case for a lawsuit and lots of documentation, but she really didn’t want to pursue it after all the emotional damage the whole situation caused. She just wanted to move on.)

  37. ZenCat*

    Also another voice of I’m so sorry, and also glad they are handling this. Not only is it the right treatment and shows a commitment to their staff it also saves them money and reputation – you could have gone to the EEOC I imagine and that isn’t exactly a good time for them. As someone who has worked in an environment consistently subject to hearing horrible comments all day I’m so thankful someone listened. I told my bosses and other managers and asked specifically not for HR to be involved and when my supervisor went to talk to them anyway they chose no corrective action. I was too scared to push for something formal – I ended up confronting someone in the way you’d mentioned you had thought about – a personal conversation with the person (the only reason I said anything was I was terrified because they were becoming my boss the following week). I was fired a few short days after and they ended up awarding this person employee of the year that same year. I had to listen to her imply I was a pedophile, disgusting, promiscuous in speech and action – I kept secret a year that I was gay (and she and many on my team either listened idly, shrugged the person off, agreed, discussed it, or didn’t care) finally had to tell this person I was gay – out of fear they’d find out later and I desperately wanted my job to be safe. The conversation was civil – and like I said, I was gone. I’d wished more than anything I’d gone through that process you’re going through while at work and with HR and not living in fear every and shame every day. You should NOT and do NOT deserve to be uncomfortable for being you or a woman. I hope you can get support through this.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Your coworker *spread rumors that you were a pedophile*? Because you’re gay? And the company fired you and awarded her employee of the year?

      Oh my God. That is horrible, and I’m so sorry that happened to you. Your former coworker and your former company are garbage.

      1. ZenCat*

        Noooo no – they talked about gay people in general as pedophiles. Thankfully, they DID NOT know until I told them directly. Had that happened I’d probably have been fired for throwing punches!

        1. Lee*

          Can’t pedophiles be gay or straight? -did no one ask this question? I’m just confused.
          Also, she implied you were a pedophile and promiscuous because you came out to her, and then fired you?!
          Ugh, to that whole situation. I’d leave them a very honest glassdoor review and try to forget that place!

          1. Jules the Third*

            No, she said ‘gay people are pedophiles’ in front of ZenCat. She didn’t know he was gay, but his statement is accurate – saying ‘gay people are pedophiles’ implies that that gay person you don’t know is gay is a pedophile. When he did confront her and explain, he was fired the next day.

            This is why it’s important that sexual orientation be a protected class, and why it’s exciting that the US courts are consistently deciding that ‘sex’ covers both gender and sexual orientation.

            So sucktastic, ZenCat, I hope you landed in a better place, all feet down.

  38. AdAgencyChick*

    OP, you say you’d prefer a generalized workplace harassment training to an investigation.

    I can almost guarantee that a generalized training session would change nothing. If people aren’t called out individually (hopefully in private) on what exactly it is they need to stop doing, they usually react to these training programs as being about somebody else. This is a truism that isn’t just about sexual harassment. Jane who’s always five minutes late to work will hear a generalized “everyone needs to be in at 8:30 sharp!” as “oh, they don’t mean ME, they mean Sally in accounting.” But I think it goes even more for harassment training, because a lot of employees view it as something the company is doing to check off some legal boxes, not because the company is serious about people learning something from the training.

    1. Cobol*

      The issue OP describes either is, or is very similar, to tech. A lot of the employees come from countries with different norms, so harassment training can actually have a significant effect (if treated seriously by the company).

  39. Tuxedo Cat*

    I totally get why you’re worried. I’m a woman as well, and I’m a person of color, not high ranked, etc. Speaking up is really challenging and frightening. It’s something I do in a bunch of different situations and have for many, many years but it’s still scary and worrisome for me.

