something personal

It’s time to talk about why I left a job in 2010.

I worked for a serial sexual harasser. I was his chief of staff.

He was so good at his job that many, many people looked the other way. He had built the organization himself, personally recruited enough funders for a multi-million dollar budget, and was pretty great at what he did. Like with so many harassers, there was a feeling in a lot of places that his creepy behavior to women was just something to work around because he was so valuable to the organization (and even to the broader movement we worked in).

I had known him for years before coming to work for him, but it wasn’t until I started working for him that I saw that characteristics I had assumed were confined to his personal life showed up at work in really inappropriate ways. He talked about sex a lot. He spoke about women in crude, objectifying terms. And I gradually saw over time that he looked at women who worked for him not just as employees, but also as potential dates.

I talked to him about this many times. I tried to get him to let me implement a sexual harassment policy. He refused, claiming that if we did, people other than him would be in violation of it too. (And that was true — he’d created a culture where he wasn’t the only one who told dirty jokes and talked about sex inappropriately, which was all the more reason to address it.) I talked to him over and over about the impact his behavior had on women. Multiple times I tried to get him to understand why it’s horrible to have your boss assessing you sexually — why it’s awful and unwelcome in a way that’s much worse than with someone who doesn’t have power over you. He was unmoved. I tried to explain the legal and PR jeopardy he was putting the organization in. I got nowhere. Ultimately, he was my boss and I couldn’t make him change.

Meanwhile, I felt that at least my job allowed me to act as a buffer between him and the staff. I felt I could do more good by staying than by leaving, because I was willing to call him on his behavior. In retrospect, this was an error — it’s not possible to stop someone like that, no matter how many angry conversations you’re willing to have.

In the summer of 2009, close to my breaking point, I told him that if I heard one more story about him behaving inappropriately with female employees, I’d quit. This time, he agreed he would stop, and naively, I thought maybe I’d somehow finally gotten through to him.

Less than a month later, he had an encounter with a young, drunk employee after a happy hour that seemed not just gross/creepy but predatory.

What followed were months of turmoil for the organization. Seven employees quit, and all of the organization’s department heads and I called on the board of directors — who he reported to — to remove him from his position.

In response to that, he convinced several of us, including me, that if he was forced out, the funders he’d brought in would leave too, meaning the organization would need to lay off the majority of its staff. This seemed plausible — he’d personally cultivated wealthy donors and had personal relationships with them, while no one else on staff had much contact with them. (The board members too were handpicked contacts of his and, again, were nearly all men who he’d built close relationships with.)

In retrospect, I don’t know if his claim was true. But he was convincing enough that several of us, including me, backed off our recommendation that he be removed because we didn’t want to cause the organization to fold. I’ve regretted that decision for years. I wish I’d made a different call. The people calling for his removal deserved my explicit support, and I failed them by not giving that.

I also want to be up-front that the way I tried to navigate the situation left some people thinking I was being an apologist for him. I never intended that. I had a years-long track record of calling him out on his behavior. But I definitely did make mistakes in trying to figure out how to help the organization and its staff through an awful situation, and some of those mistakes laid me open to understandable criticism. I’ve wished for years that I could have a redo, because there’s a lot I would do differently if I had the chance.

Anyway, the board of directors suspended him for three months, then reinstated him when the three months were up. The morning he returned after being reinstated, I left.

I’ve spent the last near-decade trying to understand why I stayed as long as I did and why I didn’t push harder for him to be removed not just from a position of power, but from any job there at all. I don’t think I could have changed the outcome — it became pretty clear that he and the board were committed to keeping him there — but it would have been the right thing to do.

I’ve asked myself many times whether my earlier friendship with him made it tougher for me to see clearly what was going on. I think it did. I was too willing to believe the best of him, long after the point I should have left.

I know that I was influenced by the fact that I loved my job and I loved the organization — you’re hearing the bad parts, but there were great parts too — and I thought I could do more good by staying than by leaving.

And frankly, I was in over my head. I didn’t have any experience in how to handle a situation like that.

Like a lot of managers, I’d never had any training in handling sexual harassment complaints. I even let him convince me for a time that we’d never had any “official complaints” about his behavior, just because no one had said they were officially complaining. (For the record: That is bullshit. A complaint does not need to come with an “official complaint” label for an organization to be obligated to act on it.)

I also just couldn’t figure out what to do after hitting a wall with his refusal to change. I strongly suspected talking to the board wouldn’t accomplish anything (which was later borne out by their lack of action once they did hear from people), and they were the top of the management line. So I was where I think a lot of people end up — stuck and unsure of what to do.

But the fact that I didn’t leave sooner and do more to expose him publicly on my way out is the biggest regret of my career.

In the years since, I’ve tried to use my platform at Ask a Manager to speak out against harassment and to advocate for women. I hope I’ve built a strong track record here of urging people not to accommodate harassment, to report it, and to take stronger action if their employer doesn’t make things right. That’s very much rooted in my own experiences in an organization where the management above me wouldn’t act.

I haven’t talked publicly about this before now because, honestly, I was scared to. There was an article written about it back in 2010 with lots of inaccuracies, and I didn’t like the thought of stirring that up again. The man at the center of this is also very eager to threaten to sue people who talk about this situation. But with it coming up again now (and, to be up-front, a reporter asking me about it), I want to be straightforward about what happened, and I want you as readers to know that I didn’t get it right then but I’ve been trying to get it right ever since.

Posted in Uncategorized

{ 865 comments… read them below }

    1. WerkingIt*

      Yes, thank you. It is so important that we all talk about these incidents. It can no longer just be “normal” that we have to tolerate inappropriate behavior. At all, but especially at work.

        1. Soon to be former fed*

          Alison, your transparency and honesty is admirable.

          I am glad that in the end, principles won out over pragmatism.

          I am curious how you avoided being this scumbags’ target.

    2. einahpets*

      I came here to do the same — thank you for sharing the story AND for this blog, Alison.

      I am one among many who have found this blog to be formative in my early professional life, and I truly appreciate the lessons I’ve learned here.

      1. Chinook*

        I am another one that appreciates all she has learned hear and admire you for speaking up about this. By explaining your train of thought, you have shown how easy and logical it is to make a decision that turns out wrong and, if I were in your shoes, I probably would have done the same thing. After all, it seems wrong to walk away when you think you have a solution. The fact that it didn’t work speaks volumes of your former boss and not you, especially since you are willing to speak up about it.

    3. M-C*

      Thank you! That was an awful situation, and no wonder you didn’t handle it perfectly.. The rest of us generally didn’t either when put in similar circumstances. It’s good that there’s now a sort of reboot for everyone, and you-have- provided a forum for how to do it better ever since.

    4. Engineer Girl*

      The narrative shows why it is so hard to bring these things forward. It isn’t a black and white choice. The reality is that many stakeholders don’t want to hear the truth as it will upset the apple cart. That makes it harder to speak the truth.

    5. Neon*

      Yes thank you Alison. This is my very first post and I want to say I found your website in 2013 and I read it every week day morning while I have coffee before I go to work. You are fabulous. Keep on doing what you do.

  1. Observer*

    Thank you for posting this. I can imagine that it was hard to write, but I think it’s valuable for people to hear and see it.

    1. Arils*

      I don’t want to create another thread, but I want to echo: I appreciate you sharing this!

      This is a problem we have faced “eyes-wide shut”. Hearing new stories about harassment every day chills me to my core, not because I am surprised, but because so many of us have experienced it and felt helpless, been duped, told we were wrong, etc.

      Thank you for sharing!

  2. Anonymous Poster*

    Thank you for sharing.

    We cannot expect perfection from people, and you’re doing good work in trying to help people at all different stages in their career. Thank you for your hard work and good advice. You prove time and time again that good management and work is separate from our politics, religion, upbringing, or other such factors, but reliant on ourselves and our behaviors.

    Thank you for trying to set things right as best you can.

    1. Jennie*

      Anonymous Poster is absolutely correct. We can’t be perfect. I am so grateful for Allison’s guidance throughout my career. It has made so many situations that are challenging easier to deal with.

    2. Anion*

      Yes, this. No one is perfect. No one always does or says exactly the right thing. And personally, I value advice more highly coming from someone who can say, “I made this mistake. I made that mistake. Now I want to help you not make those mistakes, or I want to help others who might suffer from those same mistakes.” How to deal with harassment is not a random intellectual exercise from you, Alison, it’s something you lived and dealt with and can look back on and share what you learned. I appreciate that.

      I hope you don’t beat yourself up too heavily. You did what you thought was right at the time, what you could do at the time. That’s all anyone can do or ask, even if in retrospect you wish you’d acted differently.

      1. MarHow*

        +1, and to add: Hindsight is often 20/20. It’s so hard to know what to do when you’re in the middle of a situation and not trained/experienced enough to know exactly the right steps (which is why I appreciate the outside perspective your blog provides in so many management issues). I’m glad we’re talking about this more as a society right now, and hope that bringing this problem out in the open – as painful as it may be to go over potential past mistakes in how harassment has been handled – will help it become so much less commonplace. If we don’t talk about it, warts and all, we can’t really hope to fix it.

      2. littlemoose*

        +1 million. Thanks for your insight on this topic, and thanks to Alison for her introspection and insight as well.

  3. Anonymous Nonprofit Employee*

    Thank you for sharing your story. This rings true for me, particularly the feelings that “nothing can/will change” or that someone is too important to hold accountable.

  4. SnowyCold*

    Alison – you did what you could then. Today, with that experience and the backing of your fans, you manage to do so much more and reach a much larger audience, empowering us all.

    Thank you so much for this blog and your insight.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*


      Doing the best we can with the tools we have is the best we can do; then, to repeat a saying, when we know better, we do better.

    1. fposte*

      This is really well condensed, Snark. Yes, even people who aren’t direct targets are often still being oppressed by the behavior, because that’s how the perpetrators want things.

      1. Anonymousysysy*

        As someone currently going through all of the legal channels to do this “the right way”: this. All of this.

        1. Ella*

          I wish I had a sword or a strength potion or something more tangible to offer you than my best wishes, but you have all of those.

          1. Anonymousysysy*

            Thank you. Seeing this community helps a lot. And pictures of puppies and kittens being adorkable.

            1. blackcat*

              Among the many useful things I have learned from Alison is the existence of the TinyKittens live stream. Link to follow.

            2. Cassandra*

              Also try the “henrythecoloradodog” account on Instagram. A dog and his cat buddy have (well-supervised) outdoor adventures with their people.

          1. Froggy*

            And while I don’t have a sword, I’m sure I can provide adorable pictures of puppies and kittens to keep you calm and sane as you deal with the nightmare. Wish you all the best & success.

      2. Snark*

        A lot of this behavior takes on the flavor of decimations, to me. Like, the hardcore historical sense of that word, when every tenth man in a vanquished army was decapitated to break the spirit of the whole nation. We focus on the actual harassment and the victims thereof – rightly and reasonably, of course! – but there’s also the effect that watching the guy at the top behave that way with impunity has on everybody else, like Alison. Really underscores how it’s an excersize of power, not of sexuality. Everyone involved is stripped of their power and agency, whether they’re victims or abettors or just powerless objectors who wish they could have done more.

        1. Karen D*

          Well-said, Snark.

          As for Alison, her credibility and desire to act in an ethical, conscientious fashion shines through every post on this blog. The fact that someone like her was defeated by the toxic scripts society always attached to sexual harassment is just more evidence to support the change we’re seeing now .

          It won’t all be linear, and it will be painful, but in the end society will be safer and healthier. I really believe that.

        2. Working Hypothesis*

          It gets worse, in your analogy and in the modern reality! Because the tenth man in a decimation wasn’t actually decapitated… they were beaten to death **by the other nine**. The ones who didn’t get chosen were forced to gather around and collectively execute the one who did.

          In modern harassment situations, frequently, people like Alison are put in positions where there is nothing they can do which won’t, in some fashion or other, make things worse for the direct victims. It’s not just that they can’t protect them; they can’t do anything which won’t, somehow, harm them… for some of the same reasons why Roman generals occasionally decimated mutinous or cowardly troops: it ensures that they’re so morally confused and self-doubting that they are kept docile and easy to command. It’s really hard to find your own moral center and act from a position of strength when you’ve just been forced to do something terrible, and that inability allows the person in charge to control you more easily overall.

          1. Snark*

            “Because the tenth man in a decimation wasn’t actually decapitated… they were beaten to death **by the other nine**.”

            I didn’t know that, but it’s almost eerie how well that extends and deepens the analogy.

          2. Desdemona*

            @Snark, @Working Hypothesis, holy cow, that’s an apt analogy. It needs to be brought into the vernacular the way the gaslighting was.

      3. Guacamole Bob*


        What stands out to me in all these stories is how often women (and others) have only bad options to choose from. Quit and suffer career consequences and/or leave the women still working there more vulnerable? Stay and be seen as an apologist? Call him out publicly and lose funding so people are laid off? Call him out in private and have nothing change? Remain silent and continue to endure harassment? Be vocal about it and be dismissed and ridiculed, and lose a good reference?

        It’s worth talking about what women and others can do in these situations, but I get a little tired of how people nitpick others reactions and talk about how they should have handled something or what the commentator would have done. Victims have often done enough second-guessing of their own actions and don’t deserve any more piling on.

        Alison, thank you for sharing this, and be gentle with yourself. You did the best you could at the time in a bad situation.

        1. Snark*

          And that’s why I see it as a deliberately (if perhaps unconsciously) stacked deck – if there’s no good options, all that’s left is kissing the ring.

          1. Jesca*

            It really is. I took down an entire place. Literally, took down all of management. Corporate came in and wiped the entire place clean. I was 22 years old. And guess what? I had to leave in the end anyway, because the employees left were just as bad. I found a new job, and the first supervisor I reported followed me there. I begged my new employer, but they did nothing. So there. Two jobs lost because of harassers. I never went back into that industry and it took me two solid years to return to my career path.

            It serves no one to ever judge women on how they react. They don’t have the power to choose anything. It is not even a stacked deck. It is like playing two entirely different games altogether and expecting the one game to follow the other game’s rules.

            1. Snark*

              And, whatever the game, knowing that your opponent can just flip the table and walk away, knowing that they’ll get a cookie and a Capri Sun anyway.

              Snark! For all your metaphor-torturing needs!

            2. GG Two shoes*

              I’m so sorry that happened to you. This culture is pervasive. I can only hope that the current wave makes everyone, men and women, see them for who they are- predators.

            3. Snark*

              “Two jobs lost because of harassers. I never went back into that industry and it took me two solid years to return to my career path.”‘

              This jumped out at me. This is why it’s so fucking hard for “everybody around them to do something.” You paid a HIGH price for being a victim. Not many would have. Hell, if you knew it’d be a two-year setback, would you have? Maybe so, maybe no, but you got hit to the tune of thousands of dollars and years of your career just to do the right thing. The peanut gallery’s self-righteousness never seens to factor that in.

              1. Marley*

                And even if she hadn’t spoken up, the toll of being in that situation may have led to its own form of career setback.

                I’m so sorry you had to deal with that–and I thank you for speaking up.

              2. Jesca*

                I don’t know what I would have done. That is why I don’t judge others I know that I would have either had to quit or do what I did. You would not even BELIEVE me if I told you what all happened and what all went on.

                I do know, though, that experience shaped me for the rest of my life. It affects me to this day. I do not get into long discussions with male coworkers. I grow uncomfortable with prolonged exposure to male colleagues I am not familiar with. I am hyper alert and shut down sexual biased statements when I hear them.

                I may not know how I would have reacted knowing the consequences, but I can tell you that since it happened, I have never stopped fighting. I still fight. I hope this helps people understand though why I slapped people around all the time on here regarding sexual harassment. And why I am never one to say “report”. I can’t consciously tell someone to do that after the consequences I experienced doing just that.

                1. Totally Minnie*

                  Jesca, thank you for laying this out so clearly. And thank you for staying in the fight. I’ve appreciated all of your comments on the sexual harassment threads, and knowing what you had to go through to attain that wisdom makes me respect you even more than I already did.

              3. Mallory Janis Ian*

                The peanut gallery’s clear sight of the right thing to do never factors in that every action by the victim/whistle-blower sets gears spinning that put them right back in a disadvantaged situation and leaves the perpetrator virtually untouched. They come up with a scenario of what they purportedly would have done, pronounce, “There — fixed it for ya!” and never think beyond the smug feeling of satisfaction they evidently get from that sort of interaction.

            4. Holly Weird*

              Yep, I reported someone who had written that they were going to sexually assault me in writing in a chat with other employees on our company server. I often worked until 3am alone with him and there was a risk his threat was real. Management did nothing even when I showed them the evidence from the chat (in fact they asked if I thought the man who wrote it was cute, wtf?!) He and another harasser ended up not only getting my pay cut to a dismal amount in punishment for reporting him, but also spread nasty rumors about me, my morals and my work ethic. I was 20 and didn’t know what to do and ended up quitting and switching industries permanently as well. I think a lot about what I should have done better rather than let them “win”. I’m happy now in an excellent career but the current news cycle has brought up these old memories. I have nothing but sympathy for other women put in this position, you often end up being gaslit and I had to torpedo my career to escape from the harassers but not everyone has the ability to make that choice.

              1. Jesca*

                Oh they tried gaslighting too. Actually the HR guy was very adept at trying to gaslight. I was fortunate to have a direct manager who was all “WTAF” about it all.

                And to ease your mind, there was nothing you could have done. Nothing. I honestly don’t fully believe that corporate would have even done anything if they were also tanking the quality as one of their ways to “punish me”.

                1. Snark*

                  I watched a scenario go down that’s kind of a weird mishmash of your and Holly Weird’s situations, except with racial harassment rather than sexual, and academic rather than professional…..but alike in so many of the dynamics, including the gaslighting and slander.

                2. Holly Weird*

                  Thanks for the comments. I’m sorry for the consequences you have had to face for standing up for what was right. Even though it’s unlikely I’ll ever work with these people again, I have lived in FEAR of Old Job getting called for a reference and wish I had some legal complaint/paper trail to back up the fact I was being retaliated against but just hope my current track record of excellent performance will put that all behind me :) The weirdest part is the shame I feel about that happening to me, I’m starting to be able to talk about it more recently, including the other quid-pro-quo harassment I faced back then, but for a long time I would cover up why I left that job.

          2. Nea*

            I don’t think it’s unconscious. All the harassers being toppled now – they’ve used the same skills to get power in business and power over people. The deck stacking is baked in from the beginning.

            1. Snark*

              I meant unconscious more in the sense that this is just how they instinctively operate, rather than a conscious formation of an explicit strategy 0- “and then, I will make friends with all the board!” *cackle, mustache twirl*

              1. Jesca*

                I understand what you mean. I think some of them truly believe it is there God Given Right. See: Tavis Smiley. That is why they admit to it. Like oh gee golly wiz and here I thought I was sooooo desirable.

                1. LKW*

                  Come on Jesca “How else are you going to meet people?”

                  I’m sorry you had to go through that. You are strong and not to be messed with.

        2. paul*

          And don’t forget, no matter what you do in an ethically challenging situation people *will* absolutely criticize you with the benefit of perfect hindsight and knowledge you didn’t/couldn’t have at the time…and, of course, with absolutely no skin in the game themselves.

          1. Overeducated*

            Yes. I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the context of the civil service right now, and how a lot of high and mid level managers are stuck in the position of trying to minimize damage while carrying out the wishes and policies of leadership that in many cases is trying to sabotage the mission. There is no right answer and it is too easy, from the outside, to blame people for doing too little.

          2. Lissa*

            Yes, and often it seems people like to criticize *more* the people who aren’t directly the perpetrators but didn’t say or do exactly the right thing. Maybe it’s easier.

            1. fposte*

              I think we’re unlikely to imagine ourselves a perpetrator, but we’re highly likely to imagine ourselves the person who stopped one.

        3. Mints*

          It’s typical in toxic workplaces that a few people, like Alison here, have figured out how to work around it and it warps your view of “Who does well here?” It’s not reasonable answers like “technical people” or “collaborative people” it’s “people who don’t mind getting sexually propositioned” or “sexually unavailable people who don’t call out harassment.” That’s not where the bar should be but after years of seeing it, it can be really hard to pull out of that

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            This reminds me of something Alison says often here: that one of the problems with a toxic workplace is that it can seriously throw your sense of normal out of whack, so that the most outrageous things they do may still seem awful, but there’s a whole huge host of only slightly less bad things they do which fly completely under your radar. Like the person who bit someone, and then found out that the entire office kinda shrugged it off, including the person they bit! Because everything else going on there was so messed-up anyway that it just didn’t seem so much weirder or terrible than anybody else’s behavior there.

            Alison, was the workplace you describe in this post the one in your mind when you warn people about that kind of false normalization? I always kind of wondered where you got that particular insight.

        4. Jesca*

          As a woman who at 22 took down an entire culture at an employer (corporate came in and wiped the entire management), I will say wholeheartedly that yes, its a no win. I did eventually have to leave, because the environment was so toxic. Management that participates creates a culture that is almost impossible to get rid of.

          After I left, the first manager I got fired for sexual harassment found out where my new job was and followed me there. I begged them not to hire him. They believed me but said that “had no proof” from the last employer. So I quit. Two jobs lost over one place. It completely derailed my career for years. I did not want to go back to work in that industry, and I never did. I was lucky to pick up similar work in different industries since, but honestly it took me two solid years to even return to the type of work I was doing.

          Never EVER judge how a woman reacts to this situation. They do not have the power to choose. They only have the power to choose which way to suffer.

          1. SunshineOH*

            I’m going to bookmark this and share excerpts every time I see the “Why didn’t she report them?” comments.

            I’m sorry you had to face that, and I thank you for standing up.

        5. LBK*

          Extremely well said. It’s so tough to spot the exact moment of planetary alignment when you can feel confident that more people will be helped than hurt in the short-term – and sadly, that moment often doesn’t come until decades later, as is the case with many of the allegations coming out now. It really speaks to the power of patriarchy that men like this are able to amass such untouchability so consistently.

    2. Tap Tap Jazz*

      Yes. It’s infuriating that there are people who would prefer to use 10 pounds of effort to protect their shittiness, rather than use 5 pounds of effort to be a decent person.

      1. Snark*

        It goes deeper than that, though. I think the 10 pounds of effort is the feature, not the bug. It’s not about groping the drunk new employee, it’s about peeing on a tree. Watching Alison threaten to quit was just as much a desired outcome as getting his hand on an ass. How else does he know he’s king?

        1. Dust Bunny*

          This, exactly. Getting under her skin is as good as getting under her skirt.

          I worked for a lower-grade harasser years ago (I was not his target, and he was hands-off but made a lot of not gross but pretty uncomfortable comments about the prettier girls. I worked for a veterinarian, a discipline that tends to have a lot of middle-aged men supervising a lot of very young women) and that wasn’t enough to drive me out because I needed the job. Never mind worrying about slowing down the trajectory of developed careers, a lot of us cannot afford to lose plain old jobs.

          1. Your Weird Uncle*

            We had one of those at Old Job. He was in his 60s and it was the only place he’d ever worked. I suspect he did some higher-level harassment stuff back in the day when he thought he could get away with it, but by the time I worked there (just before he retired) he would ‘only’ make comments about how much he enjoyed seeing female employees bend over, making comments about how much he liked their bodies, etc.

            The kicker in this situation was that this missing stair guy was also the sexual harassment officer.

            1. Sutemi*

              “The kicker in this situation was that this missing stair guy was also the sexual harassment officer.”

              Just like those who prey on kids will look for opportunities to have authority over them, those that want to harass will look for opportunities to have authority over vulnerable adults.

              1. Your Weird Uncle*

                Yeah, and it was SO well known what a perv/creep this guy was, and the higher-ups just let him go ahead with it? For the most part it was a fairly non-harassey environment (toxic in its own right, but usually just random drama you get from people who have been working together for a long time, not sexually-toxic…in my experience anyway. FYI, despite my username I am a woman and have been on the receiving end of his comments.). I have no idea what the decision to give him that role was about.

            2. oranges & lemons*

              I once had a boss who had his wife (the co-owner) vet prospective hires based on how attractive they were. He required them to be young, female and non-smokers.

          2. fposte*

            “Getting under her skin is as good as getting under her skirt.”

            That is a great and creepy summation.

        2. JAM*

          I have my own experience with a sexual harasser as a boss. I wasn’t the victim of his sexual harassment but he was inappropriate with me and the people still left in the office, many of which had filed suit against him. I understand how much of his behavior was about power but seeing it simplified and written out in the comment makes me realize how precise that is when describing him. Maybe I wasn’t a victim of his sexual harassment specifically but I was a victim of him. I’ve excused so much of his behavior for years because others had it worse but those 5 sentences you wrote make me rethink the entirety of how I’ve processed my experience with the boss.

    3. Annie Moose*

      I appreciate the reminder that good people, people who are trying to do what’s right, can get caught up in this kind of stuff and end up as an apologist/defender without intending to. I… forget that sometimes. When I hear these stories about how some important person was harassing people for years and years, I sometimes think, well, why did people let this go on so long if they knew about it? Why was everyone around him such a terrible person too? But maybe sometimes they aren’t terrible people, they’re just people put in very difficult positions who were manipulated or coerced into making bad decisions, decisions that seem like the lesser of two evils at the time.

      I mean, how many times has Alison told letter writers about how a toxic boss can warp your perspective on what’s normal? This is the same process, just bigger.

      1. Guacamole Bob*


        I was just going to say something like this. I only took one or two psych classes in college, but there are pretty well-known social psychology effects that should get more discussion in this context. When you see something abnormal and no one else reacts, you start to doubt your own perceptions. I think it was in a comment here on AAM that someone described a social psych study where subjects were in a room where a fire alarm went off – and if none of the other people in the room (who were actors) got up and left, most of the subjects didn’t, either. There are problems with the Stanford Prison experiment and the Milgram experiment, but the general point holds: some kinds of crappy circumstances can definitely warp human judgment.

        1. Future Homesteader*

          Normalcy bias! This is something that was pointed out to me recently, and once you notice it, it’s so prevalent. Even when all signs are clearly saying “get out,” it’s so hard to. I was at an outdoor party when the wind kicked up and we watched giant storm clouds roll in. We just stood there as it got worse and worse, and things started blowing around. Finally, my (outdoorsy and safety-conscious) husband made a move for the cars, so I followed, and a couple of others did, too. Right after we moved a giant branch fell down right where someone had just been standing with their infant. That was what it took to get everyone else to go…a near miss with a baby! Until that point, I had felt ridiculous suggesting that we should leave, despite the fact that it was obviously a bad storm and there was no good reason to stay. Normalcy bias is so potent, and so dangerous.

        2. Optimistic Prime*

          There are lots of different social psychological reasons why people do this…normalcy bias partially, but also conformity and bystander effect and a whole bunch of other things. Basically, as social creatures, disrupting the status quo is psychologically difficult – it singles you out, and if you’re wrong you face ostracism and ridicule, so staying silent is often seen unconsciously (or consciously) as preferable to being wrong. Predators like this KNOW that – they have an eerie grasp on human psychology, and they manipulate that to their advantage.

          And in these cases, there are the extra effects of gender (women are kind of damned if they do, damned if they don’t in the workplace, even if they are higher up) and organizational structure and power. It complicates everything into a mess.

          1. Snark*

            Sunk cost fallacy is also a factor – “but he’s coming around, if I can just get him to apologize we’ll turn the corner!”

            1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

              Truly that, especially for managers. And especially if you were involved in hiring, and especially if you haven’t been trained, and especially if your workplace is toxic, which is why I’m so glad Allison mentions training. It’s easy to fall into the “Maybe he doesn’t know and if you tell him” or ” I talked to him give him a chance” trap.

      2. LKW*

        It doesn’t even have to be psychological reasons though. As Allison noted, for this organization they determined the financial impact was worse than a couple of young women getting harassed. Now there’s a whole lot to unpack there for sure, but people have been letting major players and rain makers get away with a lot of unethical behavior. Whether it be insider trading that is not considered true insider trading (I’m looking at you congress) , or votes for lobbying positions or all sorts of shenanigans. Money and power make a lot of people turn a blind eye.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yes, and also serial harassers know this, and they often deliberately target people they think they can get away with targeting – someone they know the company won’t back up if it comes down to he-said, she-said. You don’t hear near as many cases of men targeting senior women or their own bosses – they pick interns, secretaries, people they think they can get rid of if they need to.

      3. Plague of frogs*

        My boss at my very first engineering job was really physical. I thought that was just the way he was, until I realized it was only young women he was that way with…and he “accidentally” started touching my breasts. We had terrible HR and I had no idea what to do. I finally talked with some trusted male coworkers about it, and they totally had my back. They told me another woman had quit before I started, because of the same thing. They said that they would keep an eye out for it so it wouldn’t just be my word against his. They gave me practical advice for keeping him far enough away not to be able to touch, and they ran interference when they saw he was getting too close. And, they reassured me about my engineering skills–which was necessary, because being objectified is even worse when you’re one of the very few women and already a little off balance.

        I was soon transferred to another boss who was racist and sexist but kept his hands to himself. It was a big step up.

        None of us could do anything about gropey boss, but knowing that I had the help and support of my coworkers meant the world to me. Another lady ended up working for that boss, and I didn’t warn her because I was uncomfortable having that discussion with a stranger…I will feel guilty about this until the day I die. When we got to be friends, I mentioned to her what he had done to me, and she was enormously relieved to know that it wasn’t just her.

        Gropey boss did end up being fired, but due to gross incompetence. I would think he would still be there otherwise. There was another guy who was fired for harassment twice, because they hired him back after the first time.

    4. Nea*

      I’m not amazed – the same skills that make a person a good salesperson/marketer and hire good employees are the skills that allow a harasser to sell themself as being misunderstood/too important to touch and staff their world with prey. What difference is there between convincing people to buy your July sales deals and convincing Julie in marketing that she’s subtly in the wrong here and will be responsible for the negative outcome for a whole lot of innocent third parties if she says anything?

      Disgusted, but not surprised, much less amazed.

      Thank you for coming forward Alison. Seven years ago – heck, even 7 months ago – I don’t think that circumstances would have allowed you to do anything other than what you did.

    5. Nea*

      I’m not amazed – the same skills that make a person a good salesperson/marketer and hire good employees are the skills that allow a harasser to sell themself as being misunderstood/too important to touch and staff their world with prey. What difference is there between convincing people to buy your July sales deals and convincing Julie in marketing that she’s subtly in the wrong here and will be responsible for the negative outcome for a whole lot of innocent third parties if she says anything?

      To lump the response to two of your comments together, Snark, what better deal for a harasser could there be to build a business that makes them powerful AND at the same time surrounds them with people who can be threatened (in one form or another) to admit that the harasser is the ruler around here?

      Thank you for coming forward Alison. Seven years ago – heck, even 7 months ago – I don’t think that circumstances would have allowed you to do anything other than what you did.

    6. Optimistic Prime*

      Yeah, you basically encapsulated my feelings in one sentence. It just goes to show you that no, these aren’t once-offs or people who “can’t help themselves” or who just make a series of bad judgments and mistakes…these people intentionally create cultures and environments in which they can do whatever they like to people and get away with it.

    7. oranges & lemons*

      It probably goes without saying, but usually these people are also aware of the ways in which the deck is pre-stacked for them and are good at exploiting it. People like Alison’s former boss aren’t bunglers who can’t control themselves–they know exactly how much they can get away with.

      1. CubicleShroom#1004*

        They will also quickly point out how much value they add, and how expendable the upset party is.

        Going to believe me, X Amount of Dollars I Make Rain for the Company, or this little whiner you pay $50K/year?

    8. Grapey*

      I think it’s because we’re just hearing the story of a man that happened to be powerful. Less powerful people sexually harass others, and if they don’t have a entourage of people to protect them, their fall from grace isn’t as public or unexpected.

    9. JulieBulie*

      And what strikes me is the similarity in tactics that these shitheads employ. It’s like they all worked out of the same playbook.

      But now the playbook is being revealed all over the place. I really hope that makes it harder for people to get away with things.

  5. Sami*

    I’m so sorry you had such a terrible experience. I hope knowing all the good you’ve done here on AAM helps ease your guilt. Thanks for sharing your story so that it may embolden someone else.

    1. Rebecca*

      Whoa, careful here! “Guilt” is a very loaded word in this situation and I don’t think her feelings should be labelled as such. Alison did all that she thought she could do, in the environment that she was in. She has no guilt to ease. I understand why she calls this her “regret” and can see that these choices were difficult ones then. They are difficult to look at even now in hindsight. Many of the others have spoken out in support of and in thanks for this post. Alison, you did the best that you could. Bravo to the person you were then! Bravo to who you are now, for having the courage to share this with us in such a public forum!

  6. Akcipitrokulo*

    Thank you for sharing that.

    One thing that came through is that there are so many reasons which seem valid at the time… which means that talking about why they are not a reason to avoid action, and naming them specifically as not good reasons as you have done here matters.

    It also means that we have to understand why people don’t take actions, and not use that inaction either to blame those who didn’t speak earlier or louder – seriously, the ONLY person to blame is the perpetrator – and also not use it to excuse or disbelieve.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      “which means that talking about why they are not a reason to avoid action, and naming them specifically as not good reasons as you have done here matters.”

      Exactly–if we had long had open, public discussions about how this kind of thing works, more of us would know what our options are and how those options are likely to play out. As it is, so many of us have just had to make uneducated guesses about what the best course of action is.

    2. Lil Fidget*

      Seriously, I guarantee that this perpetrator has not had one-tenth of the anguish that Alison and others (especially his victims) have had over the years have had about it. Think of how much emotional labor she is still doing here, and if it comes out more it will be at least half about her / the victims / why they didn’t do more, what they should have done / could have done. This guy bears so, so much more of the responsibility and I’m not sure this always comes across.

      1. PlainJane*

        Your point about emotional labor is what I came here to say. We put so much of the emotional labor on victims and bystanders: Why didn’t you report it? Why didn’t you stop it? Why didn’t you doooo soooommmeeeethinggg??? Let’s put that burden where it belongs: on the perpetrators.

  7. Thinking out loud*

    Thank you for sharing. I think many people coming forward are feeling the way you do – they didn’t know what to do, and they tried their best, and maybe speaking publicly wouldn’t have been effective at the time. But I think these stories are helpful for others to read, and hopefully you have been able to (and are about to continue to) right some similar wrongs in the future with the knowledge that you have.

  8. Amber T*

    <3 <3 <3

    I think you've built a platform that has helped countless women build better lives, careers, and opportunities. I have personally benefited from your advice on how to ask for what I want and need in a male dominated career field. I have grown and become more confident in my career, and I give a lot of credit to you, your website, and the community you've fostered. "What would Alison do?" is a question I ask myself frequently in the work place.

    We make mistakes. Thank you for sharing yours and how you've grown from them. Thank you for everything.

    1. Annie Moose*

      Me as well! I’ve been lucky to work with some very decent guys, but there have still been times when I’ve needed to push back against things that were said or assumptions about me/my abilities, and Alison’s advice and scripts has helped me be so much more confident in general.

    2. Optimistic Prime*

      And, to build on that, throughout your blog you have established the idea that most workplaces aren’t dysfunctional or toxic places; you’ve avoided the normalizing of terrible management/organizational behavior and in fact have actively worked against that. For young people, but especially young women, who are new to the workplace – that’s made a very big difference. Reading here has taught me to *expect* that my workplace should be decent, push back if those expectations aren’t met and try to leave for somewhere better if that doesn’t work. That may seem small but it’s really a big deal when most media portrays work as a morass that you can’t fix or escape, but only deal with.

    3. Future Homesteader*

      Yes, this! I *expect* to be treated with professionalism and will speak up when it doesn’t happen. This blog and community have helped me to really truly internalize that expectation so that I spend less time second-guessing and more time acting to improve my environment (and that goes for all kinds of issues large and small, not just harassment).

      1. Jesca*

        I agree. I think she has done an excellent job teaching everyone how to, well, basically stand up for themselves without making themselves look bad while doing it. Like throwing the discomfort back on the other person where it belongs, and being clear on how it was inappropriate. She has really helped support the idea that work isn’t supposed to be this way!!!

      2. Shelby Drink the Juice*

        Yes! This blog has definitely reinforced that to me as well. I was recruited by someone to move to a different department. I accepted the job and my coworker was a completely different person. She’s condescending, rude, belittling and overall a bully. Her behavior toward me only got worse. After 4 months I had a discussion with our boss and emphasized that in all my years with this company I have never been treated so poorly. I’m not going to lay down and be treated like crap because of someone’s ego and pettiness. Done and done.

    4. Katie*

      Agreed. Alison’s advice and writing (and commenters’ as well) have helped me get a 50% raise and a new job. Thank you Alison. Your insights on how toxicity warps your thinking have especially been helpful. We must all continue pushing back in order to help others.

  9. Greengirl*

    Thank you so much for sharing this. So many of us learn from the people who write in with their problems. This too is something that will teach many of us.

  10. Reinhardt*

    Thank you for sharing this Alison, I find it inspiring to make sure I do the right thing if I’m ever in a similar situation.

    1. Luna Lovegood*

      I found it very inspiring, too, especially since recently I have been debating whether I should make a report with HR at OldToxicUniversityJob about a co-worker who was promoted to a significant position with a lot student contact and ability to make decisions impacting students who also frequently made a lot of gross comments about female students in public, and no one ever did anything about – example: “joking” with admissions about how they didn’t admit any students he would want to date.

      I feel like I should, but it’s a small industry. And I feel like people will just interpret it as me wanting to watch the world burn/sour grapes.

  11. MuseumChick*

    Alison, thank you for sharing this. I think this reflects the reality a lot of people find themselves whether it be a predatory in a position of power, a “friend” who is behaving in a creepy manner, just wanting to believe that if you call it out enough it will change the behavior. I saw his friends, people I know make every excuse in the book for him. It got to the point where 1) I sat my boyfriend down and told him that if he ever found himself in a situation where he hear/saw this guy do something inappropriate I expected him to call the guy out and 2) I made it clear I had no interest in going to any social events where this person would be.

    1. MuseumChick*

      Not sure what happened there that should read “I found myself in a situation where a friend of a fried was making really derogatory remarks about women, including a close friend of mine. I saw his friends […]

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Calling people out on this type of behavior seldom works because there are no real consequences to their actions.

      Or at least there haven’t been before. Now that some prominent men are finally seeing actual consequences for their bad behavior, it’s creating panic among those who have always benefited from our patriarchal society.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Calling the behavior out is I think more for the benefit of others than for the perpetrators. To let others know you’re not on board with that line of thought and to let the people they hurt know you would support them.

        1. MuseumChick*

          That’s exactly it. This scumbag is a childhood friend of one of the people in my boyfriends group. So they let a lot of things slide. Calling out the guy also calls out everyone else for their passive acceptance of his behavior.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Oh for sure! I didn’t mean to imply that people shouldn’t call it out when they see it.

          I was referring to this and agreeing that it’s an inaccurate belief:

          just wanting to believe that if you call it out enough it will change the behavior

        3. Sylvan*

          While I agree with that, I also want to state that I have deliberately bitten my tongue about someone because I knew that I was a more effective ally to his targets if he wasn’t suspicious of me. It worked – he never bothered to socially isolate his targets from me, so I was still there to support them later – but I still feel a lot of regret for not doing anything more.

  12. Bookworm*

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I was not quite in a position like yours but I could so identify with many aspects of your story.

    1. Anion*

      I had an *astounding* (to me) conversation with my dad yesterday about this very subject. We were casually discussing the flood of harassment claims, and he said, “I used to work with guys like that. It was disgusting.”

      Turns out, back when he was in his first management role, all the upper-level guys–all men in their 60s and 70s–used to pretty much literally chase women around the tables. They’d grab and grope. One guy apparently forced his secretary to sleep with him out of fear of losing her job. My dad was a young man then, with a wife and baby at home (this would have been around 1969); he went to his direct boss and said something, and the boss’s reaction was basically to shrug it off as a “Boys will be boys,” kind of thing and make clear that nothing would be done about it.

      My dad felt he really didn’t have any options–again, he was a young man in his first management role (promoted from the floor, even, without a degree or anything, so his chances of finding another role like it were very low) with a young family to support, in a small town where jobs were limited. He said all he could do was try to shield the women as much as he could, which wasn’t much, but at least they knew that in his office they weren’t going to be groped or treated like playthings. He said he used to just watch these men and want to be sick, but they were his bosses, too, and he couldn’t afford to lose his job, either.

      I don’t mean this as a “Men are hurt by this, too!” sort of comment; more as a “In an environment where this type of behavior is allowed, it does affect everyone, even if they’re not directly harassed themselves. And even men can feel like they can’t speak up, so why would women, even women in Alison’s place in this story, be more able to?”

      So yeah…you should be kind to yourself, too, Bookworm. You did the best you could at the time, and that’s all anyone can ask or expect.

  13. Matilda Jefferies*

    I think we always do the best we can at the time – just because you would do something differently now, doesn’t mean that you should have done something differently then. And you are doing an important thing by encouraging other people to speak up in their own “now.”

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I agree. You do the best you can. We all are.

      There have even been times where I knew I could do better and I still did the wrong thing. I doubt I’m the only one.

      But look what it led to! You are doing a great service and I respect you very much. Thank you for bringing this up.

  14. Walking in an HR Hellscape*

    Thank you for sharing this! And good job for trying to do something and institute some change instead of shrugging and looking the other way.

    1. nom de plume*

      Yes, this. While in hindsight you may have wanted to make different decisions, the fact that you went out of your way to try to institute change in a place where hiding your head in the sand was the status quo says volumes. Thank you for being so candid.

  15. Myrin*

    Wow, Alison, that was a very emotional read. It made me angry and sad and crestfallen and proud of you all at the same time. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    If I may ask – and really, no problem if you’d rather not talk about it at all: Where is this guy and/or the organisation now? Are they still operating? Did any recent development regarding him prompt you to write this or was it “just” general sexual harassment stories coming up lately?

    Also, “He refused, claiming that if we did, people other than him would be in violation of it too.” is blowing my freaking mind right now. Not only he himself would be in violation of a new policy like that? Well, all the more reason now to implement it then, right?? Because we don’t want to protect predators??? What a douche. I’m glad you got out safely and are choosing to speak about this. You’re very brave and I look up to you so much!

    1. Language Lover*

      If you Google Alison, the article about the situation, more comments from her and where he is will come up.

      I think learning about this is important, especially when people criticize victims for not coming forward.

      1. Optimistic Prime*

        I just found an in-depth article on it and whoo boy, the leader of that organization is a world-class jerk.

        1. Bostonian*

          Jesus Christ that article was more about Green than it was about that damn slimeball. Gross, indeed!

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I had heard that it was coming at the organization again, so I had started to write my response to that — something I’ve started then stopped several times over the years. But the thing that made me pull the trigger was a reporter asking me about the situation. I’m sick of not talking about it. I wanted to talk about it. So I finally did.

      1. Future Analyst*

        To that end, I’m not only sorry that you had to deal with this crap when you worked there, but also that you have had to carry this load since. As Snark mentioned up top, this is more about power than anything else, and that a****le does not deserve to hold power over you all these years later. (He never did.) I also hope you know that this blog and empowering others to stand up for themselves is more than enough ‘penance’ for making a potentially wrong call back then. Thank you, for all that you do for this community. <3

      2. LJL*

        Thank you for sharing this. Your actions in bringing this up, especially now ,are quite brave. I appreciate your voice.

      3. Merci Dee*

        Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. I’m sure that it was hard to go back and face that situation, to see all the things that you could have done/said, etc. But please keep in mind that this is you, after seven more years of life experience, looking back on an extremely difficult situation. You’d never found yourself in a situation like that before, and you’re right that so many managers don’t receive the kind of training they need to be effective in a situation like this. Whether you want to call it “hindsight” or “Monday morning quarterbacking”, it really is so much easier to break down the situation, to study every nuance, once it’s over and you’ve put some distance between you. But taking that look back, studying those nuances, deciding exactly what you would do differently is the important work — it takes one hard situation that may have been handled imperfectly, and turns it into the foundation of a lifetime of better choices and stronger actions. You’ve taken everything that was wrong with the situation you were in, and turned it into good for all of your future employees and a whole world of people who are struggling and looking for someone to give them advice they can trust. No doubt, you were in a terrible situation. But I think you’ve spent the past seven years redeeming it, and you’ve done everything you possibly can to make sure that people are ready and equipped when they find themselves in their own terrible situations. And now, you’re also giving them a model for how to look back, assess the things that went wrong, and put all that new knowledge into use to make sure that it doesn’t happen in the future, while they’re on watch.

        It’s a rare person who handles things like this perfectly, while they’re in the moment. Most of us have to deal with the indictments and recriminations that we hurl at ourselves. But if we’re able to learn from what we’ve done, to make those lessons a part of us that we can share with others along the road, then maybe we can also learn to forgive ourselves and to let go of some of the guilt that we carry for not acting then the way that we would now, with more experience and perspective.

      4. 2 Cents*

        I’m sorry your former coworker is “sickened” that you’re “out there giving advice.” I guess she has never made a mistake or done something that, in hindsight, wasn’t the best call. I’ve read just about every post you’ve written, and I refer people to your site all the time because of your clear, lucid messaging on a range of workplace issues, including harassment. I think having been put in the horrible situation you were at your former workplace makes you even more qualified to tell others what may/may not happen if they speak up, complain or otherwise have to deal with a predatory boss.

        1. Kathryn T.*

          To be clear: I don’t judge the former colleague for her feelings, either. She was there, she had we experiences, it’s fine for her to be angry. It doesn’t change the rightness or wrongness of what Alison did.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Totally. To be honest, I would probably feel sick if a former manager or colleague who had (based on my experience of the situation) enabled my abuser became recognized as a public expert on management.

              1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                I don’t mean to pour salt on a wound, Alison. You know that I respect you greatly — and I don’t think you’re giving yourself the grace that you would give others. AND I empathize with your former colleagues who are disappointed in you. It’s complex, and people are imperfect, and all of these ripples of suffering are his doing.