    What was happening to you was wrong, and it was not just atypical but also unhealthy. I’m glad you spoke up but I understand why you feel the way you do now that HR is involved. The only thing I have to add is if you don’t have a group of professional colleagues who will support you and serve as a sympathetic ear, I would suggest you find one soon. It’s unclear where you are in your career, but I have found having some folks who are Team Tuxedo Cat in my life are so useful. I’m just really getting started, but I’ve relied on them and they have so important for my own well-being and helping me sort through what’s happening. These people who are on your team can professional friends, mentors, your regular regulars…

    Good luck.

  40. Natalie*

    OP, can you get some support for yourself during this investigation? A counselor, a support group, a good friend that’s willing to be an Active Listening ear, something like that? You’re already in a tough place and having a hard time, and it’s not going to get better overnight.

  41. jv*

    You should reconsider your friendships with those that demean and embarrass you at work. They don’t seem like friends to me. Friends will support you and love you no matter what. They don’t mock you or put you in a difficult position.

    Hope everything works out for you. Stay strong and keep your head up while you follow what’s needed to complete the investigation. It’s tough but more women need to start speaking out. Just think of it as you pioneering women’s rights and equality in the workplace – you’re brave and you can get through this! The more we show that this is unacceptable, the less it will happen.

    Thank you!

  42. Jeanne*

    Please get yourself a therapist to talk to through this. You have done the right thing but of course you are having complicated feelings about the whole thing. You need a place where you can let out all those feelings and get advice without judgment. I have had to fight against a bad boss (not the same situation at all but still a difficult work situation). HR wasn’t there to help with my emotions. My therapist made all the difference. Please take care of yourself. That is more important than any hurt feelings from your coworkers.

  43. amy*

    Eh…no, that’s not quite right.

    An HR harassment policy worth anything will go to great lengths to protect the complainant from exactly the sorts of things she’s legitimately afraid of. The fact that they are not doing this signals that they are indeed there to protect the company, not the employee, and this is precisely why most women do not report harassment.

    What she needs is not counseling for her impending victimization at the hands of HR, but a feminist legal consulting group with experience in these matters to negotiate for her and guide the company — either pro-bono or at its expense.

    This is also a demonstration of why any company that’s serious about dealing with harassment equitably will hire such consultants *before* problems like this turn up. It’s also something to inquire about wherever you work, and to advocate for. And if you meet resistance along the “we don’t need that, we have this set of rules that came in a box” line, you’ll know that this is a place that (a) is much more interested in CYA than in protecting female employees’ careers; (b) will ditch any investigation as soon as it’s satisfied it’s in the clear legally; (c) is run by people who don’t actually care much to know about either harassment or the realities of women’s work lives.

    I’ve had long and enlightening conversations about these things with women’s-center employees called in to do harassment/bias training. Until this stuff get straightened out — well, I’ll put it this way. If you’re a man, and you’re behaving like this and making excuses to yourself about how it’s just jokes, and you’re a good guy, and it’s not serious, and women need to lighten up or do better in myriad ill-defined ways, you should know that if you’re disabled or die, there will be dozens of women who hear the news and think, “Good.” Because it is serious and you’re not a good guy.

    1. TootsNYC*

      do we know yet whether they plan to deliberately reveal who made the complaints, or the specificity of them?

      Of course, she’s the only woman, so it’ll be obvious–but I do agree with someone upstream who suggested she press the HR folks to approach it as a “checking in” kind of thing where they can.

  44. a Gen X manager*

    OP – you’re so courageous! Bravo for not just running away to another job! This kind of culture proliferates when other people in your shoes are cowards and run away rather than addressing the problem.

    Best to you, OP!

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This is a very victim-blaming statement. I don’t think you intended it to come across that way, but there are completely valid reasons why some people are not able to come forward.

    2. amy*

      Seriously, some thought, next time.
      A fun thought experiment for you: other than cowardice, why do you figure women might not report and fight the problem? Genuinely curious about what you come up with, here.