            1. Anion*

              I don’t necessarily judge her for her feelings, but I do judge her for rushing to condemn *publicly* before even taking a look at Alison’s website or stopping to think that maybe things aren’t as simple as they seem(ed), or maybe Alison learned something from that experience, or maybe she quit because her hands were tied (which is exactly what happened).

              People who assume they know what’s in the hearts and minds of others–and that assumption always seems to be negative–irritate me. A little forgiveness and open-mindedness is good for everyone, afaic.

              1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                I dunno. A victim of abuse shouldn’t be expected to do due diligence about the people who enabled the abuse before offering an opinion on them.

              2. Alice*

                So the victim shouldn’t discuss her experience being sexually harassed and bringing it to HR without a good resolution, until she’s taken a look at Alison’s website and stopped to think?
                Maybe the harasser has learned something from the experience as well. Should the victim also stop to think about him before going public? After all, a little forgiveness is good for everyone.

        2. JamieS*

          I know you mean well but your comment on Alison’s former coworker isn’t right nor is it just. Someone shouldn’t be held to the impossible standard of perfection before they’re allowed to voice an opinion on a harasser or someone who enabled the harassment/abuse.

          I don’t want to sound like I’m digging out my torch and pitchfork because it’s obvious Alison realizes what she did was wrong and that she’s learned from her mistake and strived to be better since. However her acknowledgement and her actions in the years that followed in no way negate what happened nor does it reduce other people’s right to be upset with both her and/or her former company.

      5. General Ginger*

        Thank you so much for sharing this, Alison. Everyone else who has already weighed in has said it eloquently and well, but I do just want to add — as hard as I am sure this is to revisit, I’m glad you can talk about it and don’t have to keep carrying it with you.

      6. Thank you*

        Do you have any advice for how to handle this now if you were still at this job? I am in a similar position and I want to thank you for posting this. I have co-workers who think if this behavior is exposed that the company will suffer.

        1. Jules the Third*

          It may suffer. The org Alison worked for probably would have closed if they’d gotten rid of that guy, and in 2010, jobs were hard to find.

          It’s a hard line to walk – do you have the right to actions that will probably destroy innocent people’s jobs? Will it even matter?

          You are the person who can know, not us armchair internet quarterbacks. Things to consider are:
          1) What would be the real impact? (eg, ‘I sell well’ can be replaced; ‘I have personal relationships with the donors funding us’ can’t.) Feel free to push back on any harasser’s ‘I’m too valuable’. It’s actually rare for an individual to be unreplaceable, especially in today’s job market.
          2) What do the victims want most? They *deserve* jobs with respect and opportunities, but we’re still in a place where they may have to make some choices.
          3) How much can you get without harming the company? Is that enough?

          Best case – you can leverage the moment and get meaningful change without damaging the company.
          Worst case – you can get out and GlassDoor their butts.

        2. Ann O.*

          I’m disappointed that Alison’s post doesn’t actually go into the what she would do differently because I think that would be useful.

          Miramax is suffering because of Weinstein. There are voice actors who lost jobs because of Louis CK. The company suffering is a real concern and that sucks. But personally–and I admit this is easy for me to say–I don’t think that can be considered a valid reason to stay silent or else nothing changes. (Or perhaps your company can get ahead of the story by firing the harasser and being public about why.)

      7. Mary Mary, Consigliere*

        Thank you for addressing this, Alison. I found this article about a week ago, and to be honest, as a longtime reader of yours, I’ve been just sick over it ever since. (I suspect I may be partially to blame for the reporter contacting you, since I shared the article on a subreddit for women a few days ago to start a discussion that would help me process my feelings, and it ended up getting a lot of attention.) Seeing your side of the story has really been helpful for me.

        The part of the article from 2010 that gave me the most trouble was the part that quoted you as saying that the young woman claiming the executive director raped her “had all the signs of a false accusation.” Was this misquoted? If not, what was the context of that remark? I’m having a lot of trouble with that detail in particular, especially given that the article describes the young woman and several of her friends resigning the week after the alleged assault.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Nope. I said it. It didn’t refer to what the woman herself had said, but to someone who wasn’t there had said. But that doesn’t matter. I am profoundly ashamed and disgusted by it. I was wrong.

          1. Mary Mary, Consigliere*

            Thank you for saying that. I really can’t tell you what it means to me to read this. I’m still having trouble processing my complicated feelings around this situation, and i don’t know exactly how to feel about it, but this helps.

          2. KG, Ph.D.*

            I’m glad you’re taking responsibility for your specific actions when they’re brought up, but these comments make your original post feel a lot like minimizing and apologia. I think your post could have and should have been more explicit about your role in all this. I understand not linking to the articles, but it feels like you’re trickle-truthing now. I love AAM, but this is leaving me feeling very troubled.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I understand that. I’ve struggled with how to talk about some of this without saying things that will invite legal threats from him (I’ve heard about him threatening people with defamation lawsuits over this in just the past week).

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                This is not a question you have any obligation to answer if you don’t want to, Alison, but I was wondering… how did this guy ever become a friend of yours in the first place? He doesn’t sound like a very appealing friend, even apart from the sexual harassment issues, what with bullying everyone around him and all. Was he not like that before, or did you just not know it until he was threatened and lashed out?

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Well, I met him when I was 20, and my standards at 20 were nothing to be proud of. But I saw a different side of him when I started working for him.

                2. Elate*

                  Also, in my experience predators aren’t gross and drooly and their assholery isn’t immediately apparent? If that *were* the case they’d have a lot more trouble accessing their victims.

                  The predators I’ve known have been smart, witty people who could demonstrate immense kindness to those who have weren’t their targets. Hence every time someone is outed there are people who “can’t believe it because he’s such a good guy”

                  I mean I’m older and I can spot that manipulation a lot better now. But it took until my late 20s to be able to

                3. Jules the Third*

                  Predators (and abusers) are often Very Charming.

                  The whole ‘dweeby incompetent’ is out there, but it’s less common, and it’s usually just men who haven’t learned the Very Charming part yet.

                4. MaureenS*

                  We’re all naive when we’re 20. No matter how grown up we think we are. Awesome friends when 20 can turn into raging douchbags when you’re 30. And that really weird person in the corner morphs into your best mate.

            2. Eloise*

              I understand what you’re saying, and why you’d feel troubled, but I really want to throw my two cents in here.
              Some people will read this post and think that Alison is deflecting, or making excuses for her behavior/inaction. Some people will simply expect Alison to say “I was wrong, I apologize, there’s no excuse” and leave it at that.
              I strongly disagree, especially given the post-Weinstein climate we’re in. It’s VITALLY important that we don’t just acknowledge that something happened, but look at the circumstances surrounding it. After all, Alison’s experience didn’t happen in a vacuum-it was the clear result of a TON of complicating factors. How else are we to empower people to speak up if they don’t know what this type of situation can look like? We need to hear people’s (especially women’s) stories. We need to allow people who’ve been in Alison’s position to discuss their interpretation of it because you never know who might read it and learn from it to prevent other women from suffering.
              Furthermore, I’m a bit concerned at the backlash that seems to be hitting women who “didn’t speak up sooner”, this skewed assignment of responsibility towards women managers and executives for the perpetrator’s actions more than the perpetrator himself, or any of his male colleagues. There almost seems to be this ugly undercurrent of feeling like Alison (and women in her similar position) is somehow MORE responsible for preventing this behavior because she is a woman.
              I respect everyone’s views in this, but I wish people would stop acting like it’s black and white, because it will not help address the issue in the long term.

              1. oranges & lemons*

                Yes, I find this very troubling as well. It hearkens back to the old stereotype that men aren’t responsible for their actions so women need to police them.

                It’s hard to judge the situation without having all of the facts, but I admire Alison for being so quick to admit her own mistakes, as she always is. It sounds like the situation was mishandled by her and by others, but as you say, it’s much easier to make that judgment as an outside observer. I’m not sure I can say that I would have handled it any better.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I do want to say that I have not been quick to admit my mistakes here. It took me a couple of years to admit them to myself (and obviously much longer to talk about them publicly). And as some people have pointed out today, it seems like I’m not all the way there yet — I did use some distancing language here, even when I thought I was being forthright. I have a lot of work left to do on this, and I want to do it, but it has not been quick (and definitely not easy).

                2. Jesca*

                  Ya know, Alison, upthread I shared my story when I was younger dealing with sexual harassment. There really is np way in hell anyone could ever make me feel warm and fuzzy about anyone involved during that ordeal-so I get why some people from that time feel the way they do. My experience still affects me to this day (and it was over 10 years ago). A lot of time we can show more forgiveness when we are not involved. But I will say this – I don’t blame you totally. I can say from my own experience that I would never ever be able to judge how people should or could have handled this. Especially women. We are in different times now. And the now is what matters.

                  I will say this, if it helps. Who was really the one with the power? Who were the ones who made this man so damn important that even rape accusations could slide right off him? Who? Yes, you did not handle it well. You became an apologist for him. You found ways to justify it (keeping a non-profit running as more important than removing a sexual preditor). People do this with people they are super close to every day. Justify away their behavior. You were too close. But none of that should have even mattered. You were in no place of power her. Where was your power? Even in those articles it says how the board found the complaints awful and damming. Yet, there he stayed. And those doners? Fuck. Those. Doners. They were the power. They were excuse to keep him. And even after they knew, they didn’t push him away. See. That’s where the problem is. That article slams you, but it totally and completely missed slamming those who actually held the power. Sure you can be accused of being an apologist or being his work around, but you werent paying him. You weren’t the one who decided it was ok he remained. And you certainly were not the one throwing money at an mf rapist so that states could pass marijuana legalization laws … So yes. You were an apologist. You enabled. But you WERE NOT THE ONE WHO GAVE HIM POWER.

                3. oranges & lemons*

                  I don’t want to come across as as automatically coming to your defense on this, since I really don’t want to minimize the struggles of those who were affected by this man’s actions. I’m sure it has been a long and hard process coming to terms with everything that happened. But as someone who has gained a lot from your advice, I also think that your body of work on this site is a testament to the fact that you’re someone who is willing to reflect and learn from your mistakes. That’s a particularly hard thing to do in such a public sphere, and I’m sure all of the media attention back in 2010 made everything much more difficult. I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming everyone involved in a bad situation is either a victim or a villain, but it’s very helpful to see an example of someone who struggled and made mistakes in a complex and fraught situation, and who is still dealing with the aftermath. It’s not a common story to hear, because it’s not simple, but I think it was courageous to share it.

                4. PlainJane*

                  Yes, Alison could have handled this better, but I see her as a victim too (though of a different sort than the women who were raped or harassed). She had been his friend, she cared about the organization he co-founded and didn’t want it to fail, and–even if none of that were true–she was in a situation that many experienced professionals would find difficult. And she was in this situation *because of a predator’s behavior.* This situation is ultimately on him. Let’s keep the blame where it belongs. No predator, no problem.

                5. Ann O.*

                  Alison is not responsible for her boss’s behavior. She is responsible for her own role in protecting him. And if you read the articles and saw the comment from a former employee downthread, her role in protecting him was significant. She really was complicit. I agree that it’s important to understand how/why someone as savvy and kind as Alison could end up being complicit, but I think it’s also important not to minimize how badly she handled things.

              2. MaureenS*

                It’s easy to pass judgement on others, hard to make the decision in isolation by yourself.

                It’s especially hard when power dynamics are added, or the bad behaviour is very intermittent. Was it just once? Don’t rock the boat. Do you have any proof that would stand up in court? But perpetrator is essential to our business, just work around them, dear. Try not to be alone with perpetrator, I’ll walk you to your car tonight. It’s just not done to criticize your boss. Maybe perpetrator was having a bad day, I’m sure they didn’t mean it. Surely it’s not that bad.

                And a lot of women DID speak up sooner. The other article does mention that Alison had tried to make changes but he was her boss & shut them down. Which is what usually happens. Which leads to women not wanting to speak up because a) nothing will happen and/or b) they will be retaliated against.

          3. AnonLurker*

            Thank you for being big enough to say that you were wrong, to learn from it, and grow. As someone who had “false allegation” statements hurled behind my back and to my face, it was painful to read that. All we can ask of each other is to become better, because everyone is human. In my experience a lot of people will never reflect on their opinions in these types of scenarios, and of the few that do most wouldn’t admit to being wrong so publicly. Thank you.

          4. Not Saying*

            Not to dwell on it, but that quote and some of the related ones about the r@pe victim made me sick. I think your original post here would have sat much better with me if you had been up front about taking responsibility for saying that.

            Did you do a legitimate investigation of the incident?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The board supposedly did. But I think the outcome was a foregone conclusion. They also handled it horribly; for example, they told people they wanted to hear from them but that staff members should pass their input through me, and I’d collect it for the board. Then they told me that they didn’t want me to just pass along people’s statements; they wanted me to summarize it for them. I should have refused to do that and insisted on passing along people’s input directly as written. The staff was not so large that they couldn’t have just read people’s input directly.

              Anyway, that’s the kind of investigation they did. I didn’t push back on it.

        2. Not Saying*

          That quote killed me, too. My heart aches for the woman who was r@ped. And the statement that she used bad judgment — it felt like classic victim blaming.

          Alison had previously vowed to quit over any such behavior, but didn’t. Instead the victim and her friends ended up taking the hit.

      8. JulieBulie*

        Just read the 2010 article. Wooooooooow.

        Something like that cannot be easy for you to write about. I wouldn’t know where to begin. :-(

        You learned a lot from those experiences, and this has allowed you to help others. That is something. Not everyone is able to turn something bad into something constructive. Thank you for that.

    3. Tuxedo Cat*

      Re. your last paragraph, it reminds me of how people are silenced. People like to remind you that the predators need this income because they have family or are sick or whatever.

    4. esra (also a Canadian)*

      Reading the update on the org site, he was moved to a new director role in November. After also reading the 2010 article… what the heck is wrong with that org. That is some glacial movement, and nowhere near severe enough, and I am angry just reading about it.

      1. Jules the Third*

        He created the org, his relationship with the donors is why the org has funding.

        It sounds like the area the org covers has a lot of hotly competing players, with a few major funders, and This Jerk has a good line with a few very rich men. The problem org started with three men fired from an org with a similar purpose – red flags galore right there! (I’m sure they were fired for No Good Reason at all).

        But it seems like this org has actually been *effective*, writing legislation that’s actually passed and increased some civil liberties.

        So it’s a tough call – how much sh** to put up with to get good things accomplished. It’s very much the kind of problem women and PoC have been dealing with for decades. In 2010, the lines for this org were different – harder to get jobs, more of a feeling that if this org doesn’t get it done, it won’t happen. Now, there are other groups who can take over what this org does, the job market is good, and we’re post-Weinstein. Let That Jerk crash and burn, and if he takes out the org, oh well.

        1. Jesca*

          I would argue that even at the time, it was ok to let the org crash. At what point do we put human safety over a recreational/non-life saving drug? At what point do we keep people employed around someone like this? This is why its really easy to lose perspective. I cant think of many causes where non-profits should stay in business if it means people are getting hurt.

          1. Jesca*

            Sorry haha switch that and reverse it. I bleached my bathroom (don’t ask!) and the fumes are getting to my brain me thinks!

  16. neverjaunty*

    Thank you for sharing this.

    Supercreep might want to think twice about being sue-happy. A lot of states now have anti-SLAPP laws, and hey, it turns out that when you sue people for saying you were a harasser, they get to do a lot of digging into your past behavior.

  17. Cassandra*

    Thank you, Alison.

    Saying this in hopes it is a tiny comfort: You are definitely not the only person struggling with questions of complicity, doing enough, doing the (or at least a) right thing. You are definitely not the only person with regrets. I have struggles and regrets around this too, and I know others who do as well. I wish you — all of us — the strength to do better and the hope that doing better will make a useful difference.

    A pox on the evil, evil scum who set up these no-win situations.

  18. June*

    The best part of this story is how you took the bad and changed it for the good. You can’t change the past but sure have influenced the future. We readers are lucky to have you as our champion.

  19. CM*

    Alison, to be frank I’ve always wondered about your past experience. It was hard for me to understand how your being complicit in such a blatantly toxic environment could be reconciled with the empathy, kindness, and respect that you always show in your advice here. So I really appreciate that you posted this.

    1. Hanna*

      Same here. As much as I love Alison’s advice, there has always been a little voice in my mind saying, “But…but…but…” because of that situation. Posting this was the right thing to do, and I’m really glad that she wrote it. It’s very helpful for other people who have found themselves in her place in the past or may find themselves there in the future.

    2. Llama Wrangler*

      Yes, ditto to all of what CM said. I had heard about the past experience before really getting into AAM, and it was always in the back of my mind. Hearing not only your side of the story, and what you were doing at the time, but also your reflection about what you could have handled differently, allows me to comfortably reconcile the two things.

    3. Reba*

      I mean, one thing it shows us is that even people as smart, compassionate, and fair as Alison can get bogged down in toxic environments with pernicious cultures of enabling. When Alison writes that toxic workplaces can warp your sense of what’s normal and right, she knows whereof she speaks.

      1. Sylvan*

        I think it also shows that, ideally, people can learn whatever makes them smart, compassionate, or fair from reflecting on how they have acted before.

        I didn’t learn to dislike gossiping, for example, by never gossiping. I wish! I learned by remembering what I had said much later (like at 3 a.m. several years later, isn’t that always when it happens), or recognizing my own behavior in someone else, and realizing I needed to do better.

  20. Susan the BA*

    Thank you for sharing. As you always say to people who have made serious mistakes at work, you can’t go back in time to fix it or guarantee that it won’t have any consequences, but you can be genuinely sorry and do everything in your power to make it right going forward – which you definitely have.

  21. Dovahkiin*

    Thank you for sharing.
    I’ve never been in a situation like yours, but I’ve undermined my own values and principles at work for this exact reason that you wrote:
    “I felt I could do more good by staying than by leaving, because I was willing to call him on his behavior.”
    This is an error and lapse in judgement that is so easy to make when you’re in the weeds, only to realize what a glaring mistake it was in hindsight.

    1. The Rat-Catcher*

      I see where she was coming from, though. What if she leaves and someone else comes in who won’t even try, and then this gross behavior just runs unchecked? It was the wrong decision, but she was thinking of how to best help these women, even then.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah this reminds me of what a lot of my Federal friends are saying right now – they don’t want to leave stay at agencies that are charged with dismantling the things they worked to build under the previous administration, but they also feel that if they leave and are replaced with someone less sympathetic, it will be way worse. This may honestly be the case.

  22. Triumphant Fox*

    Thanks for sharing. For what it’s worth, your experiences have shaped AAM in profound ways with regard to sexual harassment. I read so much of your advice with the eyes of someone who is trying to catch things like this early and you’ve done a great job of pointing out predatory behaviors and being firm about what is and isn’t OK. I have been immensely grateful.

  23. 42*

    I think I read the article you reference, and it didn’t mesh with what I knew about you from reading your blog. I suspected there had to be more to it than what was stated in the article.

    Thanks for sharing this, Alison; it had to be an overwhelming time for you. You’ve been a wonderful advocate here in your blog by giving your readers a gut-check when they’re not sure of what they’re seeing, and scripts to use to call bad behavior out in the moment. You’re making a difference.

    1. Enough*

      Yes – Some of the article just seemed too simple (A leads to/means C, what happened to B?). And people and their situations can be complicated. And it’s always very different when you are in the middle of it than on the outside or with the perspective of time.

    2. LBK*

      Agreed – that article (and the carefully selected photo they chose for it) make it sound like she was just joyfully going along with everything, almost taking pleasure in covering for him and being part of some scheme that they were getting away with together, which doesn’t at all jive with anything I’ve ever read here.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        I don’t agree. I think it does suggest that she considered part of her job cleaning up after the messes he made, but not that she seemed joyful about it — only that she chose to do it. Which Alison said herself. She wasn’t just a fly on the wall, watching while he did all these things; she actively chose to help him cover for them, because she felt it was best for the company and she didn’t know what else to do. Those are understandable reasons, but they don’t change the fact that she did actively try to clean up after him, warn people about the behavior they could expect from him, etc.

        1. LBK*

          I think it only comes off as “joyful” to me in contrast to her account here, which seems much more agonized than the portrait they paint of her role in the article.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            She’s a professional. At the time, while she considered her job to be cleaning up after his messes, she probably carefully avoided showing her personal pain and confusion over those messes to the public, because that was not part of the way a professional behaves about something they’re cleaning up. I’m not surprised that, in an article written while she still worked there, she came across as carefully and neutrally professional… and I’m also not surprised that that attitude came across to people who were suffering from the behavior she cleaned up after as callous or presenting a united front with him.

            1. LBK*

              We’re fully in agreement here – I think that was probably how she came across at the time to outside parties. My issue is more with what I feel is editorializing on the part of the article writer, who I think tries to paint Alison and her boss with the same brush and doesn’t allow for much nuance in understanding the clearly difficult position she was in.

  24. Jana*

    Thanks for sharing this, Alison. Talking about these kinds of experiences is important because it shows that this is a problem and one that is more pervasive than we might initially think. There are so many “little” ways in which women are undermined in many professional settings and it’s too commonly excused as “the way things are” or something that women should just ignore.

  25. Kaybee*

    Alison, thank you so much for sharing your story. I’ve had situations where years later I wonder why I did things the way I did, or wish I had handled things differently, when really I was doing the best I knew how to do at the time – as you were. I think you are so brave for sharing your story publicly, and I appreciate all the time and energy you spend in helping all of us create a better workplace. You are amazing.

  26. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    Thank you for sharing your story, Alison. It will help so many people stand up and stand together against predators. What a frightening environment to have been in. Your conundrum is one many people find themselves in. This is another variation on ‘But sometimes [name of predator] is really nice! They do good things, too! You can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!’ Your story illustrates that the good is irrelevant if the bad involves treating other people as less than human, and removing their agency and dignity. That you can absolutely throw the baby out with the bathwater because there was no baby to begin with.

    You’re also right on how fear is at the centre of why people don’t take action. It might be fear of losing donors, losing a job and therefore ability to support one’s family, fear of mockery, or fear of escalation. Fear is so paralysing, especially since victims and survivors are often right in how they’ll be treated afterwards. We don’t just need to allow people to speak, we need to believe them when they do speak and then be willing to take action.

    You did the best you could at the time and now that you know you have other options, you are using your platform as a change for good. Your experiences will definitely inspire others to do the same. In fact, one of the best parts of this site is the way people come together to support others. Just knowing you’re not alone is immensely powerful. Thank you again for sharing.

    (And we need to do a better job in socialising people so they don’t become predators in the first place. But exposing them is a first step.)

  27. Bibliovore*

    Thank you for sharing. What you have modeled here is growth and learning. Sharing your experiences shows us all how we can reflect on our experiences and do better. You have created a community and forum to be proud of. Thank you.

    1. Drama Mama*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. We don’t all get it right the first time, and that’s okay. As long as we learn from our mistakes and when we know better we choose to do better.
      This experience likely gave Allison insight, empathy and drive to help others in similar situations. Thank you, Allison, for the self awareness to learn better, and do better. May I be able to do the same if need be.

  28. Jenn*

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I admire your courage in speaking out, but also your resilience in continuing to build your career and not letting yourself get stuck on one mistake, which would mean that the advice you’ve continued to give wouldn’t be out there. So you know, I saw a discussion on a chat community about this event and read a post about it and have thought about it, while continuing to enjoy your unique and valuable voice and perspective. I was really glad to read this post today.

    I don’t know if you’ve read Brene Brown but her book Rising Strong talks a lot about failure and its necessity. Regret is a part of learning and having no regrets is either a myth or narcissism. Stay strong! Congratulations on speaking out.

  29. Becky B*

    My first thought and my recurring thought was this:”Bravo.”

    We’re all here to learn. And I’ve learned so much from you and this amazing space you’ve created and nurtured.

  30. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

    Thank you for sharing. I think this is a great example of reality when someone says “why didn’t they say something sooner?” Likely they did, but no one wanted to hear it. And those that did want to hear it didn’t have the power to do something about it.

    It is something I keep saying in response to “why didn’t you say something sooner?” We have spoken. No one heard. So we whispered to the only people who would listen – other women. A shift is happening where our voices are combining to be a scream that can’t be ignored. But the fight is far from over. People still don’t want to hear us.

    I think the biggest problem with reporting harassment is managers who don’t know how to deal with it. I don’t think it is malicious most of the time – just inexperience and lack of knowledge. And the pressures of society telling them what they should do.

  31. Epazote*

    Thank you so much for writing this. I’m currently at a crossroads in my career, where I (female) am thinking of leaving my field because of the pervasive harassment and denigration of women. I have been put down, harassed, and denied important opportunities because I was a woman. I was sexually assaulted by a co-worker who later assaulted me in my own office. I reported him to the company, who did absolutely nothing. I spent the rest of my time there living in fear that he would assault me again. After the recent election, I developed debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder about the sexual assaults, and I still haven’t been able to go back to work.

    I’m not sure I want to go back. I’d have to work alongside the same people who harassed and belittled me, or do without their influence, which I need to succeed in my career (it’s a small field). And yet this is what I’ve always wanted, and I am a total superstar–there is literally nobody else in the world who can do what I can do. I live and breathe my work. But is the price too high? I don’t know.

    I just feel so much grief that this career-ending shit is something I have to put up with just because I was born a woman.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      This is heartbreaking. You deserve better. I am so angry for you and I hope a new option comes your way soon.

    2. sunny-dee*

      Don’t (only) report to your company – report it to the police. That guy doesn’t need to lose half of his quarterly bonus or something, he needs to be punished and removed from access to victims.

      1. Cassandra*

        Which is not the same thing as saying that Epazote needs to put herself on the line for (history says) only a very tiny chance that the justice system will make the right call on the rapist. Please let’s not guilt-trip or second-guess victims.

        Epazote, I am very sorry. Adding my voice to Lady Ariel’s: you deserve so much better. I hope the community here is a comfort to you.

      2. Epazote*

        That is totally what I would do if it happened now, but at the time it didn’t occur to me to do that– he was preying on my youth and inexperience. It was over ten years now, so I doubt there would be any use in reporting it at this point.

        1. sunny-dee*

          I get it, and I’m so sorry. Mainly, I was thinking of your safety — if your company won’t remove him, maybe the police would.

          But with it that far in the past … I’m just sorry. ((hugs))

    3. K.*

      Oh my God. Assaulted in your own office? I’m so, so sorry that happened to you. I hate that that happened to you. I’m welling up. You deserve better.

    4. Mallory Janis Ian*

      It is so enraging that, for men, being a superstar in their field and the only person who can do what they do means that they have carte blanche to harass to their hearts’ content and never have to be held accountable for anything. For a woman who is a superstar and the only person in her field who can do what she does, it doesn’t do jack sh*t to insulate her from harassment.

  32. crookedfinger*

    Thank you for sharing your experience, for trying to make that workplace better, and for helping all of us make our own workplaces better. You put so much good out into the world.

  33. Peanut*

    Is leaving the only option when a board is handpicked in this manner, and ignores all other warnings about a CEO? I was in this position, with a sexist and racist CEO. I wasn’t high up in the company, but more towards the bottom of the upper half of the employees in terms of influence/position.

    I ended up leaving, because I didn’t know what else to do.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      TBH, yes, probably. This person created the environment that served his interests, what can you really do from within that environment? Also if someone at the top is blocking any momentum for change, you will find that things never get addressed.

    2. Jules the Third*

      From what I can tell, leaving and GlassDoor are the only options, unless you get standing for a lawsuit.

      1. 2 Cents*

        And even if you do get a lawsuit go-ahead, the NY Times had a (depressing) article about how some case in the 1980s set the bar for what actually constitutes sexual harassment so high that it’s near-impossible for victims to win.

    3. JAM*

      Even leaving doesn’t always put you out of reach. I worked with the people who stayed and at my next job I worked with the person who left. In the end, all but one person left the job within 5 years. It wasn’t just about harassment but about control and he did what he could to ruin and manipulate people. He even found ways to be at public events so they would overlap and see each other. My advice used to be to stay and fight but now I think that can only work if an organization is unaware, horrified, and ready to make things right. Otherwise run as fast as you can.

  34. Be the Change*

    Wow, Alison. Sounds like you actually did a huge amount. You talked about it, you acted. Not getting it exactly right, but *trying*, is what make the leaders. Thanks for your leadership — then AND now.

  35. beanie beans*

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It has floored me this year to continue to hear people (ok men) say “why didn’t you ever say anything?” or “if everyone knew, why didn’t anyone do anything about it?” This stories is just one of far too many stories of how hard it is to create change.

    Alison, I hope that even though you have regrets, you are also proud of the steps you did take to stand up for what’s right. So many of us struggle with even taking the smallest steps because of the fear of the consequences.

  36. Chronic Lurker*

    Long time reader, first time commenter. I wanted to thank you for sharing your story, and also to say that no matter what you did or didn’t do, his behavior was ultimately not your fault or your responsibility. You’re right, I think, to reckon with whatever contributory role you may have played, but he was the one who created the problem and perpetuated it. He chose to harass his employees. He refused to change. His behavior was not a hurricane or an earthquake, something that just happens because of the physical laws of the universe; it was something he chose to do, day after day after day. And frankly, I’m tired of women being blamed for the bad behavior of men.

    In the end, you did exactly what you are often advising people on this blog to do: You tried to navigate a bad situation as professionally as you could; you came to a point where you knew your boss sucked and was not going to change; you moved on, and you learned from the experience.

    Thank you again for opening up and sharing! <3

  37. Cube Ninja*

    We’ve never met, probably never will, but I want you to know you’re one of my favorite humans. A lot of that is *because* you don’t shy away from hard topics.

    We all make mistakes, sometimes more often than we want to, and sometimes about really important stuff. What matters most is what we learn from them and how we move forward.

  38. Gerta*

    I very rarely comment here but read daily and would just like to add my voice and thank you for having the guts to write this.

    All too often people leap to judgment about those caught up in situations, who are stuck with a choice between the bad and the worse, and it’s hard to be sure about the right course of action when you are in the thick of it – or even sometimes with hindsight. I’ve been there, and while I can personally justify my actions to myself I am also certain others would disagree with some of my choices.

    Ultimately, it sounds as those you not only acted in good faith at the time, but have put that experience to good use since. I don’t see anything there to feel guilty for – we can’t expect our past selves to have knowledge we only acquired through subsequent experience, and we all come with certain baggage or concerns (existing loyalties, worries about immediate impact on the organisation, etc) which rightly or wrongly affect our judgement on ‘big picture’ moral issues which might seem simple to someone looking in from the outside.

  39. Corky's wife Bonnie*

    Thank you Alison for sharing, we are all fans of yours, and appreciate your honesty with all of us, and with yourself too.

  40. Mimmy*

    Alison, thank you so much for opening up and sharing with us. I’ll admit I teared up a little reading it.

    1. Mimmy*

      Just to clarify: I teared up because I was moved. This issue coming out this past year has been sad and empowering. A change in culture will take time but I am hopeful now that so many women are speaking out. Thank you Alison for empowering your readers.

  41. ShutemDownOpenUpShop*

    I just read the article. That guy sounds like a piece. of. shhhh…WORK. Thank you for sharing your story and talking about how you have grown. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. The fact that you even addressed this says a lot about your character and how you have grown as a person.

  42. Marion the Librarian*

    Thank you for sharing. Ask a Manager has saved my sanity and my guidebook to navigating my career. You do great work!

  43. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    I have so many reactions.

    Two that seem relevant here, and in this societal moment:

    1) You were also a victim of sexual harassment, and we do not expect victims to take perfectly reasoned actions.

    2) I’ve read the 2010 article, and have to admit that it caused me to think less well of your leadership. But your post today has reminded me that my reaction is one of the insidious side effects (… or perhaps not side effects, but intended purpose) of sexual harassment. This man didn’t just make women uncomfortable or unsafe at their workplace — he also affected their reputations and resumes.

    Thank you for sharing this today. We learn through reflection, and yours is a gift.

      1. Camellia*

        Yes, this was a great article. I also saw this one, just this morning, and forwarded it to all my friends and told them to forward it on. We need to get angry about this and stay angry until our daughters and granddaughters don’t have to put up with it any more.

        1. Camellia*

          This quote from the article broke my heart: “I am 24, and my body makes life dangerous for me.”

  44. Kate, Short for Bob*

    Thank you for sharing. I want to reiterate that you were not responsible for the shitty decisions he continued to make – and is probably still making. I hope your story gives some added clarity to anyone in a similar position.

    And you’re still one of the good ones to me.

  45. MeToo*

    As someone who has experienced sexual harassment. You did a lot more than some people would.
    Thanks for speaking up.

  46. Minerva McGonagall*

    Just adding my voice to the chorus of support.

    While we all have decisions we regret making, we made those decisions as best we could with the information we had at the time. We can’t change the past, but we can use the wisdom we’ve gained to do better today.

  47. Former Hoosier*

    A few years ago I left a job in very similar circumstances, also with a board of directors stacked with supporters and some appalling behavior. I didn’t do anything about it either after I left for a variety of reasons and I have regretted it since.

  48. BookishMiss*

    Thank you for sharing this story, Alison. I appreciate your advocacy and opened on this topic every time it comes up. It’s one of the main reasons I keep reading! Please know your work is meaningful and appreciated.

  49. TheMessenger*

    I know I’ll get killed for this, but we all are constantly making cost-benefit analyses in our heads before we do things. Sometimes we’re spot on with our estimated costs & benefits and sometimes we’re not. We don’t get to go back in hindsight and blame another party for our actions based on a flawed personal cost-benefit analysis at the time.

    An example from the post, “The people calling for his removal deserved my explicit support, and I failed them by not giving that.” Actually Allison, I’d bet that if you presented your decision to those people in terms of costs-benefits, in this situation, benefit being removal of a douche and cost being higher chance of mass layoffs, then I think most would decide they can deal with the douche. It isn’t right or wrong, it’s how the world has worked and will continue to.

    1. Nox*

      I agree, i can’t blame someone for being in that boat. Actually his is the first I have heard of this case with AAM. I had no idea this had become a public thing back in 2010.

    2. Observer*

      I’m not blaming Alison here, but I think she’s right that she made the wrong call.

      The fact that some people left over his behavior means that some people were not only ready to take the risk, but actually decided to forgo their jobs over this. Others might not have had the courage or wherewithal to do that, but would have been willing to take the somewhat smaller risk, especially since this would have left them with the ability to collect unemployment, and would also have made it easier to get another job (it’s easier to get a job when you got laid off because of financial difficulties at the org than when you quite over your boss’ misbehavior.)

      The fact that people left over this says that the guy was more than just a “douche” – and by all of the descriptions, he was a predator.

    3. Working Hypothesis*

      I don’t think they should get to make that decision, though. Because, by making it, they’re not only dooming themselves to further harassment (a choice they arguably get to make), but dooming many OTHER people to sexual harassment also. By not removing the harasser from his position, he’s enabled to continue seeking new victims. The old victims don’t get to throw new victims to him at regular intervals in order to keep their jobs — that’s not an ethical decision to make. Both because the cost-benefit analysis arguably swings to the other side when you factor in the endless parade of new victims who will suffer if he’s allowed to remain, and also because *their* suffering is not the *current* employees’ to give away. If that decision belongs to anyone, it’s to the potential future employees to make for themselves… and since we can’t know ahead of time whom they might be, we can’t ask them. Failing that opportunity, we have an obligation not to protect our own jobs at their sacrifice.

      1. KellyK*

        Yes, that’s a really good point. It’s not for any one victim to make that choice for any others.

        Also, sure, if you *asked* someone whether they’d choose to continue being harassed or to have half the company get laid off, they’d probably choose to continue to be harassed (and look for other work). But a lot of that isn’t just cost/benefit for that individual, it’s also the guilt of “costing other people their jobs” or “destroying the organization.” Even if you could do that, and they would agree, it’s not a fair position to put them in, because it suddenly makes *them* responsible for the harasser’s actions and the likely consequences of those actions.

        1. TheMessenger*

          Interesting and compelling point about the cost/benefit to future potential victims. I must admit, that is not something I took into consideration, and maybe that is part of the problem.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            Yes, that’s where Alison’s former boss got to pull in the threat of taking the organization’s major donors with him if he were forced out. Because everyone there believed in the cause, and didn’t want to risk the results they might be able to obtain with that money, for the sake of protecting the women in the office. (Including, probably, many of those women themselves.)

            It’s interesting how, if you look right at it without squinting, what the boss was saying was, “I expect to be able to buy the bodies of female employees with the money I raise for this organization,” and what the board answered was, “We wish you didn’t want to buy that with it, but because you insist, we’ll sell it to you — we need the money more than we need to protect the women who work here.” Even Alison was saying that, in her decision to retract her demand that he leave because she was worried about what the loss of those donors might do to people’s jobs. She was still saying, “I’m willing to sell you these women in exchange for the money with which to continue hiring the people we hire, because I don’t want to have to lay them off more than I don’t want you to keep harassing people.”

            I think that, even if not so bluntly put, was a good deal of what she was saying she regretted above, and I think she’s right to regret it. Nobody deserves to be sold to a predator because he can bring enough money to the table that somebody decides your rights are an acceptable trade for that money. But it’s a trade we’re all very much in the habit of seeing as normal, because predators try to buy the freedom to continue their predations all the time. So we don’t always see it for what it is, when it comes up.

    4. Former MPPer*

      I worked at the organization in question. The cost-benefit analysis – that our funding would be in jeopardy if he weren’t allowed to remain – was presented to all of us as the chief reason why no action was being taken. We most certainly did not think dealing with him was worth it. We all wanted him gone. We were OK with losing our jobs if it meant he would be removed from a position of power over young women. The majority of us started job-searching right away and either quit in protest or were fired in retaliation over the next year anyway.

    5. Zillah*

      It’s absolutely true that there’s always a cost-benefit analysis going on, and it’s rarely easy.

      However, these things don’t happen in a vacuum. The issue often isn’t one act – it’s the accumulation of them, and the way we’re conditioned to minimize them. If we waited until it was perfectly convenient and wouldn’t stir anything up, the world would never change.

  50. Kalkin*

    When we hear about incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct in the news — where we’re typically detached from the people involved and have the benefit of hindsight — it’s really easy to forget how tough and complicated it is to actually be in the middle of the shit. We need to hold folks accountable for both behavior and complicity, but also to remember this stuff is rarely as clear-cut or simple as it seems when we read about it after the fact. Thank you for making that reminder real, and for owning your mistakes and everything you have done and do to encourage healthier, happier workplaces and relationships.

    1. Observer*

      Well, some of it is, and some not.

      For instance, the Board DID make some decisions that are pretty clear cut. Especially Lewis. It’s horrifying that he pretty much admitted that forcing a predator out would “drive him away.”

      Same for some of the people around Weinstein. The HR person who tried to force him to get therapy was doing her best, even though in retrospect it apparently wasn’t the best call. But, the BOARD that decided to look the other way was making some decisions that ARE clear cut, and very, very bad.

      1. Facts assumed?*

        >Well, some of it is, and some not.

        >For instance, the Board DID make some decisions that are pretty clear cut. Especially Lewis. It’s horrifying that he pretty much admitted that forcing a predator out would “drive him away.”

        That was Rob’s version of events. He was basically the only one who had access to Mr. Lewis, we just have Rob’s word that Peter would pull funding if he was removed. Since Peter ended up pulling the funding soon down the line anyway, it’s possible Rob may have lied to cover his own butt.

        1. Bettsie*

          In the original 2010 article, Peter said that he probably did say he would probably pull out if Rob were forced to leave AND he also said that only something like Rob shooting someone would have made them force Rob to resign. So the donors and board were clearly happy to look the other way, even if in the end Lewis might not have actually pulled funding. And if you’re the person who’s having the showdown with the board over it, well, Lewis (or one of his family members) is a major donor or board member of almost every progressive advocacy group in DC. So it’s not like it’s a small thing to go against him.

        2. Observer*

          I am sure that Kampa would lie if it suited him. But Lewis is quoted in the 2010 article as saying Lewis, the chairman of MPP’s board of directors, denies sending down the ultimatum. “The issue of Rob being forced out by his staff never came to my attention,” says Lewis. “I did offer a reaction to the idea of his not being here—I may have said something about how that might drive me out.…But that didn’t end up being the outcome.”

          So, he kinda sorta “suggested” that he’d leave. Pretty sick, if you ask me.

          And, ultimately, the Board DID have the ability to force him out AND keep the organization afloat, but they chose not to. THAT is a clear cut choice that they made.

    1. Old Admin*

      Yes, thank you, Alison.
      I am super conflicted about your role in the sad mess in 2010, but I am very glad you posted this.
      I’m not HR, but I have had had positions of responsibility in my career, and I have also been entangled with bosses and colleagues who were, ahem, on the wrong side. There is a danger of losing one’s critical distance, and in the long run, of becoming a victim/accomplice as well.
      (In addition to just being a victim of outright harassment and mobbing in other jobs.)
      I can see now how this blog grew out of pain, mistakes, and a form of atonement, as it were.
      At the end of the day, please don’t close down this blog. It has helped me and others in many ways.
      And I have learned from my own mistakes, too.

  51. Kalkin*

    When we hear about incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct in the news, where we’re typically detached from the people involved and have the benefit of hindsight, it’s really easy to forget how tough and complicated it is to actually be in the middle of the shit. We need to hold folks accountable for both behavior and complicity, but also to remember this stuff is rarely as clear-cut or simple as it seems when we read about it after the fact. Thank you for making that reminder real, and for owning your mistakes and everything you do to encourage healthier, happier workplaces and relationships.

  52. nani1978*

    Thank you, Alison.

    You did a great deal at the time, even without specific training, and you were gutsy to speak up and try to do what you believed was best with what you had. I am sure you didn’t sleep well at night.

    In the seven years since, you’ve become ever more a teacher for us, and I am sure you learn more with every letter you get — published and unpublished. You correct yourself and admit when your opinions have changed, and you are tremendously fair. I have never met you (though I hold out hope of a book tour :) ) and I have never yet written a letter for your assessment, but I trust your judgment. (I can’t say this about a lot of people!) Your advice to others really has changed my life for the better.

    I trust you did the best you could in the past, and continue to work towards it in the future. Life is hard! Thank you again for opening up about your regrets and this terrible situation.

  53. Brian S.*

    This experience obviously shaped your worldview, and you used it to educate tens of thousands of people over the years – including me – how to better navigate these kinds of experiences, how to advocate strongly for people who are victims of harassment, and the ethical and moral responsibility that managers have to deal with these kinds of situations promptly and decisively. Ultimately, you have probably helped thousands of victims of harassment and prevented a huge number of incidents by helping people be brave and confront this issue head on. Although we can understand your regret, remember that you channeled your experience into something that has changed the lives of countless readers and their teams.

  54. Amy*

    Thank you for telling this story.

    To me, this doesn’t say that you, personally, failed. It says that the forces supporting serial harassers were and are so strong that even people with the best intentions and instincts get caught up in them without meaning to. It reinforces that this is a bigger problem than any one individual can fix. We’re doing better as a society at being aware of the problem (though, given our starting point, ‘better’ is sometimes still not great); we need to keep that momentum going, continue improving, and continue collectively pushing for change.

    1. LCL*

      Yes, what stands to me from the news story is that even if Alison would have taken a very hard line and continued to demand his removal, the power differential was such that she wouldn’t have been able to get him fired.

  55. No Parking or Waiting*

    As I read this, I found myself surprised, shocked and indignant…at Alison. How could this happen? How could you not do more, do right, do this not that? And then I read you resigned. “At least she did that, because…” Because what?
    Because you’re Alison, dammit. Because you know what to do.
    Because of this. Because of this awful time you went through.
    So here’s to you and all the things that made you the advocate you are today.
    Thank you for sharing this experience and for sharing all your experience. I’ve learned so much and I look forward to next year.

  56. Bettsie*

    I knew about this situation at your former organization, and at the time I just remember feeling grateful that the events (and the public airing of them in the media) weren’t happening at my own DC nonprofit org. (We were also dysfunctional in many ways and going through an extremely tough time of our own!) I read AAM religiously, and after I put together that you had been there, I’ve often wondered about your thoughts on it. Thanks so much for sharing; it’s so important.

  57. Mockingjay*

    Thank you, Alison.

    “I didn’t get it right then but I’ve been trying to get it right ever since.” Oh, but I think you did get at least some of it right then. You counseled him multiple times. When that didn’t work, you advocated for his removal. You stayed too long to protect other employees and the organization’s mission as best you could, at an organization that chose dollars over people.

    And when you couldn’t take it anymore, you left and built AAM. If life is a numbers game, asshole boss 1. AAM +1,000,000. You have helped more people than you will ever know. (And I think asshole boss will be getting his comeuppance pretty soon. Karma.)

    Thank you and bless you.

    1. Jules the Third*

      Well, no. She didn’t get it right then. Don’t take away her hard-won failure.

      But what she’s done since – yeah, that matters too.

      1. Zillah*

        Yeah, I think it’s really important not to equate “could have gotten it more wrong” with “got it right.”

  58. Jam Today*

    Its terrifying. I’ve been the victim of it, and I’ve been a witness to it. I don’t fault people whose reaction is to ball up and protect themselves. The very real threat of job loss that hangs over challenging anyone at work, much less the CEO, is scary and real and can mean the difference between having a home and not having a home, being able to feed your kids and not being able to feed your kids. Ideals are great and worthy, but I can’t spend them at the grocery store, and my landlord doesn’t take them in lieu of rent.

    I will say this: there was a great article in the NYTimes recently that talked about ways to address it from the ground up (versus check-the-box harassment training, as if anyone in 2017 or 2010 for that matter doesn’t know that its wrong — they know. They don’t care.) What they talked about was bystander intervention, and reaching out to the abused to let them know that they are seen and heard. They get into cultural changes that have to come from management decisions, but in lieu of management that has the humanity to actually make those decisions, there is a lot to be said for not turning away from the victim. Even if you catch them in the bathroom, and just ask if they’re OK can be a huge help. Its so, so isolating (especially if you’re in a company that thrives on gossip.)