    3. Sylvia*

      Hi, I’ve been repeatedly sexually harassed. It happened in school, not at work. I didn’t let it go unreported because I’m a coward. I didn’t report it because I had no proof that anything happened.

      Besides that, administrators watched it happen and did nothing. In some workplaces, people watch it happen and do nothing, apparently like some people OP works with. Why report the behavior when it already has the tacit approval of those you would report it to?

    4. meat lord*

      “This kind of culture proliferates when other people in your shoes are cowards”–Ugh, hold it right there. Way to victim-blame, dude.

      There are a number of quite legitimate reasons that women do not come forward about workplace misogyny. OP is courageous, but that doesn’t make other women cowardly.

  45. Susan*

    I remember hearing about a guy who worked in a horrible workplace. The boss treated every employee poorly except him. One worker asked why, and the man said, “On my first day on the job, the owner tried to shoot me down with his nasty remarks, I told him, ‘don’t you ever talk to me like that,’ and it never happened again. You have to set your boundaries immediately and let bullies know you won’t tolerate that type of behavior.”

    The teachable moment here is this. The FIRST time anyone makes disparaging or unacceptable remarks should be told to their face, “That is not cool, and don’t you ever talk to me like that.” Then if it continues, by all means file a complaint. But going to HR after it’s been happening for 2.5 months without first telling the offenders to knock it off is going to be an issue. At some point the person offended is going to have to learn to stand up for herself, or the harassment will continue.

    1. neeko*

      What the hell is up with this victim blaming? Not everyone is in the position where they can “stand up to bullies” without the fear of harsh repercussions.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I am very sad for our society between that and the comments saying that we just need to suck it up and deal with sexism.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m beginning to believe people live on different planets.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          This post is making me so sad. I think I’m going home and having ice cream for dinner.

          1. Jules the Third*


            If it helps any, my employer (fortune 100) is really serious about diversity and no harassment. They work hard with annual training, including discussion of microagressions, and that’s just for employees. I am pretty sure managers get much more training. There’s also a lot of alternate channels for reporting – four, depending on how high you want to go.

            I’m sure there are pockets that I don’t know about, but I’ve been in multiple teams over the last 15 years, and the rare cases of unprofessionalism were never sex or race based, at least.

      3. Tuxedo Cat*

        Having stood up for myself multiple times, this is very true. I don’t regret it, but I also think it has hurt me professionally a bit.

        Depending on what identities someone has (gender, race, sexuality, etc.), standing up to “bullies” is not easy to put it mildly.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      No. The harassment is wrong regardless of whether or not she says anything directly to stop it. Period.

      As I said above – they know this is wrong. Ignorance is really no excuse. A direct warning to them is NICE, but it’s certainly not required and they are not entitled to it. Their behavior is wrong, and it’s wrong even if OP never said anything to them.

    3. Michael*

      Thank you for having the courage to say what really shouldn’t be controversial. My heart aches for the people stuck in jobs where their managers teach them that speaking up is blaming themselves.

    4. RVA Cat*

      That kind of sounds like the advice to beat someone up on your first day in prison…. Which says everything you need to know about that particular workplace.

  46. Kat*

    This is why I would never report sexual harassment (or anything!) to HR and would caution other people not to as well. I can’t think of a single circumstance where being the subject of an investigation would not make the work environment even worse than just the harassment alone! I was told by a former CEO (in a mandatory sexual harassment training so HR confirmed this by not disagreeing) that the true goal of these investigations is to protect the company’s reputation so they will be trying to disprove the harassment and that the best way to do that is by discrediting the person who reports. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is just something we sometimes have to live with if we want to maintain our professional reputations and contacts.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow, that is very much not a normal thing. The true goal may be to protect the company legally, but the discrediting part? Very much not the usual case at all. And really, that’s a strategy that will backfire hard on companies that have it eventually. Companies don’t protect their reputations by never having a single legitimate harassment complaint; they protect their reputations by handling them responsibly and thoroughly when they do.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Unfortunately, sexual harassment is just something we sometimes have to live with if we want to maintain our professional reputations and contacts.

      This is a terrible thing to say. We do not have to live with sexual harassment nor should anyone expect us to. There are plenty of decent men in the world who do not sexually harass women. We should absolutely be holding all of them to that standard.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Then you have worked with truly abnormal people and a poorly functioning HR department, which is not uncommon, but also is not the majority experience across all industries. The purpose of an investigation is not to retraumatize the victim or discredit them, and in functional workplaces, the investigation usually results in a tangible change/remediation of the harassment that the complainant experienced.

      Sexual harassment is not “something we sometimes have to live with if we want to maintain our professional reputations and contacts,” and we should not discourage women from reporting harassment by suggesting that asking a company to abide by the law and to provide a safe workplace is damaging to one’s professional reputation. I’m sorry that that’s been your experience.

      1. Kat*

        I think that even if a company doesn’t outright admit that its what they’re trying to do, if you report you’re going to make you’re life even more miserable – which is what the OP is experiencing. Just not worth it.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Wow. That can certainly be your opinion, but it’s not a fact, and it’s not supported by evidence.

          Look, I sue and counsel companies on employment discrimination fairly frequently, so I get how badly companies botch this stuff and I’ve seen really terrible cases (like people raped on the job bad). But it’s empirically incorrect to say that reporting “makes your life even more miserable” and that companies are all secretly out to screw over women but are just “hiding” that that’s their true agenda. I’ll say it again—lots of HR departments and employers want to do the right thing and root out bad behavior. So far, it sounds like OP is contracted to a company that falls in the “do the right thing” bucket.

          You can decide that dealing with an investigation is too high an emotional cost for you and that you’d rather deal with persistent discrimination that results in you feeling demoralized, disempowered and crying in the restroom for extended periods of time. But OP decided that she wasn’t able to sustain working in that kind of environment, and now she’s asking for advice on how to deal with it. Telling her it’s “not worth it” and then suggesting that most companies “investigate” complaints to screw you over is really harmful and not an accurate reflection of the general employment market or the standard practices (nevermind best practices) of functional employers.

        2. Tuxedo Cat*

          It may be worth it to the OP.

          I’ve faced racism, sexism, and some other truly messed up -isms and other messed up behaviors in the workplace. It is scary and I had moments where I regretted saying things. Unfortunately, nothing I reported made a difference. It probably has hurt my career because some of these situations involved powerful people. However, I wouldn’t have been happy not saying something. For one situation I am currently in, it has encouraged others who have more power to speak up too and I think they can do some meaningful work in changing some problematic systems. I think it’s going to be a slow process, but I think it can happen now that others know and are working on it.

          That may not be enough for some people, and I can understand that. But it can be for others.

    4. Umvue*

      This is my instinct too. I’m trying to temper that based on the flowering of support here for OP (and it’s not like I don’t think she’s in the right morally, it’s just that I don’t expect she’s going to wind up happier in this job — in her shoes I would absolutely be polishing my resume). I think filing a complaint is an expression of trust that your community, writ broadly, cares about you and people like you. And when the issue is gender-related power dynamics I just have zero faith that this is true. I’m… heartened? chagrined? that I seem to be an outlier in this community on this point. Maybe I’ve read too many horror stories from women in tech or something, I dunno.

      1. Jules the Third*

        Like I said above, my fortune 100 (and tech, no less) employer is pretty serious about diversity and non-discrimination. Annual training that’s pretty good for all employees, I’m pretty sure they have a different and more extensive one for managers, 4 different routes for reporting depending on how high you want to go, including one that’s anonymous. I can’t speak for every corner being free of sexism / racism / other discrimination, but I am really confident that a report would be handled promptly, with a goal of stopping the discrimination.

        I also know people at Red Hat, who say it’s a good place for women, though one *just* had a vendor pull a ‘hey, guy who didn’t have the idea, I like your idea!’