    1. overly produced bears*

      “(versus check-the-box harassment training, as if anyone in 2017 or 2010 for that matter doesn’t know that its wrong — they know. They don’t care.)”

      I wish I could say that they know it’s wrong. I was in a harassment training session when I started the last job a few years back, and the INSTRUCTOR and two of the guys sitting in my row really did not get it. The entire thing was of the nature of “if a woman decides she doesn’t like something, she calls harassment” and “women, amiright?” It was really not great.

      1. Jules the Third*

        Gah! How hard is it to say, ‘don’t touch people at work, and don’t make dirty jokes, and if you want to ask someone on a date, accept a no cheerfully’?

        1. Kathryn T.*

          easy to say. For men who believe that the bodies of women are theirs to do with as they please as long as they have enough power to get away with it? Hard to hear.

  59. caligirl*

    Alison, thank you for sharing this powerful message with us. You are amazing and I wish you were in charge of all workplaces!

  60. Stopyouarenthelping*

    This was eye opening for me. I think the more these stories are told the less people will be able to get away with in the future because the raised awareness and collective experience is a type of support for those going through this. So good job!

  61. The future will be better*

    Alison, it makes me sad to think of how badly this might make you feel still. You did the best you could at the time, and it’s ridiculous and unfair of us to blame people who aren’t harassers more than the harassers themselves. It’s very difficult to know what to do in those situations, and just because you aren’t a direct victim doesn’t mean you aren’t affected by the unhealthy culture created by your boss. Not knowing how to best react to bad things happening next to you isn’t the same thing as being a bad person.

    It’s not that everyone who didn’t report the many sexual assaults now becoming public is a bad person – we live in a culture that tolerates sexual assault, and that affects how we react. Particularly in the work place, which is someone’s livelihood. At the time time, it’s great that you realize how you could improve in the future.

    1. Future Analyst*

      Yes to all of this: “it’s ridiculous and unfair of us to blame people who aren’t harassers more than the harassers themselves.” Especially women: there’s an expectation that “as a woman” someone should be fighting harder against predators… which is ludicrous, because as women we often yield less power than everyone else.

      1. Mints*

        Women are held to a way higher standard – not just being pretty sure she won’t abuse her power but also expecting her to ensure safety for other women (which of course should be an expectation for everyone, but it isn’t always)

        1. Alice*

          Is that an expectation for women to ensure that other women are safe, or for the leadership team of an organization to ensure that other women are safe?

          1. Mints*

            I just mean generally. Like if there’s a “this person might get creepy” vibe or whisper, both men and women are likely to suggest bringing a female friend along to whatever situation

    2. Lil Fidget*

      Yes, Alison’s mistakes are like … one-one thousandth of the wrong that this guy did *deliberately.* He engineered this whole situation and took advantage of it knowingly. It was his choices that caused so much heartbreak, and yet you know it’s the good people on the sidelines who beat themselves up years after the fact for not doing more.

  62. AKchic*

    I personally think that you did what you could do that wouldn’t cause career suicide for you. Had you made more waves, I am sure that he would have done everything within his power to tank your career in retaliation. Its how most of those types are. And considering his influence, you would have been labeled a rabble-rouser and blowing things out of proportion, hysterical, and trying to find issues where there aren’t any. You would have been labeled the Rose McGowan of your area/department/industry and possibly blacklisted. It may even have hurt your online reputation depending on how things went, or could have shaken your faith in yourself so much that you stopped trying to handle the website and we wouldn’t have this, and neither would you.

    You may not have handled the situation like you would have told others to do, or like you wanted to do, but I think you handled it as best you could considering the climate of the company, and the environmental climate for predatory sexual harassment at the time. Unless you were willing to risk professional suicide, I don’t know just how much more you could have done.

    You are doing more now. You are speaking up. I think that’s all anyone can ask of you, and it’s all you can ask of yourself.

    1. Frances*

      I understand why Alison didn’t get into specifics, so I won’t share them here, but yes, this is a public story. It’s well known in the DC non-profit/advocacy/policy field. Although I didn’t start reading AAM until a few years after the story broke, so I never connected the dots before.

  63. Forever Anon*

    Allison, thank you for sharing this. It was a brave thing of you to do. However, please stop dismissing the article in question as something fabricated by disgruntled staffers. Frankly, a lot of that article hinges on emails and memos that you wrote personally.
    Perhaps it would mean more if you personally reached out to the women who were victimized on your watch. Have you done that?

    1. Snark*

      It’s still entirely possible to quote out of context and otherwise use written and oral communication in a misleading, inaccurate way.

        1. Alice*

          If the article is right that Alison was the chief of staff — “on your watch” is not some kind of crazy statement. Power isn’t just a binary equation, where you are either powerful or powerless. A chief of staff has, or should have, more power than most people in an organization.

          I’m not saying that I would have exercised whatever power I had any better, were I in that situation — but a chief of staff isn’t just a bystander.

          1. Snark*

            That’s a fair point. I guess my point was that everybody around these people are expected to be their guardrail, and faulted intensely for failing to chart a perfect course through a no-win situation, when the abuser is the one with whom ethical responsibility ultimatley lies. My wife went through something much like this, and was flamed almost more intensely than the actual perpetrator.

            1. Myrin*

              I am reminded of one of contender’s for this year’s worst boss which I re-read again only yesterday – the OP’s boss left a profanity-ridden voicemail to an employee who hadn’t shown up because, unbeknownst to him, she’d died. Her family was understandably livid and yet the organisation (and the boss himself) put much more blame on the OP, who was out of the country, hadn’t know about the employee’s passing either, and wasn’t involved in any of this. And yet somehow she was the bad guy because she didn’t magically stop her boss from being a grade-A arsehole. People astound me.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t dismiss the article in its entirety. Absolutely not. It does contain a bunch of things that aren’t correct, but I certainly don’t dismiss many of its larger points.

    3. Mananana*

      And it is absolutely none of our business whether she’s reached out or not. And it’s not up to you to decide how much it means.

      1. CloudCuckoo*

        Alison made it our business by writing about it. Her post made it clear that how she handled this situation has is something she has regretted for years. She is very openly and honestly telling us about a time when she was involved in this issue and that it was really hard to know what to do. That takes guts! We all like to imagine that when we’re the victim of harassment or we witness it, that we’d be all Norma Rae and save the day. That’s not real life. And the truth is always a lot more complicated and it’s a lot more difficult to do that when you’re in the situation than you think it’s going to be. There’s no need to beat up on her, but based on the situation that she described, if I was a woman working in that organization who was subject to this behavior, I don’t know that I would have sen her as a trusted ally.

        1. Zillah*

          I agree with you overall, but I’m troubled by the idea that telling one’s story automatically opens one up to criticism for how one handled the situation, and I did want to point out that that’s not quite fair.

    4. Important Moi*

      For all you know, Alison reached out and the victims don’t want it publicized. This is none of your business.

    5. Courtney*

      How many arguments have there been in the comments of threads on this site about whether it’s helpful or harmful to reach out to those you have hurt in the past? There are those of us who would absolutely want it to happen, and those who would hate it and strongly feel that zero contact is best unless the other person reaches out. These things are complicated, and your assumptions here aren’t really helpful towards the overarching issue.

    6. Optimistic Prime*

      I don’t think Alison dismissed the article as something “fabricated by disgruntled staffers.” What she said was:

      I also want to be up-front that the way I tried to navigate the situation left some people thinking I was being an apologist for him. I never intended that. I had a years-long track record of calling him out on his behavior. But I definitely did make mistakes in trying to figure out how to help the organization and its staff through an awful situation, and some of those mistakes laid me open to understandable criticism. I’ve wished for years that I could have a redo, because there’s a lot I would do differently if I had the chance.

      In this, Alison clearly takes responsibility for the fact that she gave off the impression that she was supporting the director/her boss and that she made some mistakes in navigating the situation. Her statement about the article simply said that there were some “inaccuracies” without getting into the details about how those inaccuracies got there.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I have in the past pointed out to people that some of what was in the article wasn’t true and that at least some of the inaccuracies came from people who were angry. I think that’s what Forever Anon was referring to.

  64. Tara*

    Thank you for sharing. It has been valuable for me as a younger woman in an office setting to see how other women navigated these situations, even if imperfectly. I love this website, and I hope your experience and others’ will help us find a better way to move forward, a better way to respond. A lot of posts on here are sometimes a sanity check, and it is good to hear that others, even those with more experience, are still not sure what the exact right thing to do is.

  65. Annabelle Lee*

    I’m interested in 2 things:
    How you tried to help the victims and why there is no apology to them in your very long statement?

      1. Forever Anon*

        She absolutely should apologize. She help a position of authority in that organization and she chose to publicly support the abuser. Yes, she’s admitted to her mistake, but the responsibility is on her shoulders to some degree. Those women deserve an apology.

        1. Delphine*

          It’s possible that she has reached out personally? Those apologies shouldn’t be through a public statement.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I haven’t reached out to them individually. I’ve thought about it but I don’t want to do anything that would be unwelcome. I’m going to think more about it.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Is there someone you could have ask on your behalf if it would be welcome? We’ve certainly seen there are strong opinions on both sides of this debate in numerous conversations on this site.

            2. Anon lady*

              As someone who left my last job due to sexual harassment from a manager, I wish someone who was part of the process would reach out to me with something like your letter here. I was told by HR that their hands were tied, the C-suite was aware of the manager’s behavior but wanted to keep him around because he brought in high dollar value clients. I know it wasn’t HR’s fault. But I wish someone there had pushed back on the C-suite or brought the issue to the board rather than saying, “Sorry, the big boss won’t listen, continue to work under the harrassing manager or leave.”

              However, I know that others in a similar situation would not want to hear from their former workplace. It’ll be different for everyone. Do what feels right to you, and hopefully your letter reaches those who’d want to see it.

              1. Texan at Heart*

                Alison, (ignore this if you just need to think about what to do a little more), but if you’re looking for feedback on whether to send something, I’d consider the possibility of traditional mail rather than email. When a former supervisor makes a contact via email, there is a decision to be made about whether to reply, and at this point, I’d guess that any additional decision-making would be stressful for them. A mailed letter carries slightly more weight (you took the time to get a stamp and go to the post office), and clearly doesn’t require a reply.

                This is such a tough call. Good luck as you sort through it.

        2. Snark*

          The clarity that comes with perfect hindsight and no skin in the game makes it very easy to navigate ethically thorny situations with no good outcomes. But I will push back, hard, on the notion that there’s responsibility on her shoulders. The responsibility lies entirely on him, as does the obligation to restorative justice. I tend not to harshly judge people who fail to behave perfectly in no-win situations with multiple competing ethical responsibilities.

          1. Snark*

            Also, an apology is a personal thing, not a performative self-flagellation – it would be most appropriate to tender it personally and directly, not on a blog.

            And there’s also the issue that he’s a litigous creep and posting such an apology publicly would be all the pretext he needs.

            1. Squeeble*

              Seriously. If there’s going to be apologies to the specific people involved, I don’t think we are entitled to see them.

              1. tigerlily*

                This is something that comes up in the responses to people’s letters here all the time and it drives me bananas. Why do so many commenters here think they deserve to witness the apology of something they have absolutely no involvement in?

                1. Snark*

                  And, to expand a bit, my wife was put in a similar position as Alison – weirdly, at about the same time, too – and the whole experience left me a little less trustworthy of the clarity of hindsight and how facile righteousness is with no dog in the fight. It seems that someone needs to underline that there’s a big difference between being an abuser operating with impunity, and being one of those doing their sad-ass human best to find the least worst outcome, and to focus the outrage on the one with ultimate ethical responsibility.

              1. FD*

                Actually, I would suggest that what Snark and others doing is quite important. In this case, Alison has spent seven years beating herself up about this. She is now choosing to speak publicly about a situation where she feels that she made mistakes. The ugly thing that tends to happen as a side effect of someone speaking out is in many cases, people focus more on attacking the person who failed to stop something than on the person who chose to do it.

                I think it’s important for people to respect people who are at least trying to do something–even if their response is imperfect, or even in cases where they didn’t do anything at the time because they feared for their careers or couldn’t afford the risk in other ways. Attacking people who admit they made a mistake just encourages people to hide those mistake.

                1. BWooster*

                  “Actually, I would suggest that what Snark and others doing is quite important. In this case, Alison has spent seven years beating herself up about this.”

                  I would suggest that what people are doing pushing back against Alison is also quite important. She isn’t being attacked, she is being questioned. In to paraphrase Snark, people are “pushing back not-so-hard” against the idea that the women who were victims have nothing against Alison. In her post she said that her actions made her seem like an enabler. I’d argue that enabler is exactly what she was. She did it for her own reasons, and those reasons might have seemed sound at the time but she still made a choice and it is no sin to hold her to account for them.

                2. Snark*

                  No, it’s no sin. And I bet it feels rather righteous. But rereading her post, I’m finding it hard to believe you’re going to hold her to account any more harshly than she herself is, and I’m not seeing where she’s attempting to evade that.

                3. FD*

                  @BWooster, I don’t disagree with you that Alison probably made mistakes. She’s said that just as much in her post.

                  I am saying that when people are too eager to focus on the mistakes someone who was trying to do something made, it makes people in general less likely to (a) do something, because they know no matter what they do they’ll be vilified and (b) admit to having made mistakes because they expect people to pile on them.

                  That’s why I think it’s important that when someone speaks up, admits to mistakes, and analyzes their own behavior seriously, it’s important to defend that person. It’s not just for the self-esteem of the person speaking up. It helps make it safe for others thinking of doing the same.

            2. overly produced bears*

              A public apology makes sense if you don’t know who the people being apologized to are, such as you might have hurt a large swath of people but don’t know specifics of who they are. This isn’t that kind of circumstance at all. A public apology in this would just be performative, since it might be “addressed” at specific people, but the public nature of it makes it more about the person apologizing than the people who were harmed, and it turns them into props.

              My personal experience of this kind of thing makes me a bit twitchy, though. Apologizing should be done in private, not as a display.

            3. Important Moi*

              Snark, your comments are eloquent and thoughtful. I agree with everything you’ve said…clarity that comes with perfect hindsight and no skin in the game makes it very easy to navigate ethically thorny situations with no good outcomes…you’ve said it so much better than I could.

          2. Alice*

            I think the quest to find the ONE source of a problem (“entirely on him”) is a big reason why we occasionally see the fall of individual harassers, but rarely succeed in reforming systems and culture.

            1. Snark*

              But do the systems and culture operate independent of individual abusers? In my observation, while these people are protected and enabled by systems and cultures, they create the system and the culture specifically to carve out space to behave with impunity. Every skeevy-ass joke he told, every time he faked contrition and then did what he wanted anyway, every time he cozied up to an important donor, he carved out more space. The relationship is inextricable.

              1. Alice*

                The relationship between a charismatic leader and the organizational culture is indeed inextricable, and that’s why it’s reductive to say that the responsibility lies entirely on one bad actor.
                Sure, he’s fully responsible for his actions, and I haven’t seen anyone in this thread blaming Alison for his actions. However, the board and leadership in the organization (chief of staff included) have their own responsibility: to react to his actions by changing the systems and culture that allowed harassment to flourish.
                Yes, that is easier said than done, for Alison and for your wife and for anyone in that position. Being a manager is hard, especially in a toxic organization. But sometimes “doing the best you can” isn’t enough — maybe that’s facile, but it’s also true.

                1. Snark*

                  “However, the board and leadership in the organization (chief of staff included) have their own responsibility: to react to his actions by changing the systems and culture that allowed harassment to flourish.”

                  If she’s not enabled to actually do any of those things, how then? She tried to instate a sexual harassment policy; he refused to. She tried to convince the board to act; they were his buddies.

          3. $$$$$$*

            yeah, but when i make mistakes i don’t then go on to make a career out of a false persona and a reputation for candor.

            1. Optimistic Prime*

              But that’s not at all what she did. Alison has clearly used her experiences to push for people and advise to speak up, to not accept terribleness in their workplace situations, and to advocate for fairness and kindness in workplace situations. It’s a common thread all through her work. As a matter of fact, when I read this, it was like a small puzzle piece fell into place – it’s clear that this experience was a touch point in her life that clearly influenced her perspective and the good advice that she gives now.

              What are people who make mistakes (after trying really hard to change cultures) supposed to do? Go hide in a cave for the rest of their life and self-flagellate? She’s reflected on her mistakes, she talked about what she would do different and then she’s used the platform she now has to advocate for a more positive management culture.

        3. tigerlily*

          But unless you’re one of the women who were victimized, she doesn’t need to apologize to you and it’s not necessary to put into this statement she’s posting for her readers.

    1. FD*

      1. She tried to help the victims by attempting, multiple times, to get the person to stop? She wasn’t ultimately successful. But sometimes, you aren’t successful, both through not having great options and/or not having enough experience to know what you should do.

      2. This entire statement is essentially about how she is sorry she wasn’t able to do more and how, thinking back, she wishes she had handled some things differently.

      3. Let’s not forget that the guilt belongs to the person who, despite being told multiple times that he should stop and that he was causing issues, refused to stop what he was doing.

      1. paul*

        1 is a huge point that I think people are overlooking…sometimes you try, and try, and it isn’t enough to fix a problem.

      2. FD*

        There’s a great comment in a news post linked elsewhere, but there is an excellent line which I think demonstrates this very reaction.

        But it should also tell us about the shitty position women are so often put in: as the designated guardians, entrusted —whether as colleagues or wives — with policing men’s bad behaviors, they will get dinged for complicity if they don’t police it vigilantly enough, and risk being cast as castrating villainesses if they issue sentence.

        1. tigerlily*

          So important. I think women can absolutely be complicit in sexism and sexual harassment/assault on other women, but so often we let what they could have done better overshadow what they did do, what they had no control over, and most importantly what was done to them. Alison may have held a position of power in this company, but let’s not forget she was a victim of sexual harassment in her own right.

          1. FD*

            Definitely. And I think one thing that’s actually really important in general is helping people become less complicit in systematic injustice of all sorts.

            I think talking honestly about cases like that can actually help. In absolutes, it’s easy to say “You should never tolerate sexual harassment ever and you should make a fuss if you see it.” But for people facing it right now in the real world, it’s more helpful to see an example of, “I tried to do [X], and in hindsight, I think it would have been better to do [Y].” Other people might disagree, and think that [Z] would be the best to do. You can have a productive conversation that can help make the world better that way.

            When someone says. “I tried to do [X], and in hindsight, I think it would have been better to do [Y].” and you respond with “You’re right, and you were horrible for doing [X]”, you might be right, but there’s really nowhere to go from there.

        2. PlainJane*

          This. As women involved in these situations, whether as victims, bystanders or mediators, we. can’t. win. Oh, you stayed in spite of this? Why didn’t you resign in protest? You quit? Why didn’t you stay and try to stop it? I understand the criticism of Alison in this case–to a point–but I’m sick to death of women being blamed for the behavior of predatory men. We do what we think is best in the moment. It’s easy to second-guess when you’re not in the middle of a toxic situation.

    2. Observer*

      You know this is the kind of thing that keeps people from coming forward.

      It’s one thing to acknowledge that she didn’t handle the situation in an ideal manner. It’s another to get this critical.

      And, it seems to be that what she says IS an apology, although not personal. Nit picking her language does nothing to move the conversation forward or move against the people with the power to make change who refused to do so.

      To be clear, I’m not especially trying to defend Alison per se, although I think she deserves it. But I’m finding it very frustrating that although the tendency to attack the people who at least TRIED to do the right thing, and who have TRIED to learn from the past mistakes rather than the predators and the people who did nothing to stop the behavior and blocked any attempt at change, is a known reason why people don’t come forward – it’s still happening. By people who are claiming to be advocates.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Not related to an apology, but do the people in this case who were harrassed, felt forced to quit their jobs, etc see Alison as one who tried to do the right thing? Or as one who had some level of power but ultimately pushed for keeping the status quo?

        Don’t get me wrong, I love Alison’s honest rendering here–I had never heard of this and googled it just now..What she’s doing is admirable.

        1. Observer*

          In THIS context, it doesn’t really matter. If someone who had to deal with the fallout of Alison’s choices were to say “I don’t want to work with her, because I don’t believe that she REALLY was trying to help” I’m not going to argue with them. They could be objectively wrong about her intentions, but they still live with the negative repercussions of her actions.

          But, for everyone else, what is relevant is what Alison tried to do, and what she has tried to do going forward.

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            I think that’s the point though…”what she tried to do” is going to be seen and interpereted differently based on whose viewpoint we’re talking about. Just like Alison’s boss’ actions were seen and interpreted difffernetly by people depending on their viewpoint at the time…

      2. Forever Anon*

        No. No way. What prevents women from coming forward is management that doesn’t have their back. The ones who, when faced with a suspected rape, say something like “It was terrible judgment—on behalf of both of them.”
        Allison may have owned up to her mistakes, but she is in no way the victim. The only victims are the ones who were preyed on by her boss, while she gave him a public statement of support.

        1. Observer*

          Bad management is ONE of the things that keeps women from coming forward. But, many many woman have made it clear that this kind of second guessing is what keeps them quiet even after they are out from under the bad management.

          I’m not saying that it’s universal. But it’s a real issue. Pretending it isn’t, for any reason, is unhelpful at best, and generally actively harmful.

          1. Optimistic Prime*

            It’s also going to prevent people who are in the structure/system from speaking out, too, lest they also get called out for all of the mistakes they made regardless of whether or not they were trying to help.

        2. Zillah*

          I don’t think that it has to be an either/or situation. One can be both complicit in maintaining the status quo of misogyny and predatory behavior and a victim of that status quo. I don’t think people should get a pass on the former, but by the same token, I don’t think it does us any good to deny the latter.

  66. ArtK*

    Wow! Thank you for sharing this, Alison.

    I’ve been thinking about this topic a great deal recently and your perspective helps. It shows that, as managers, our duty to our people, to ourselves, and our duty to the organization can come into serious conflict, with no good solution. Do we fire someone, or make an effort to rehabilitate? Do we stay and try to change a toxic culture, or walk away from it?

    I don’t think that you need to beat yourself up about what you didn’t do. The gift of hindsight and more experience may show some things that you could have done differently, but I doubt that anything would have corrected the situation. It sounds like it would take that PR or legal disaster to prompt anything but the most superficial changes; even then, in 2010, it would have been far more likely for stuff to get swept further under the rug. One single voice saying “this is wrong” was the definition of futility.

    It’s encouraging that society is beginning to recognize that there must be change. Like any social adjustment, this is going to take time and there will be steps forward and steps backwards. This is a multi-generational thing. There’s a significant segment of the population, both male and female (and all variations thereof) who are comfortable with the status quo. But we all must continue to push for the changes, even if things only get somewhat better in our lifetimes. It’s far better to have tried and come up short than to never try at all.

  67. Comms Girl*

    Thank you for sharing, Allison. I’m sorry you had to go through this, and I hope he gets his comeuppance very soon.

  68. AndersonDarling*

    I’ve been having discussions with folks wondering if the MeToo movement would start focusing on the HR departments that allowed predators to keep their jobs. I had no idea Alison had this in her background, and I appreciate this look into how complicated these situations are. It’s not like a perv is going to hire an exceptional, experienced HR staff to put a damper on his activities. He will hire someone inexperienced who can be influenced or a friend that can be manipulated. I don’t meant to be accusatory or insulting, it’s just that people like this know who to surround themselves with so they can keep their lifestyle.
    The stories and perspectives that are shared will help more people trying to navigate the same murky waters. It was brave to share this.

  69. Oxford Common Sense*

    Thank you so much for sharing, Allison.

    Your story reminded me of a similar one from my work history, not about sexual harassment but about nonprofit boards and their failure to act in situations where the ED is at fault. There’s a lot more to be explored there in relation to nonprofit governance.

  70. Nita*

    Alison, thank you for sharing this. I’m sorry you had to work with this person. It must have been so gross. I can see why you stayed of course, it must have seemed like the better of a bunch of bad options for a long time.

    A little birdie tells me that the house-cleaning going on all over the country now won’t miss this dude. The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.

  71. Joy*

    Thanks for sharing this, Alison. One reason I love your advice so much is because of how no-nonsense you are when it comes to calling out creepy and harassing behavior for what it is. And for details like defaulting to feminine pronouns, tackling the problem with calling women “females” as a noun, and putting a stop to sexism in the comments.

    I’m one of the many women who have left a job in the past due to a creepy, sexist boss, and I agree with the many commenters above, like Snark, who’ve articulated the crux of the problem: bosses like this leave you with no good options, just a range of bad ones.

  72. Canadian J*

    Thank you for sharing this. Your blog has been an amazing resource, and has definitely influenced the way I (and many, many others) approach their day-to-day work life.

    Thank You!

  73. Kathryn T.*

    Thank you for writing this.

    It’s very hard to change an organization unless you’re heavily entrenched in it and have power within it. But being heavily entrenched in an organization can make it hard to tell if the organization is capable of change or worth the effort you’re putting into it, because your own perspective is so heavily colored by the experiences you have there. And having power within the organization can be a double edged sword, too, because actions taken with the intent to change the culture from within can be taken as enabling and collaborating with the culture, if people don’t know your intent or choose to ignore it.

    These situations are so murky and upsetting when you’re in the middle of them. I appreciate your candor about your process, about your personal stress, and about how you felt your hands were tied at the time and how you feel your response was inadequate in hindsight. It’s hard coming to the realization that your boss sucks and isn’t going to change. I hope people can learn from accounts like yours that the “why didn’t you just” narratives that we all want to be true rarely are.

  74. Ask a Manager* Post author

    The response to this is making me cry. Thank you. I have carried an enormous amount of shame and guilt about this for years, and I had expected something very different.

    There have been a few comments linking to info about the man now, which I’m hesitant to let out of moderation because I want to minimize my potential exposure to legal threats from him. I hope that makes sense.

    1. Kathryn T.*

      It makes sense, and it makes me FURIOUS, because HE should be the one afraid, not you. (Furious at the world, to be clear. Not furious at you.)

    2. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

      It’s understandable that you want to protect yourself. It’s also incredibly infuriating that even many years later his reach is that long and still scares you. I know that name-calling is juvenile and accomplishes nothing but this guy is an a$$hat!

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      You are in a much better position to be an advocate if you protect yourself from legal threats. If people are really curious, they can google and find it pretty easily.

    4. CM*

      I think what you wrote is an important piece of the puzzle — people are coming forward saying, “I was harassed,” but you don’t hear many people saying, “I was part of the system, in hindsight I wish I had handled things much differently, but here’s why I made those choices and here’s what I’ve learned.”

    5. Anonymous Educator*

      You were not wrong. You did the best you could with what you could at the time. You don’t need to second-guess yourself. Even if you think, knowing what you know now, that you could have made “better” choices, the hurt was not caused by you. Your predatory boss was solely at fault.

      1. Trial by firework*

        Echoing all the thanks for reflecting and posting on this. It’s easy to assign black and white terms to things, and I appreciate that you’re willing to wade into the moral ambiguity and talk about how hard it is to know which is which but also how you can learn from experience to make better decisions going forward.

    6. wayward*

      No hard feelings. It’s just not hard to figure out who you’re talking about and there’s nothing stopping other people from publicly making the connection.

    7. MuseumChick*

      Ugh, he is just the kind of scumbag that would do something so blatantly wrong for years and then try to sue people once he is exposed.

      I think your story is very important in the conversation around sexual harassment that has been happen in this country. You are a good person doing that best you can and you made the wrong call in this situation. You learned from it, grew from it, and have spent 10 years educating the public on what a healthy work place is and is not. I hope this asshat doesn’t try to reach out to you in anyway.

    8. The future will be better*

      Alison, not only do I think you’re blameless to begin with (you are NOT the abuser, you did your best, however little it was, to stop sexual harassment while yourself knee-deep in an environment that promotes sexual harassment), even if you had been in the wrong, you deserve to forgive yourself. We make mistakes. We can learn from our mistakes. We can become better people. You do not deserve to be blamed forever for your behavior near a sexual abuser, in the negative environment he created.

      All of the people finally coming forward about sexual abuse are not bad people – we live in a culture that tolerates abuse, and it sadly affects us all. Everyone likes to believe they would’ve acted perfectly – but reality of all of the accusations coming out this year is that many, many of us are only human, and part of the culture we live in. That’s okay.

      It’s very wonderful that you’ve told your story.

    9. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

      I’ve been looking for the best words, but I’ll just say it.

      Alison, you didn’t have an Alison at AAM. That support source wasn’t there to help you. You did the best you could with the facts you knew, and you are owning your mistakes.

      This site has helped (and does help) more and more people every day. You are helping the next Alisons in situations like you were in with your platform and your experience. If this isn’t the kind of thing that people talk about when they mention life-changing events, I don’t know what is. You used that horribleness to improve the abilities of others going forward. People that are worried about how to handle these things now not only have advocates readily available on the internet, but sound paths forward from you and others that have been there and are willing to share their stories.

      1. SaraHC*

        So much this. Thank you, Alison, for everything you’ve done to encourage healthy workplaces. You’ve learned from hard events and are paying those lessons forward in a truly constructive way.

      2. Zillah*

        Love this comment. One thing that I value most about AAM is that I feel like it’s prepared me to handle a lot of situations I otherwise would be/have been shocked into paralysis by.

    10. Mimmy*

      I am sad that you have been carrying those feelings all these years – you have absolutely nothing to feel ashamed or guilty about. These are the types of situations that are not cut-and-dry. Perpetrators can be very skilled at muddying the waters, so to speak.

      Please be kind to yourself. Sending cyber-hugs and a message to your cats to give you all the snuggles you can stand <3

    11. Suddenly Free*

      Alison, you have created a place where people can share their experiences and get advice and perspectives from a wide variety of viewpoints. A place where we’re allowed to break down the complexities of working life, honestly assess the issues and get help and support in dealing with them. What you have shared here shows me that you are a human being like the rest of us. You do things right, and you make mistakes. To me, this story shows you following the same process you daily encourage your readers to follow. You’re walking the walk, and doing that here in the very space you created for that purpose. Thank you.

    12. Cassandra*

      It absolutely makes sense. In my field, women who spoke up about a man I had heard bad things about through whisper networks were sued by him, and the settlement both silenced them and drove them out of the field.

      Defamation litigation is hideously scary. Please do continue to protect yourself as best you know how. Hate to lose you.

      Also tearing up reading the comments here, for what it’s worth.

    13. kms1025*

      oops…sorry Alison…feel free to delete the link in my previous post.

      You are awesome…please don’t let self-recriminations, or any other kind of abuse, stop you from what you are currently doing. Lessons learned are often painful and full of “woulda, coulda, shoulda”. You now know better, and you have advised many of how to better handle situations that can be tricky, and downright dangerous. Thank you for your honesty and your willingness to help : ) You’re an advice column rockstar!

    14. Epazote*

      As someone who was the victim of similar circumstances (you can see my story above somewhere), I want you to stop beating yourself up about this. The thing about sexual predators is that they are very, very good at what they do. At manipulating people and throwing them off balance to retain their power. At surrounding themselves with pliant victims.

      You might have nominally had a lot of power in this situation, but I’m sure he chose the staff, the board, and the donors that he did because he had you all hopelessly outclassed (I mean, just look at how everything went down.) And this sort of abuse is really hard to recognize, understand, and manage unless you’ve seen it before and done a lot of thinking/therapy about it. It certainly took me years of therapy to figure things out, and that was after I had extricated myself from the situation. You were right in the thick of it.

      I have a lot of anger towards the people who did this to me. I feel anger towards the perpetrator, and I wish that he would vanish from the face of the earth because thereis no hope for him, and I want him to stop hurting people. I feel anger towards the bystanders who knew what was going on and did nothing, but I want them to learn and change. I want them to learn to believe and stand up for the victims and not just write them off because the perpetrator is “a nice guy” or something.

      You’ve obviously learned and wouldn’t do all that again, but more than that, you’ve turned yourself into a massive force for good with this website. So, please, you have my permission to stop beating yourself up for this. Don’t do the perpetrator’s work for him by making yourself feel bad. You’re too awesome for that, and you will only continue to do great things.

    15. Working Hypothesis*

      What kind of response *did* you expect here? From us? Hopefully, you know this community. You were really not much different from some of the people who write to you, Alison.

      You were young, in a toxic workplace — and HOW often have I read you telling people that toxic workplaces totally skew one’s sense of normality, even if one isn’t an active part of the toxicity oneself??? — without any solution that was within your power, and with a carefully-set trap in which any action you took would hurt some of the same people whom you wanted to protect. In that mess of a situation, you made a choice, and it turned out to be a wrong one. You figured out that it was a wrong choice and that you were in a toxic workplace; you left that workplace, and your sense of normality eventually righted itself. You went on to have a thriving career doing good in the world and using your previous mistake and its consequences as a learning experience which allowed you to help people more effectively.

      If you were one of your own LWs and wrote in with that as an update, we would be cheering for you in utter delight that the disaster you’d begun with had ultimately such a happy ending, for you and for the people you were now able to help. And you’d be the first to cheer them on.

      Treat yourself like one of your LWs, please. Recognize that the update is positive even if the original letter wasn’t, and that we respect and admire people who turn their mistakes into learning experiences and go on to do better, here.

      1. Jules the Third*


        You’re getting sympathy for two reasons:
        1) you deserve it – this post demonstrates a real understanding of and contrition for your error, and the last few years of AAM have shown what you are able to do to change and improve.
        2) we’ve been there, a lot of us, in situations with no good answers. You’ve actually given us a good response: “Your boss sucks and he isn’t going to change.”

        That Jerk sucked, and he wasn’t going to change. You did make some errors, but you’ve been working through them.

        The one thing I wonder is, what would you do differently now? Certainly, I think you wouldn’t make some comments that you made. What else?
        Not take the job in the first place?
        Push harder for him to go, even if it destroyed the org?
        Leave earlier?

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          I would love to know more about what you would do more if you were faced with that situation today, also, Alison! Not because I’m “checking up” that you’d do well enough, but because I admire and respect your *present-day* knowledge of how to navigate horrific workplace situations, and I would love to read the expert’s opinion on what should have been done there. If you feel you can’t because it’s too close, still, I’ll understand, though.

          But I REALLY think this guy should go on the ballot for Worst Boss!! He’d win in a landslide, I bet. Can you add him, please? (Not by name, obviously; by the same type of referent your LW’s bosses get.)

    16. Old Admin*

      Alison, I understand perfectly that you need to legally protect yourself, hence the moderation of links and names.

      Also everybody, I would like to quote what Alison usually says in the comment section – please avoid piling on to a person who already knows she didn’t do it all right. Question, yes, discuss, oh yes, analyze, sure all day long!
      But don’t dump on her. Even though this comment section is moderated, she has been releasing a deal of piling on her already. It must be hard to do that.

      And I see a real danger of Former Boss having this blog closed down just for her post. Alison, I hope you are retaining legal counsel and are able to defend against any s**t coming from that corner.

    17. Ramona Flowers*

      Alison you didn’t have control over the situation before. You get to have control now. You can choose not to release those comments.

    18. Optimistic Prime*

      I wouldn’t worry about it. I did a Google search for your name and I was very easily able to find an article about the situation. Anyone who really wants to know can find the information if they want to without exposing you unnecessarily to legal threats. (And based on his comments in an interview that he knew would be publicized…he sounds like a real gem. So I don’t blame you for not wanting to make it easier for him to build a case.)

    19. Bibliovore*

      After reading through the comments, I just want to note again that the AAM blog has been a working amends for the actions of the past that you regret. We have critical conversations here discussing appropriate and inappropriate behavior, harassment, and management. This is a gift to those of us who did not have mentors and may have been scarred by past experiences. Thank you.

  75. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

    Thank you for sharing this. I read this and experienced so much frustration and anger that I know that those feelings – and more- must be bubbling inside of you as the person who lived it. I’m sorry that you went through this, that the good guys don’t always win in the end, that it’s still a “boys club” in so many workplaces, and that you feel like you owe your readers an apology for how handled it. From what you’ve written you seem to have done your absolute best to change the situation but the reality is that there are some people who refuse to change because they don’t think they’re the problem. It seems like you worked for one such person. Let’s hope that the change we’re seeing in the news lately continues to build until the men who do these things are removed from their positions of power – forever.

  76. Mep*

    This sounds like the birth of your boss sucks and isn’t going to change.
    Thank you for sharing your story and starting this platform that guides so many in making better decisions in their work lives. You are awesome.

  77. Chicken*

    Thanks for writing this. I think it was the right thing to do, and it will help so many others to read it.

  78. animaniactoo*

    From my own personal history: My parents did a lot of stuff wrong. They had a lot of inherited dysfunction and we had some external factors that made it even more stressful. BUT. They did one major thing right. They kept trying to make it better. They got themselves into therapy, they read everything they could, consulted people, got us into family therapy, got individual therapy for those of us who needed it. And they never stopped trying to make it better. Did it happen in a timeline that means I had a great childhood? No. But I did have a lot less awful childhood than I could have. And I have a great relationship with them today.

    I can forgive them all of it because they never stopped trying to make it better when they were getting it wrong. They were human, they made mistakes, and they were dealing as best as they could. Same to you. It takes a lot to admit that even trying your best to keep making it better, you still got it wrong. I respect you so much for doing that. Likewise, I respect you for pushing past and using the platform you’ve created to keep trying to make it better on the whole.

    1. Anon for obvious reasons*

      Yes, this exactly. One of my parents was awful – was in fact a sexual predator – and has said ‘sorry’, but more like “I’m sorry for myself” than “I’m sorry I hurt you”. I’m estranged from that parent. My other parent did little to protect me or my siblings at the time, but has since done a ton of therapy and started figuring it out. I’m never going to be unhurt by their lack of protection, but I can forgive it. I’m looking forward to seeing that parent at Christmas.

  79. overly produced bears*

    Alison, thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Reading things like “In response to that, he convinced several of us, including me, that if he was forced out, the funders he’d brought in would leave too, meaning the organization would need to lay off the majority of its staff. This seemed plausible — he’d personally cultivated wealthy donors and had personal relationships with them, while no one else on staff had much contact with them. (The board members too were handpicked contacts of his and, again, were nearly all men who he’d built close relationships with.)”, it’s just so easy for me to say “well, then that place doesn’t deserve to exist”, but those are people’s jobs and people’s lives. I don’t know what I would have done there either. It’s a really bad situation all around when the people In Charge who should handle it abdicate their responsibility. It hurts everyone, but mostly the people who can least afford to be hurt.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. My hope for 2018 is that we’ll be able to forge a new kind of normal where we as a society are much better able to handle these things, in a way that protects victims and doesn’t punish them.

    1. FD*

      Yeah, exactly. Even in a for-profit, what do you do when you know that Wakeen’s just put a down payment on a new house and Jane’s helping pay for her mother’s cancer treatments? And in a non-profit too, you then have to agonize over what happens if there’s no one to do your work?

      It’s easy to armchair quarterback these things, but it’s much harder to make this kind of decision when it’s other people’s livelihoods, people you know and care about.

      1. paul*


        One of the things I won’t forget–but would like to–is my organization making some calls that got another agency defunded. They deserved to be; they were providing crappy services, bookkeeping was shoddy, they couldn’t document what they were spending money on or what their program actually *did* for people…but a lot of their front line employees were low income, well meaning people with a razor thin safety net themselves.

        I damn well promise all of us involved in that knew that and it hurt us…but a lot less than it hurt the front line employees. Wasn’t their fault their board and CEO were crap.

        1. FD*

          Definitely. And that’s one of the most frustrating things about the broader situation. Often when these things come out, even if a person is ousted, it’s everybody else who gets hurt the worst. It’s not the movie star with millions to fall back on who gets hurt the worst. It’s the assistants working 80 hour weeks for a pittance. It’s the front-line employees who lose their jobs when a company folds because an ED’s actions lose them their funding.

          That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be exposed. It’s just that there’s a cost to it that means that it’s often not as simple as “Someone should have done something.”

      1. overly produced bears*

        Yes. 2010 was the year I went into a job and every single day of my final month there, I was terrified out of my mind for every second of it until it finally ended, jumping at noises, until it finally ended. I’d been unemployed for a while before that toxic job and was looking down another endless string of unemployment. I put up with a lot in those six months in that bad job. I have a great job now so it’s easy for me to say, I’d leave. I have options now and I have a good job, so I can be picky. I had NONE OF THAT in 2010. I stayed longer than I should have, because that was the only option I had.

      2. Alice*

        Well, it sounds like Alison became aware of the sexual harasser’s behavior and the flawed organizational culture when she started the job six years earlier.

        1. Jules the Third*

          Actually, it sounds like it took a long time for it to move beyond leering and jokes. The article I read put the time frame for the worst offenses (dating an intern; possibly raping an employee) in 2008 / 2009.

  80. Serin*

    It’s so depressing that Alison has been carrying years’ worth of guilt about this while the perpetrator probably hasn’t had a moment of feeling any emotion more negative than ‘mildly anxious that he might perhaps encounter a consequence.’

    And it’s so frustrating to learn that multiple conversations, accusations, and legal threats didn’t persuade him there was anything wrong with going through life looking at every woman (pizza deliverers, Supreme Court justices, their kids’ babysitters, their employees, the cops who pull them over) and thinking, “Shall I put my penis in that?”

  81. lulu*

    Thank you for posting this. I’m struggling with this a little bit to be honest, because if I’m putting myself in the shoes of the victims I understand why they would resent your actions. And he sounds like such a jerk, it’s hard to understand how you could be friends with someone like that. But I also know that we tend to blame women for the behavior of men, and that’s really unfair, especially with the benefit of hindsight. Looking back it’s easy to see that the right choice would have been to have him removed from his post, even if that meant losing donors, because the nonprofit seemed to be his hunting ground, and even with layoffs people would have found other jobs eventually. But at the time I completely understand it didn’t look that way. So anyway, thanks again for sharing.

    1. Jules the Third*

      From what I’ve read of this, removing him would have meant the nonprofit folded. In 2010, jobs were not easy to find.

      It’s very much a ‘no good option’ situation – harassment or rent?

      1. sunny-dee*

        One of the accusations was of a problematic sexual encounter — very likely rape. I get that there is a good chance the non-profit would have folded … but the alternative was supporting a possible rapist and definite abuser.

      2. Old Admin*

        I have been in the “harassment or rent?” position myself, and forced to choose rent.
        Looking back, it felt like a scant step up from prostitution. *deep sigh*

    2. FD*

      I think what makes this situation in general difficult is that humans are never entirely good or entirely bad. This guy was likely charming, clearly good at his job, and probably even fun to spend time with when he wasn’t harassing others. I think that’s part of what makes this issue difficult in general–it’s hard to accept that someone you like/who is talented/who has done a lot for a cause can do those good things and also do terrible things, knowingly and repeatedly.

      It’s hard to look at the good side of a person and accept that the person is simply not going to stop doing those terrible things knowingly and repeatedly.

      Which is to say, I wouldn’t blame someone for resenting Alison or any person who was in authority for publicly supporting this person. But I also think that it’s important that we recognize that people who do this can look like a jerk from one angle and a godsend from another. Because until we can wrestle with that reality, I think we’re going to have a hard time fixing the problem.

      1. overly produced bears*

        Yeah, the whole “people are more than just one thing” can really mess things up. There are two abusers in my family. One of them I have no relationship with. One of them I do, under specific circumstances. Because he’s an abuser, but he’s also more than that.

        This was something I really struggled with growing up, that there was a guy who could be abusive, but also a good conversationalist, fun to be around, not someone who took joy in embarrassing children. Because the narrative of abusers is that they’re all bad, or always bad, or are [insert a million stereotypes here]. And this guy isn’t like that. I could go on a vacation with him and have a great time! But he’s still an abuser. Both things can be true. And it can be really hard to wrap a mind around, because he’s a safe person… except for when he’s really really not.

    3. Rarely Comments*

      I have to admit, I am also struggling. While I logically understand what people are saying around accountability being on the abuser, it still makes me angry.

      In my case, the HR VP who told me that I should “think carefully” when filing a report about my harassment because the harasser was “well-liked” (and heavily implied that if I were to officially report the harassment they would find a reason for me to no longer have a job) is now posting on LinkedIn about supporting victims of harassment, the #metoo movement, etc. I had to hide her posts to keep myself from commenting regarding the “support” she provided when I went to her for help. I completely understand why the women involved in this feel the way that they do.

      With that said, it was 7 years ago. People grow up, people change. Alison has provided an amazing resource of advice and I will still recommend this blog to people that I know and be a daily reader. Thank you, Alison, for being accountable to your actions and I hope you continue to move forward as a positive influence to your readers.

    4. JB (not in Houston)*

      “And he sounds like such a jerk, it’s hard to understand how you could be friends with someone like that.”
      Most of us have been friends at some point with people who turned out to be jerks, and most of us had warning signs before we figured it out, which we ignored or didn’t pick up on because they weren’t jerks *to us*. It’s important to remember that people like this always, always have people around them who they don’t treat this way because they want to build up a group of people who will defend them against people who call them out.

      1. blackcat*

        Yes, this. I could write a whole long comment, but it would be too painful and too personal. But I have seen first hand how someone can be a wonderful close friend *to me* and turn around and do absolutely terrible, terrible things to other people. I had no idea for years. But this guy was a serial predator of the worst kind.

        I wasn’t a target. He decided to put me into the box of “friend” rather than “prey.” If I hadn’t had the experiences I have, it would be easy for me to understand why people make the argument of “Since I’ve never seen that behavior, I don’t believe it/see why it’s so bad.”

        Most terrible people are terrible 100% of the time.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Exactly. Sometimes you see a friend being wonderful to you but awful to others*, and you ignore the sign that hey, this is maybe not a good person. But sometimes the person specifically is not awful to you or in front of you so that you won’t believe the bad things that get said about them. And the bigger the circle of defenders, the better.