        I do also know a lot of women in tech who face regular, daily sexism, so you’re not wrong, I’m just trying to point out some hopeful spots. If management cares and prioritizes non-discrimination, it can happen.

        FWIW, my impression of the ‘Best places for xxxx to work’ is that the lists are pretty accurate.

        1. Umvue*

          Thanks, this is truly helpful. I imagine the outrageous cases get more air time than the cases where the process actually works for people. I should say I’ve faced very little overt sexism myself in the workplace, and nothing consequential that I know about. I’m merely reflecting what I’ve heard from others. But I’m glad to know there are places that do it well.

    5. Observer*

      I think any competent employment lawyer would probably somewhat agree with “investigate to protect the company” but would profoundly disagree with the “trying to disprove the harassment” and “the best way is by discrediting the person who reports.”

      So, by the way would any competent HR professional. Of course, there are plenty of incompetent people out there, and too many CEO who are jerks. But, claiming that investigation = “attempt to discredit the victim” is just not right.

  47. Employment Lawyer*

    This is how it works. You report; they investigate. It is what it is.

    You may not like it. Sadly, sometimes people are happier leaving because of the intangible losses from causing a fuss. But you had the right to report it and you should stand tall.

    If you have ANY questions, see a lawyer ASAP.

  48. Addison*

    Hi OP! I’m the letter-writer behind the “Rude Clerk” saga. I totally know what you’re going through with this; my situation was very similar, only my office is predominantly staffed by women so I wasn’t completely isolated. Short version: this guy was someone I worked with constantly and could not get away from, was verbally abusive/sexist to me, meetings with our mutual supervisor went nowhere, had to escalate it to HR. This guy was also the son of a long-time exec here so that made it complicated.

    Honestly? It is really nerve-wracking when you have to bring these things out to light. Unfortunately, my workplace didn’t perform any kind of investigation into my claims — they tried to coach me/us into communicating better with each other first, but I don’t think that approach will work as well in your case (and even if it would, it’s a little bit late now). There is a certain amount of pain that comes with this, like pulling a sticky barb from your skin. I know it’s stressful and Alison is right, there may be changes to relationships/dynamics in your workplace afterward. But she’s also right that they are legally obligated to be thorough with this and once all is said and done, I think you’ll be glad that they did (especially as opposed to… didn’t). Hopefully this will lead to the kind of dialogue that needs to happen, whether it’s between offenders and their supervisors, or you and whomever, and eventually resolution of the issue.

    When you are feeling this pressured and mistreated in your workplace, it’s really unacceptable to let it continue. I did, for a couple of years, and I… well, anyone who’s seen my updates on those letters know how well that went (basically: not good). So I’m really glad you were able to raise the issue with someone sooner than that, before it got any more out of hand! Just remember that there is absolutely no excuse for this to continue. I know you said you like your job (I love mine too!), and we do all need a paycheck, but you should never make yourself beholden to a place that doesn’t treat you right. It sounds like they’re trying to do the right thing, so that’s good. Please try to hang in there, and absolutely do continue to communicate any other problems that come up while this plays out (I have a hopeful feeling that nothing will, based on how seriously HR seems to be taking this, but you never know). In the meantime, I think the best thing would be to carry on as usual and try not to “act weird” around people who may be involved/keep a professional head on your shoulders, and de-stress as much as you can when you’re off the clock. Try to practice assertive communication whenever you can, too.

    Hope this resolves soon! Wishing you all the best.

  49. Mb13*

    Letter writer these people made you cry on what sounded like a regular bases. This investigation isn’t a punishment for them but a necessary step in making sure their behavior stops. It’s a legitimate concern about how other people react so here are some script for different situations. If someone who you have been friendly with comes up and asks why you didn’t talk to him directly you can respond by saying “honestly I didn’t feel safe or supported coming to talk to you about this things. I am sorry things have come this way and I hope that in the future we can both keep a professional and friendly manner”. If someone comes up to you and says “well this was how we always talked, why don’t you have a thick skin, can’t you handle a joke?” You can say “this might have seemed like a joke but it was actually really hurtful to me. As professionals we need to be able to work together as a team in a way that’s polite and work appropriate. Now that we got this cleared up I am sure that we can keep a professional relationship in the future”

  50. ephemia*

    I really feel for you, O.P., and I hope that this all works out for the best, and that no one you work with makes this any more difficult than it already is. As some background, I know someone who was sexually harassed by a superior; she reported it to HR, and they investigated, things were done by the book, and she was never officially retaliated against. But managers and employees heard about it (not from her), and most definitely took the superior’s side, and her life at her job was made miserable until she finally transferred to another office (on her last day, no manager acknowledged her accomplishments or that she was leaving, and she’d been there for years – they appeared happy to see her gone). The only comfort she has, and the only reason she even reported it, is that maybe someday, another person will report this same person, and he’ll eventually get fired? (it’s a very small comfort.) So what I’m saying is, this might get difficult, but in a different way than you’ve already experienced. I really hope it doesn’t. There aren’t really any easy answers here, except you don’t deserve to work in a place where you are sexually harassed.

  51. Emmylou*

    I have a question: I’m in a really similar situation to the OP right now, and I’m really wanting to leave and find a new position.

    My concern is that future companies will wonder why I left my position without another one lined up. I worry that leaving this workplace would be best for my mental health but potentially damaging to my career.

    Where does OP find the balance between career (meaning staying in the job and prioritizing her resume) and emotional wellbeing (which might mean getting the hell out of dodge)? Do these kinds of things really follow you around forever?

    Also: sending solidary vibes your way, OP. I’m going through the same thing, it’s awful, and most of all, isolating. You’re not alone.

    1. Jules the Third*

      From reading lots of AAM, it seems that the whole picture is what really matters. How long you were at the sucky job and did you have a short-term employment term right before that? Some ‘finding your place’ is expected, but a series of short term jobs implies that you may not stay with the new job either. My impression of advice from here is that it breaks down like:
      * Under 1 year, two or three jobs in a row, is a red flag for hiring managers. Try to find someplace to get through at least three years.
      * 1 – 2 years, 3 or 4 jobs in a row, yellow flag, try to find someplace to get through at least three years. Unless you are early in your career, and it was your first three jobs out of college.
      * 1 – 2 years, 2 jobs in a row, then 3+ years at a job: pretty normal

      When talking about why you left, there’s a ton of good scripts in the AAM archives, but a lot depends on your length of employment. If you were in the same position for over 3 years, you have an easy script: ‘looking for growth opportunities’. Under 1 year, for 1 job, you can use ‘not a good fit’ but you should try to have an example that doesn’t disparage your old company. 1 – 3 years, I’ve seen things like, ‘the requirements of the job changed into areas that are not my area of interest’ and ‘I developed a strong interest in Job Role X, which wasn’t available in the old role, but which is available in your position!’

      As to why quitting without new employment, *maybe* ‘I wanted to job search full time’ or ‘work hours meant there was no opportunity to hunt while still employed’, but my impression is that hiring managers care more about why you left than the timing.

      Good luck, and AAM has some great resume and interviewing tips…

  52. James Joyce*

    Hi OP,

    I never comment on this site, but I felt the need to when I read this post.
    None of this is your fault. It is actually very brave of you to go to HR and put forward the issues you were facing with sexism in the team you were working in. Alison’s advice was very compassionate and kind.
    While it can feel very scary to note that HR is launching a full-scale investigation into the team, it is good that you have brought this out into the open so it can be fully addressed.
    No woman should ever be subject to sexual harassment or sexist treatment in the workplace. It is also not fair to evaluated not in a professional sense, but rather in terms of appearance and gender.
    I hope things work out for you and please send us an update on how things have gone so far.

Comments are closed.