          *Mallory addressed someone like this recently in one of her dear prudence podcasts, where a woman was talking about how her sister had always picked fights with people and driven them out of the social circle, and the sister went along with that for years because it never hit close to home.

  82. Stayc*

    Wow this really hits home with me this week. I’m dealing with a situation of my own with being sexually harassed by a coworker (technically my boss) on a business trip a couple weeks ago. It’s been difficult because I want to move forward and not let this affect me, but mentally it’s hard to come to terms with. Alison, I think you did what you could 100%. I wish I had someone in my corner doing the things you did instead of blowing it off as “well alcohol was involved and so-and-so is really a good person so yeah.”

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Disgusting, both the coworker and people making excuses. Alcohol is not an excuse – if someone stole money because they were drunk, would that be okay? Of course not, but people make excuses for things like this. What happened is unacceptable, full stop.

      Hope you can find someone to talk about this with so you can get on with your life. Also hope the coworker falls into lava.

  83. Jules the Third*

    You can’t get to a good agreement with someone who isn’t coming from a place of what I call ‘good faith’ – discussing with the goal of solving a problem, for example. Trolls, abusers, harassers, *anyone* who dismisses your concerns or discomfort – you can’t actually get anywhere with them. They suck, and are not going to change. Learning that was the saddest part of growing up.

    The resulting question is how much damage you’re willing to take to deal with the situation they create.

    I don’t blame Alison for thinking she could prevent damage. I am grateful to her work since then, helping people see paths out, to minimize the damage they endure. I hate the structures that allow people to continue dealing damage without facing consequences.

    Is Alison complicit in the harassment? Somewhat – but she was, I think, coming from a place of good faith, where her boss was not. That’s a critical difference.

    1. Lizzy*

      “Is Alison complicit in the harassment? Somewhat – but she was, I think, coming from a place of good faith, where her boss was not. That’s a critical difference.”

  84. Future Homesteader*

    Thank you for sharing this, Allison! Your willingness to be open about your learning (with regard to this and so many other aspects of work) is a huge part of what makes your advice so credible, relatable, and useful.

    The system and power dynamics at play in these situation are particularly insidious precisely because they so often make both victims and bystanders of us all. It’s so hard to know what to do, and the best we can do is be honest, think about it, and figure out how to put safeguards in place so hopefully the next time something comes up (because there will always be a next time), it’s that much easier for the people in a position to do something to act and to have the power and resources to change things.

  85. PB*


    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been very, very lucky in my professional career to not have encountered sexual harassment. At the same time, I did have to qualify that statement: I haven’t encountered it in my professional career. School and personal life, yes. This news cycle has been hard for so many of us. Posting this took a great deal of courage. I’ve only been reading AAM for the last year or so. Your writing has made a great impact on my life. You’ve helped me forgive myself for mistakes I’ve made in the past, to accept the lessons learned, and move on. I hope you are able to do the same for yourself. This blog has helped a lot of people, more than write in and more than comment. You may have made mistakes in the past, but you’ve put a lot of good in the world.

  86. Justin*

    Thanks for sharing. We need more stories from people in the middle like this.

    I can’t imagine being in that position, as he does seem to be powerful enough to decimate the careers of many if he’d been challenged. People who do this aren’t just slippity sloppity most of the time – they know they have to cover their butts and this is how.

    Could she have done some things differently? Yeah. And it can’t really be undone. But all one can do is to try to put good out into the world and on that much success has been attained.

  87. Working Hypothesis*

    Alison, one thing I think makes things especially difficult for women in harassment situations — and that includes those who, like you, are trying to stop it with their hands tied rather than being its direct victims — is that often, serial harassers are exceptionally skilled at creating situations in which there simply IS nothing that anyone can do which will improve the situation. The result of this is that everyone (except them) ends up second-guessing themselves, because no matter which direction they step, it’s going to make matters worse in some ways, for some people. That’s deliberate: it’s done to prevent people from trying to go in any direction at all. If they stay still, things don’t change.

    You fell into that trap, yes. But it was a *consciously set* trap; a deliberate trap set up for you and others like you, which used your own desire to help against you. That was not your fault. It was the harasser’s fault. Creating the conditions in which there *is* no ethical act which can be taken is the real source of whatever unethical acts are done by ethical people in consequence, in exactly the same way that felony murder is considered first degree: when someone wills the conditions, they will the consequences.

    I think it’s great that you talk about this now, and that you’re doing everything you can to encourage different responses afterwards. But I want to encourage you to recognize your own choices at that time as the direct result of the setup your boss led you into. You picked the direction in which things went wrong after that, but there was no direction in which they could actually have gone right… he made very sure there couldn’t be.

    1. Daffodil*

      “You fell into that trap, yes. But it was a *consciously set* trap; a deliberate trap set up for you and others like you, which used your own desire to help against you.”

      Well said.

  88. ThursdaysGeek*

    I have regrets about a situation too. It wasn’t a work situation, but I was a volunteer youth staff for a church. We took a bunch of teens to a retreat and in a group meeting, several of the teens shared about sexual abuse they had suffered. Two sisters shared that one had been molested, the other raped by their grandfather. There were many others in the small group, too, who had suffered various levels of molestation.

    When we returned to town, our youth pastor went to the parents to talk to them. The mother (the grandfather was her dad) said that he’d done that to her too, and it was something they keep in the family, and said we were not to do anything about it. It was a family thing, the family took care of it.

    The grandfather lived in another city and I didn’t know his name. We were told to leave it alone. I don’t know what I could have done without the family’s help, but I’ve always regretted not doing anything.

    Alison, we can’t change the past, decisions we would do differently now. But we can let it change the present and future. You are doing that, in many ways. Thank you.

    1. BoardPrez*

      I had a similar experience, except I was one of the campers. It was a sports camp, but it was run by some very religious folks. One camper disclosed that her stepfather had sexually abused her, another disclosed she had been raped. Years later, I have a serious case of WTF? In my state, I have 48 hours to report abuse as a mandatory reporter. I’m so disappointed that the adults in that situation did nothing. They must have been mandatory reporters too (I’ve looked up the laws for that state).

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        We weren’t mandatory reporters, but I so wanted to do something and felt helpless because of ignorance. I knew even then that if I went to the cops, the family would have closed ranks and simply called me a liar.

        That wasn’t the only story told that weekend, and it was obvious by the reactions of some of the teens, that some had bad things happen that they were not going to share. One good thing that came of it is that I finally told my mother my experience, and then she told me hers.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        It’s possible that the adults in that situation did do something, including reporting. The truth doesn’t always come out, and we don’t know what happens behind the scenes.

    2. blackcat*

      True fact: I nearly got kicked out of my student teaching placement because I reported a similar situation to CPS.

      I was *legally obligated* to report it. As were all of the actual teachers at the school.

      But because I had meddled in “a personal family issue,” the school admin tried to have me removed (which would have meant not getting my license on time). My professor prevented them from doing so, and I’m not sure how.

      It made the rest of my student teaching experience hell. The child was removed from the school and never heard from again. I have no idea if I did more harm than good.

      There is so often no winning. And that breaks my heart.

      1. Umvue*

        Holy wow. I didn’t think I could be more cynical on this issue than I already was. A school system retaliating against a mandated reporter just did the limbo under my expectations.

  89. Umvue*

    Thanks for sharing your story, and for trying to make it right, even though it wasn’t you that made it wrong in the first place. The only thing that surprises me about your story is that you were able to quit (i.e. that you didn’t get canned immediately for pushing back).

    I’ve assumed for years that the whisper network is the only way to deal with sexual harassers, because overt confrontation does nothing but set up the victim for a public flogging. We’ll see whether this season of pushback augurs lasting change. I’m not optimistic, to be honest, because I still don’t think America really believes women are full members of any community that counts — but I’m watching.

    (Having Googled this story, can I ask what the hell is up with harassers telling the press that they’re “in therapy”? Sorry, dudes, there’s no evidence-based medicine to cure you of being an asshole.)

  90. Emrin*

    Having backtracked and read a news account from 2010 about this guy and the organization, if even a third is correctly reported, I am shocked at just how badly this was handled, all around, sexual harrassment training or not.

    1. Kathryn T.*

      Part of the problem I think is that institutions and policies are usually set up to handle normal problems, which makes them completely inadequate for big, abnormal problems. From reading both the 2010 article and Alison’s post today, it seems like her biggest mistake was in trying to make this a normal problem that could be handled by normal policies in a normal way. It wasn’t a normal problem, it was a hideous problem and one that she didn’t have the power to solve, but it’s very, very hard to realize that immediately when you’re in the middle of it.

      Perhaps that’s one thing that we need our institutions to start addressing — what kinds of problems are outside the scope of normal policies and procedures, and what to do when you encounter one.

      1. overly produced bears*

        ” From reading both the 2010 article and Alison’s post today, it seems like her biggest mistake was in trying to make this a normal problem that could be handled by normal policies in a normal way. It wasn’t a normal problem, it was a hideous problem and one that she didn’t have the power to solve, but it’s very, very hard to realize that immediately when you’re in the middle of it.”

        Yeah, there’s a huge difference between interpersonal problems and actual crimes. One of those is easy to handle internally…

        1. Kathryn T.*

          There’s a lot of stuff that’s a huge abnormal problem that isn’t a crime, though. Pervasive sexual harassment and a toxic, exploitative work culture is a MASSIVE problem, but it isn’t a crime.

        2. Kathryn T.*

          And the reason why I say that, and why I think it’s important, is because you don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that only crimes are big problems. That road leads to “well if this is a big problem, call the police, and if the police won’t fix it for you, then it must not be a big problem.”

          I understand that the situation Alison’s describing here involved an action that was almost certainly a crime. I also know, though, that due to our crappy culture around sexual assault, the chances that a criminal complaint would have produced any kind of consequences for the assailant are depressingly low. That does not mean that it wasn’t a terrible problem that deserved a much more vigorous response from everyone involved — including, but definitely not limited to, Alison.

  91. Mananana*

    Thank you, Allison, for sharing this.

    It would be so much easier if the bad guys were always bad — it would make decisions to get away so much easier. There are people who are creative, funny, inspiring, and intelligent — who are also predators. You made the best choices you could given the circumstances. You have done a wonderful job empowering people with this blog, your book, and your other body of work since leaving that toxic hell-hole. I appreciate you.

    1. Justin*

      And of course, if they were always (presenting as) bad, they wouldn’t get to where they are with all the power they use to abuse people. And they know that.

  92. whomever*

    Thanks for posting this.

    BTW, kind of off topic, but it’s always depressed me how dysfunctional nonprofits can be. Even ones that seem to have the best of intentions. EG, my wife was working with a nonprofit with a very charismatic founder, spoke a great thing, packed the board, was really doing great stuff. Wasn’t a sexual abuser (that we know of). But: Well, somehow along the way money for her 403(b) (401k for nonprofits) was taken out of her paycheck and…not deposited in the account. Fortunately after she noticed, a quick phone call to the feds indicated that the Dept of Labor has ZERO sense of humor about stuff like this and based on the subsequent behavior of said founder I’m guessing there were phone calls with detailing things like potential years in federal prison and the money re-appeared. Of course, then my wife was immediately laid off (turns out the grants to the org had stopped coming due to serious financial irregularities, gosh I wonder why). I know a number of people who’ve had one or another lousy experience at a non-profit along her lines or yours. It’s just depressing, because if you get mistreated by, e.g., Shady Boilerroom Penny Stocks for Grandma LLC, well, it’s kind of expected, but non profits you really expect better.

    1. AnonLurker*

      Nonprofits can be SO dysfunctional, and Alison summed up why they continue to be that way, because employees believe in the mission. You don’t go into nonprofit to make bank, in general you do it because you love the work. At my first “big girl job” out of college I thought I had found the nonprofit. I was working with a population that I cared deeply about and everything appeared superior to other similar organizations across the state/nation. Once you get behind the scenes though it is a very, very different story. There were a multitude of opportunities to call the state and report the organization (some severe infractions, like falsifying government/health documents, others just entirely unethical), but the fear was that this was indeed one of the best places in the state, where would our clients go if it was shut down. Many of us felt the pressure of weighing ethical and legal violations vs what the clients may face at other organizations. It was and is a struggle.

  93. Alex Beamish*

    I’m sure this post was very hard for you to write, but rest assured that you are loved and greatly appreciated. This blog (both the articles and the thoughtful responses) is one of my favourite places on the Internet.

    Thank you, Alison, for everything that you do.

  94. JanFLCPA*

    Thank you for speaking out. Back in 1998 I had an experience of being actually physically touched (having him put his body next to mine in an IT/printing closet so that I could feel his body – still gives me a gross feeling thinking about it) when I worked for a smaller office of a nationwide financial services firm. I put in a complaint to HR via a phone meeting with two reps but there was never any follow-up, indeed any credence given to my complaint. Our very young receptionist had also been body touched by him but I don’t know if she complained. I ended up quitting.

    I, for one, am thankful this kind of behavior is being called out now and for the message of no more tolerance. It is time for women to be respected for our talents and skills.

    I still see the old boys-will-be-boys behaviors however there are firms that are working to spread the message of a new culture that respects everyone. I am hopeful.

  95. OhNo*

    I just wanted to add my voice to all the folks here saying thank you for addressing this and putting the issue front and center. I’m not in the habit of googling my favorite advice columnists, so I would never have heard about this issue otherwise, and it’s nice to know that you’re up front enough to discuss it openly.

    Also, I wanted to say thank you so much for being explicit about this being a mistake that you wish you could go back and fix. So often there is a lot of excuse-making and justifying that happens when people – especially very visible people like yourself – get confronted with their own mistakes. It is very refreshing to see someone just own up to it and discuss what they should have done differently. It’s also a great example to the rest of us about how to confront your own errors head on.

    1. CM*

      +1 to all of this.

      I’m having a hard time with all the comments saying “you are blameless, you have nothing to be ashamed of.” When my kids cry because they are ashamed of something they did, I think that’s good. It means they have a conscience, and something inside them is saying, “I didn’t do the right thing this time. I didn’t live up to my own values and expectations for myself. But I know I am better than this. Now I know better, and next time I will do better.” When they cry because they did something wrong, I don’t comfort them. I tell them that I’m glad they are taking it so seriously.

      I get that the “you are blameless” comments are saying — we understand that you did your best at the time, we understand that you were trying to fight against the bad guy, you have done so many good things since, we care about you and don’t want you to feel hurt. But I think it’s more valuable to say, not “you didn’t do anything wrong,” but “thank you for having the courage to share your story and help us learn from it.”

        1. Alice*

          Thanks for giving us a reminder that after we make a mistake, we can move forward and not make that mistake again.
          Sometimes, we can even help others avoid making our mistakes — as you do here, Alison.

          Myself, I mostly make new and different mistakes each time… *g*

        2. Lizzy*

          Alison, you should know how incredibly brave it is of you to say that. It seems so easy – “I am not blameless”, but I know it’s not and it takes a strong person to be able to say that publicly (or privately!)
          I’m not justifying your (or anyone else’s) actions or inactions, but the fact that you have 100% taken ownership of it and are continually working to be better is what matters in the end (IMO).
          I encourage you to stay strong. NO ONE except you knows what you were going through and the emotional/mental toll it must have had on you. Just because you may have been part of the problem then (directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally) doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the solution NOW – and you are. Props to you for “coming out” with your story.

    2. hermit crab*

      I also want to second this comment — somehow, OhNo read my mind and put everything into words in a much better way than I would have.

      Alison, thank you so much for this and for everything you do!

  96. Djuna*

    Thank you for sharing this, it must have been incredibly hard to write.
    I was tearing up out of sheer frustration at the situation you were in while reading it.
    What a horrible experience.
    What a toxic environment.
    What a disastrous confluence of terribleness.
    Try to be a little less hard on your past self, not least because past-you went on to build this place, and the help and advice you offer so many people dealing with similar (and different) issues is invaluable. You didn’t have a you to write to then, but you’ve made it so anyone in who is in that position now has someone great to contact for help (you!).
    Thank you for all that you do.

  97. Green Tea Lover*

    Thank you Alison for sharing your story, and thank you for standing up for your colleagues despite how things were very difficult. Perhaps it was not the best outcome, but at least you fought hard. This is a fundamental issue in our society today and I’m sincerely hoping that it would not take long to change it, but you put up with a good fight and I want to salute you.
    Thank you so much – we all have hope because we have people like you!

  98. Dr Wizard, PhD*

    Thank you for sharing this. And for trying so hard back then.

    People shouldn’t expect perfect wisdom and experience. It sounds like you had good intentions and made the effort to do what you thought was best at every stage. Not your fault that some of those problems were beyond your training, experience and ability to solve.

    Hindsight can be rough, but I think it’s because you tried then that you’ve developed that knowledge now.

  99. Can't Sit Still*

    Thank you so much for sharing. Your boss deliberately put you in an impossible position, and likely enjoyed your attempts at mitigating his damages, too.

    FWIW, I used to run background checks on C suite executives at a variety of for-profit companies, from Fortune 500 to 3 person start-ups. All of the execs had at least 1 DUI, but at least 50% of them also had domestic violence and sexual assault charges (these two usually went hand in hand; it was very unusual to see one without the other.) For the most part, they did “community service” instead of going to jail. Some of them committed incredibly gruesome crimes that they should have done hard time for (I have a very vivid memory of a CEO who was an apparent serial rapist since college, with charges and convictions spanning decades.) The ones with charges generally had multiple charges and convictions over a span of years. No one cared. It never stopped anyone from doing business with them. It never made the news.

    1. Camellia*

      Words fail me. We talk about how badly women are treated in other countries while we pretend that ours is blameless in that regard. What hypocrites!

  100. Dani*

    Thank you for sharing this. I know posting this must open you up to criticism and even retaliation from the man in question. It can’t be easy to publicly admit to things we’ve done wrong, but I think it’s so important to talk about the ways we get dealing with sexual harassment wrong, even when we’re doing our best.

    One thing I noticed is that there isn’t an explicit apology to the victims in this statement. It’s obvious you have deep regrets about the way you handled this tough situation but I feel like specifically saying the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize” is really important.

    1. Lizzy*

      Respectfully, I disagree. (About the apology part.)
      I’ve been apologized to, many times, with it meaning absolutely nothing. An apology in action I think is MUCH more effective sometimes. I’m not saying that sometimes “I’m sorry” isn’t worth it – it is – but sometimes other words/actions can say the same thing with much more meaning. I think this is true in Alison’s case.

      1. Dani*

        Some people really need to hear a direct apology, while others better appreciate a feeling of remorse being expressed, and others don’t care about any of that and but need to see concrete actions taken. (The person who came up with the Five Love Languages also has an “Apology Language” quiz that I find creepily accurate.)

        Personally, I’m the first type and a direct “I’m sorry” means a lot to me. If I was a victim I would want to see that. I certainly can’t know if any of the victims of this situation feel the same but it certainly wouldn’t hurt, would it?

        1. Observer*

          Actually, it could. A lot of people would read “I’m sorry” as nothing more than an attempt to “make nice”.

          This is an extremely tricky thing, but if you read the comments on other posts here, and in other places, a LOT of people don’t want to hear it. A LOT of people don’t want a personal apology. I don’t mean that they don’t care if they don’t get it. I mean that they actively want to NOT see these.

          So, there is no one right answer here.

        2. SarahTheEntwife*

          But this isn’t written to the victims. A performative apology that they may never even know exists isn’t going to have the same effect.

        3. Tap Tap Jazz*

          Do you really think that the people who WOULD want or need to hear that are actually here to see it? Using this venue would make it performative.

  101. BWooster*

    This is an interesting read and I wonder if this is what precipitated the shift in this blog of the kind of advice given to people who were victims of inappropriate behaviour when in a professional environment. Alison was definitely more on the “harassment is your issue to deal with” side of the spectrum earlier on, and the tone and advice given has moved substantially more towards no tolerance and framing it as an organisational problem that it is.

  102. Cmg*

    The piece you said about how you saw part of your job as acting as a buffer between your boss and your staff really resonated with me. A lot of women do that work, I think. I’m glad you’ve created a better path for yourself where you reach so many more people.

  103. Elizabeth West*

    This post gives new meaning to the phrase, “Your boss sucks and is not going to change.”

    I’m glad you shared this with us, Alison. I do feel you’ve tried really hard to advocate for harassment victims here. And like you often say, when people are learning to navigate the work world and come up against something they’ve never dealt with before, of course they’re not going to do everything perfectly. You’ve done the best thing anyone can do with such an experience–you’re helping other people who are dealing with the same crap. Thank you for everything you do.

  104. Landshark*

    Thank you for sharing your story, Alison. I appreciate your honesty and your efforts in the years since to make sure women are empowered in the workplace and people in similar situations have scripts and procedures they can follow if they run into similar jerks.

  105. Vancouver Reader*

    I don’t think I can say anything that hasn’t already been said, but thank for sharing your experience with us. I hope it empowers others facing similar situations to come forward.

  106. CubicleShroom#1004*

    You are right.

    I worked in health care for 10 years. This type of crap was rampant 20 years ago, and it still is today.

    The health care system had people who would bring in millions of dollars into the company. Because the people had prestige, charm and were excellent at what they did, who gives a shit if they grab a coworkers behind or prowls around looking for late night booty call? They bring in way too much money, and at the end of the day it’s how much black is in the books, not how many warm fuzzies people feel about each other.

    My final straw being trapped in a meeting that had the tone of “The Coffee is for Closers Speech” from Glenngarry Glen Ross. The person we were upset about brought a crap ton of cash and good PR, and us (sniveling, whiney females) needed to get with the program and humour the money maker. Basically the ends justify the means, and here’s your cup of STFU.

    Now, whether HR’s were tied or flat out didn’t care, it was pretty obvious nothing was going to change. Me and four others left. No one boo booed. We were just replaceable cogs.

    1. blackcat*

      I see this in academia. Depending on the institution, it seems like $2-10mill a year in grant $$ is the amount of money to insulate a man from the consequences of being a lecherous d-bag and possibly engaging in quid pro quo with students (grad and undergrad). I can think of only a very small number of exceptions, and in those cases, the individuals had done the bouncing from institution to institution game over the course of more than a decade.

      Intriguingly, it seems that allegations of inappropriate behavior (of many varieties) can bring down even the most influential women in academia.

      1. Optimistic Prime*

        I saw it in academia, too. Over the years, a story here and there would pop up about some high-profile professor who was accused by multiple graduate students, postdocs, and/or assistant professors (and sometimes undergrads, too) of sexual harassment or assault. There were usually like one or two stories, and then it would quietly go away. Usually nothing happened to that professor, but if anything did, usually he was just shuffled to another high-profile department to terrorize another day.

        The thing that I think is really interesting in those cases is that almost never did anyone in the man’s department defend them. These were usually men that were universally known to be douchebags, even by the other men in the department. In many cases, their harassment and toxicity were pretty much open secrets. Even the administration would dislike them…but they would still close ranks around them and protect them, because of that precious overhead.

  107. JGray*

    I have to tell you thank you so much for sharing this. I work in HR and it’s hard when you work in HR because it puts you in an odd situation sometimes where you might know of something going on but actually proving it are two very different things. Add in local/state/federal laws and it gets complicated. People think that everything is very black & white but that is usually not the case and so will bad mouth HR for what they see as injustice. We are all human and so can only leave from our mistakes like everyone else.

  108. Still learning to adult*

    As so many others have said, thank you for writing.

    My own couple of comments:

    This shows the difficult calculus necessary to handle this situation. It’s obvious now that Alison tried very hard to find a good solution to this. But in the end, there was no good solution either for the organization in general, or Alison in particular.

    Also, there’s a lot of rah-rah in business about ‘Winners never quit, and quitters never win’ Yeah, but that’s too simplistic. Sometimes, you’re in the wrong game with the wrong other players, and no amount of gung-ho will let you survive that. Esp. when other players are psycho & sociopaths.

    Pick up your cleats & leave the game , for the sake of yourself.

  109. Salamander*

    I’m so sorry you and the women in your organization went through this. It’s truly awful, and sadly common. And it’s really brave of you to come out with this. I wish you and all the victims plenty of support.

    I feel like people push back pretty hard on the idea that a person who is a jerk in their personal life will leave it at home and not be a jerk in the workplace. I have never found this to be the case. Not ever. I don’t think humans are very good at compartmentalization, and a missing stair on Saturday night will be a missing stair on Monday morning. They *think* they are, but they aren’t. A bad actor, to me, doesn’t confine his behavior to after hours or to just one person, etc.

    That’s why I get befuddled when I hear about people talking about a friend of theirs who’s a great guy, except he cheats on his wife, hits his girlfriend, cheats on his taxes, or whatnot. That dude is not ever going to be my friend, hard stop. There’s too much tolerance for rotten behavior, and lack of consequences for this stuff, both in personal and professional life, causes it to spread and become accepted. I love Captain Awkward’s assessment of the missing stair theory, and it really applies to all parts of life.

    1. KellyK*

      I think you’re right that a jerk is a jerk wherever they are, but abusers are also really good at specifically targeting the people they can get away with abusing. Someone with straight-up anger management problems is likely to be a raging jerkbag wherever they go, but, at least based on what I’ve read of “Why Does He Do That?”, a lot of abusers are charming and manipulative, making everybody *but* the person they’re abusing think they’re a wonderful human being.

      I agree with you 110% on not being friends with cheaters and abusers. Even if you could guarantee that they’re never going to hurt you, or screw you over, being their friend can be a kind of endorsement of their behavior.

      1. Salamander*

        That’s a good point. I guess what I was trying to get at is the idea that “Employee is a jerkface to women, but he’s sooo good at, say, coding the Porg tracking software. His jerkiness to women has nothing to do with his coding ability. So these are separate issues!”

        Except they aren’t. Employee has to deal with people as part of his job, including dealing with women. It’s not all Porg code in a vacuum. Or Wookie marketing. Or whatever it is.

        And there’s a myth that these guys are sooooo irreplaceable, so their behavior has to be tolerated. No. No one is irreplaceable anymore. There are, what, seven billion people on earth? There’s another person out there who can create Porg tracking code and not behave badly to people. Everyone is replaceable, and this myth that there’s only one unicornlike figure with special skillz suitable for any position has got to stop.

  110. Ramona Flowers*

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to write. I have nothing but respect for you.

  111. JMJ*

    Thank you for sharing, it was very brave of you. Someday I’ll share my bulling experience, it too has left me feeling the way you did.

  112. Louise*

    Alison you are a gem and a blessing to us all. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    And thank you for helping me, a mid-twenties woman with some hefty imposter syndrome, navigate my first jobs with grace. Your advice has been invaluable, and this post only makes me respect you that much more.

    Thank you thank you thank you.

  113. Amber Rose*

    You can’t change the past, only the future. I think you’ve done an admirable job of that. By all accounts, you did the best you could with what you had available to you at the time. You didn’t make him harass women, that’s 100% on him. One of the insidious ways people like that crawl under your skin is by giving you a feeling of responsibility for their actions. But you are not your boss’s keeper. Staying is not the same as condoning, and it doesn’t make you an accomplice.

  114. Phin*

    Thank you for posting this. I think many women, myself included, not only wish we had dealt with our own sexual harassment experiences better, but also wish that we’d been strong enough to say something and do more when we saw it happen to others. I’m so glad that the world is talking about it now, and that we can explore all the nuanced regret and uncomfortable feelings that come along with these things.

  115. offonaLARK*

    Wow, what a situation! Thank you for sharing your story. Even though you feel like you didn’t handle it quite right back than, the fact that you recognize it and have been trying to change similar situations ever since is great.

  116. Bejeweled Librarian*

    Thank you for sharing your story, and for standing up for the women at this organization. One thing that stands out is that you placed blame where it belonged, and not on the women who were harassed.

  117. Adele*

    Indeed, bravo for sharing this. You, obviously, are not alone. Dahlia Lithwick wrote an excellent essay for
    about her encounters with Judge Alex Kozinski and her regret about not saying anything about it sooner. There was also an excellent essay in the The Atlantic by a woman also subjected to unwanted sexual attention from editor Leon Wieseltier and knew others were, too, but also did nothing. These guys have rigged the system in their favor.

  118. Overeducated*

    Thank you for sharing this. I think this is a side of the story we will need to hear more of to make real culture changes – not just “what did he do?” but “how exactly do organizations let it happen and what, specifically, could people inside have done differently?” Abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum, opportunities and consequences are rooted in systems, and I think stories like yours can help us know how to take care of each other better going forward.

  119. SometimesALurker*

    Thank you for sharing this. I think it’s really important that we all see models of how people who are trying to do the right thing react in the face of a harassment issue, including the things you wish you had done differently. I also really appreciate the fact that you described — in what sounds like as much detail as you could without making it clear where you worked — the factors that protected this man. Those types of factors are things we can all look at and evaluate in our organizations (work, hobbies, etc), to try to prevent harassers from keeping their power.

  120. Sutemi*

    Thank you for sharing, and thank you very much for doing what you can since to give others the language and tools to make better educated decisions about their own situations.
    We all seem to default to thinking that others are like us; that means that people who are honest and approaching a situation with good faith default to thinking others are doing the same. Predators take advantage of that, they manipulate the situation so others feel that there are no good options. We all have to do the best that we can, and by openly talking in forums like yours we get better at finding the best options and language to fight.

  121. Julia the Survivor*

    Men like this don’t care how they affect women because they don’t see us as people. We’re objects and commodities, who exist for them to use. :'(
    This sounds like a textbook example of old boys’ club culture. A chauvinist recruited other chauvinists and built an organization where they were in charge and no one could change that. It makes me sad this still happens after decades of fighting for equality and respect.
    Thanks for fighting, Alison!

    1. Elizabeth*

      People like this don’t care how they affect other people. Full stop. The man in question used his friends as means by which to wriggle out of losing his job (“the donors will leave if I go”). He used his friendship with his chief of staff as a shield against consequences for his bad behavior. Do you really think that Harvey Weinstein cares that he cost his brother everything? Or that Matt Lauer cares how this is affecting his kids? No, because they are simply pawns & shields.

      Allison, the only “fault” I can possibly lay at your feet is not recognizing that this man had already shown you who he was outside of work. As per Maya Angelou, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” By your own statements, he was a crass individual in his personal life. I’m not sure why you would have expected otherwise from him in his professional life, especially since he controlled the organization. Otherwise? You are just as much a victim of his bad behavior as the entire rest of the organization.

  122. Marley*

    Thank you, Allison. Thank for you trying to get him to stop, thank you for quitting, thank you for explaining your thought process and what you learned from it.

  123. JessaB*

    This is the thing that a lot of people NEED to hear. Good people tried very hard to fix things in the past and were stonewalled and gaslighted and unable to make change because the system was stacked against them SO hard.

    Thank you Alison for being willing to talk about what happened and what was done to you and those women and the huge attempts to silence you, even now. You mention this guy likes to threaten to sue people and now you’re known and you have a platform there’s a lot he could hurt and you’re still willing to stand up and be counted.

    Thank you.

  124. Orlando*

    Holy wow.

    Alison, feel free not to answer, but- weren’t you afraid for yourself? I don’t take this as an “of course” because you don’t express it anywhere. On the contrary. The narrative is full of you challenging your boss, and you mention a pre-existing friendship. You express a ton of concern for the junior employees, but none for yourself. Did you expect your boss to differentiate, or think you could handle it if he didn’t? It’s perplexing. (Again, if you don’t want to answer, ignore me.)

    1. Daffodil*

      Obviously not Alison.

      My understanding is that predators tend to have a really good sense of who they can get away with harassing in what ways and who they can’t. They claim to be clueless, but on some level they know exactly where the line is for what behavior will be tolerated and walk it every day. I was in a situation where a female coworker was harassed by multiple male coworkers, and I saw it happen, but the perps didn’t try to harass me because they knew I would tell them off and/or run it up the HR ladder if they did. They also knew I didn’t know how to stand up to them doing it to someone else. And as I slowly started to figure that out, they started hiding their behavior from me. Alison may have been in a situation with a similar dynamic.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I felt I could speak up to him, up to a point. I had frequent disagreements with him about all kinds of things, including this. But I assumed there was a point where I could push it too far. He had a very harsh way about him and was vindictive as well, so there was a sort of balance to speaking up without getting retribution directed toward you. I don’t know if I would have articulated it this way at the time, but looking back on it, he was scary.

      1. Recruit -o-rama*

        In addition to “the article” I found another one where he threatened a woman in Phoenix who owns a medical dispensary with ruining her business because she did not support part of his plan for legalization in AZ. I REMEMBER the story because I followed the campaign closely, as an Arizonan, I just didn’t make the connection until now. He really does appear to not just be a harasser, but a class A a$$hole with some pretty nasty tactics to discredit opponants.

        1. Optimistic Prime*

          I read that one too. And I feel like if there was one story that came to light, there were probably a dozen times where he did something similar and it worked and we never heard about it.

      2. animaniactoo*

        I know this is hard and scary to talk about and put yourself forward with. I think that in general you’re doing an admirable job of it and being open to whatever pushback you’re getting. For yourself, I think it might be worth thinking about how much of how you’re talking about it and your fear of retribution now is a leftover of your fear of retribution then, and you still trying to straddle that line. So that you can make sure that you’re reacting to things and talking about them with a clear and deliberate goal in mind of what you want to come out of this not just for yourself but for everyone who has been affected by him and his reign-of-threatened-lawsuit-pulled-funding-etc-terror; and how you want to be responding to it today (meaning current times).

        In part – you reference a sense of point where you could push it too far. Step back from that. Where is the point *for you* where he has pushed it too hard and you’re going to refuse to budge and he’s going to have to deal with the consequences of it? He wants to come after you? Fine. What is he going to have to deal with if he does that? You’re not under his thumb anymore. You have influence and a voice and I’m willing to bet more credibility than he does at this point. What do you have in your power to say “You do that, and I’m going to do this, buddy.”? I’m betting it’s more than you realize.

  125. Leah Houston*

    Thank you, Allison for your honest, heart-felt post regarding your experiences with sexual harassment. I’ve got tears in my eyes, mostly because the depth of struggle you’ve had in making sense of what happened really resonates with me.It sounds like you were in over your head, left to handle a systemic issue from a personal and isolated place, when there should have been support systems (policies, a concerned community of colleagues, a BoD committed to workplace safety) in place to help you navigate the issue.

    I’ve spend my career so far working in non-profit sector. In that time, I’ve come across highly-competent women working behind the scenes supporting charismatic men who are “the face” of high-impact organizations. In my experience, this phenomenon goes beyond issues of misogyny and sexual harassment, all the way into the roles we expect women to play in our broader society. It sounds like you were playing such a role – helping a male leader to shine by handling everything behind the scenes, including managing how his behavior impacted the organization and the people who worked there.

    I suppose what I’m trying to say is that what you went through is not an individual case, or the fallout from working for ‘a bad apple’. It’s an extreme end point of a larger, systemic trajectory, that places women in the background, while allowing men to rise, regardless of the skills or treatment of others.

  126. Observer*

    Alison, having read the article about what happened, I want to thank you for calling out the fact that “there were no official complaints” as garbage.

  127. Rookie Manager*

    I know I’ve nothing new to add to what has been said already but Alison, sometimes there are no good choices and if you have never dealt with a situation before it’s even harder to know what the least bad option is.

    Since that happened you have used the experience to help others in a similar situation, maybe you didn’t fix things in that organisation but long term you will have helped many other organisations. Thank you and I’m sorry you had to go through that then and that a journalist is sniffing round now.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I explained above why I’m not letting through some comments that link to info about the original incident; I’m concerned about the potential for legal blowback from the man involved. But it’s out there for anyone who wants to google it.

      1. Annabelle Lee*

        Yes. Because it’s too hard for them to admit their idol thought it was more important to try to legalize marijuana than to do the right thing.

        1. Gaia*

          Or because she thought in the middle of a massive recession vulnerable women might find themselves unemployed. Or because she was young and inexperienced and thought she could convince him to change through her friendship.

          It is really, really easy for you to judge when it wasn’t you. Reading this made me sick and sad. But I’m sad for everyone that was abused and that includes Alison. If you think this man wasn’t manipulating her too you are naive. Yes, she holds some of the blame but she was not the predator.

      2. The Rat-Catcher*

        Do you have information that might indicate it’s not? Or are we pretending that news articles don’t have their own biases? She’s the only one that can speak to her own motivations.

        1. Dee*

          …based on your say-so? If you want to post your version of the story, do it in your space. That’s how the internet works.

        2. Observer*

          Your basis for this?

          Alison has a good track record for honesty – and in the main, her account here and the main article on the matter actually do match.

          You don’t have to agree with how she handled it. But you need to have more that your say so before you call someone a liar.

          Oh, and if Alison were doing so much censoring, your comment would not be here.

        3. Anna Banana Fofana*

          If you have evidence of that then by all means, share. What specifically is “slanted?” Otherwise, we have no reason to believe you more than we believe Alison.

        4. Optimistic Prime*

          So any thinking person can go and read the other articles that are out there on this. That’s what I did – I read some other articles to get different perspectives on the stories.

          She didn’t have to post anything about this here at all – most of us probably would’ve never found the article about her – but she did.

  128. Not Saying*

    If there is even a shred of truth to the article’s version of Alison’s response about the sexual incident with the subordinate, that woman deserves an apology IMO. Especially because Alison acknowledges now that the boss was “predatory”.

    I don’t want to beat up on Alison because I love this blog and she really has done the world of good for many readers. However, coming from a personal place, reading this broke my heart a little. I was sexually harassed, complained and was fired because of it. My company blamed me, accused me of lying and anytime they are asked about it will claim it was “consensual”. They never even investigated. Now I am stuck with the burden of defending myself with no way to prove the truth, my career was irreparably damaged and I’m in a dead-end job because I have this taint. Some guy couldn’t keep his genitals to himself and who covered up for him? Three women. I never even got a kind word from any of them. It’s small of me but I hate their guts for what they did.

    Gah. This brings up so many bad feelings.

    1. Yes*

      I can neither read here nor recommend it anymore, honestly, especially because of all the minimizing – not just Alison’s, but most of the comments, some of which are kind of disturbing in how they bend over backwards to take blame off her.

      She made mistakes and changed, I believe that, yes. I also still see her ducking blame and deflecting and minimizing, and that hurts from someone usually so forthright. But I don’t think I can trust her, especially since she was apparently giving advice while all this was going on, and that certainly taints at least those years.

      I am also shocked at the comments that are minimizing things further.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I am really trying hard not to minimize! I do know that I had blind spots then and I have tried hard to dismantle them. But I am sure I have more work to do on that, and I’m going to keep doing it.

      2. I'm Not Phyllis*

        I mean the internet is free and you can read/recommend where you want. But I think she is taking responsibility. Plus, giving advice is not the same as having to go through the experience, and I think that’s what Alison is fully admitting.

      3. Optimistic Prime*

        I honestly don’t see where she’s minimizing or even how her account is all that different from the article. In fact, I was honestly surprised at how much her own confession tracked along with the article.

        The article says that Alison said she originally called for the director’s removal; the director threatened that the biggest funders for the nonprofit would pull their funding. So she changed her opinion and told the board that she didn’t believe it was in the best interests for the director to step down, and would act as a buffer between the employees and the board – would relay any additional complaints directly to the board.

        That is almost exactly the same thing Alison says in her own post. In both the article and this post here, she said she made a mistake, and she regrets doing what she did then and would do things very differently if given the chance.

        1. sunny-dee*

          ((hugs)) For what it’s worth, I’m really sorry for what you went through, too. And there is something especially galling about people who support a monster. Like … a monster is a monster; it’s terrible, but it’s also what they are. But why would someone choose to defend that? It feels like they had more of a choice; they had a chance to respond.

          1. tigerlily*

            Yikes. And that’s the problem with dismissing ra*pists and other abusers as monsters. You basically just said r*apists just can’t help themselves.

            1. sunny-dee*

              No, they can definitely help themselves. They chose to be what they are. But they also receive a personal advantage from what they do — dominance, power, satisfaction, something. They are doing something they want to do. I don’t understand someone supporting that kind of monster … just because.

    2. Daffodil*

      I’m sorry that happened to you. You deserved (and deserve) better, and I’d be angry as hell in your shoes too.

  129. Janice in Accounting*

    Thank you for sharing your story. This is one reason why your blog is such a needed resource–it gives people in similar difficult situations a place to turn for advice and encouragement.

  130. RVA Cat*

    Alison, thank you so much for writing this.
    Please stop blaming yourself. This situation shows just how institutionalized sexism and sexual harassment are. We are just now coming to realize as a society that no one is so important that we have to let them act like criminals. Because that is what this is.
    Trying to save the organization without stopping the harassment would be like trying to save Enron or Lehman Brothers without stopping the fraud.

  131. Indie*

    I was very puzzled the first time I read those criticisms of Alison. I just didn’t get them. “An abuser did something abusive, but never mind about him. CRITICISING MEN? Nope. Not when there was a woman nearby with less power than he had..and something something, so that’s actually worse than he is…somehow”. I was, like, WUT. She doesn’t have a magic wand to control the actions of others! I mean it’s impressive that Alison feels NOW that she could have more impact….but that’s a direct result of experiences like these. You only become the great and powerful OZ after your balloon pops and lands you on your ass in crazy land. The criticisms of you were absurd. NEWS! Man does awful and unforgivable thing but let’s drag our focus onto a woman who has not been quite as awesome as her future self will be?

    Just no.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Man does awful and unforgivable thing but let’s drag our focus onto a woman who has not been quite as awesome as her future self will be?

      LOVE. Thank you for this comment, Indie!

    2. TCO*

      Yes, I’m also confused by the tone of these news articles. Alison made mistakes; that’s clear. But why are these articles paying more attention to her missteps than her boss’s much greater crimes? Why spend so many words talking about her defense of him, rather than spending more words talking about what he did and holding him, not Alison, directly accountable? Regardless of Alison’s mistakes, these news articles are unfair. They should spend more time focusing on why her former boss still has a job, any job, at that organization. (Also, his quotes make it clear that he’s an asshole and probably treated everyone around him, Alison included, like dirt.)

      1. sunny-dee*

        I think that’s the thing … he had a job because Alison (and others) intentionally softened any consequences to him — such as, you know, proposing that the board remove him as ED. Or counseling women on the hyper-sexualized environment as part of their orientation. Or minimizing rape as sexual harassment.

        That’s the perniciousness of the environment. They — the board and a lot of the employees — decided that supporting that guy as ED was more important because of their jobs and their politics than defending women who were harassed for years.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          You are not wrong in general, but Alison was not his boss, so other than leaving, there wasn’t much of a consequence she could soften. Meaning, she couldn’t cause him to suffer any consequence because she had no authority over him and no ability to impose any, other than inconveniencing him by leaving, which she eventually did. I think her errors were more in the messaging and signaling to the employees below her rather than keeping him from feeling any consequences for his actions.

          1. LBK*

            Completely agreed – I think the biggest issue was not giving a more transparent appearance of support to the employees who weren’t in the position she was to push back on him. Even if you want to argue that she could’ve been more persistent/consistent in pushing the board to remove him, at no point was it within her authority to do so.

            Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I feel like the biggest impact she could’ve made was solely to her own reputation, wherein she could’ve been a more clear ally to the affected employees and at least garnered more of their sympathy that she really did try to do what she felt she could. But I don’t think that would’ve changed any of the other outcomes; she clearly wasn’t going to be able to get him to stop.

        2. Optimistic Prime*

          But again, that’s turning the focus of the discussion onto Alison and the board and the employees and everyone else except for the asshole who is actually doing the asshole things. The question is why the paper decided to take the tone it did in both the 2010 article and the recent 2017 article. There was little focus on the man himself and far more focus on the reactions of everyone around him.

          And again, that’s not excusing or minimizing the impact that the structure around a harasser has on the victims…but I think there was space to discuss both in the article, and they kind of didn’t.

          1. Old Admin*

            There is a really good comment to 2017 article:

            “is this really the best #metoo article you can muster? its not even new content, or new reporting, apart from kampia’s new role. really, this is just a regurgitation of content from 2010. and an appropriately chagrined HR manager who give the pretty legit excuse that she was just in over her head. this is much more al franken than harvey weinstein. why don’t you do some new reporting?”

    3. Anna Banana Fofana*

      Well said Indie.

      It’s very easy to criticize someone for “not doing more!!!!!!” IN HINDSIGHT. Convenient to blame Alison (who worked for him, not the other way around!) when one is personally removed from the situation.

  132. Sue Wilson*

    Thank you for sharing.
    The fact of the matter is that your only power to stop the behavior directly was to quit. To be quite honest, the people in charge of your boss, the board, didn’t want to fire him, which is obviously the only way to stop him. When you think about what you could have done regarding the behavior directly, you did all you had the power to do.

    That said, I also want to be up-front that the way I tried to navigate the situation left some people thinking I was being an apologist for him. I never intended that. I had a years-long track record of calling him out on his behavior. But I definitely did make mistakes in trying to figure out how to help the organization and its staff through an awful situation, and some of those mistakes laid me open to understandable criticism. There’s a bit of distancing language here: “left people thinking” “laid me open to criticism.” It’s valid criticism and it’s accurately applied to you. You were being an apologist. You suggested and thought, as you explained here, that there were other philosophical and practical concerns that merited higher, to you, than another organizational response. Because his actions were affecting the organization, that is a proxy defense of his freedom to continue. It’s a very human response to questions of our integrity, and psychologically it becomes more common the less autonomy you have to change the circumstances, and there are certainly worse apologias, but the point of an apologia is to make people comfortable with your decisions in light of the moral circumstances (your boss), and I’m doubtful you didn’t intend that.

      1. Gaia*

        First of all, you’re incredibly dismissive of marijuana legalization and coming from someone whose family member’s life was literally saved by having safe and legal access to marijuana I find that really gross.

        But second, those “other concerns” were people’s jobs. During a massive recession. In which many people could find no jobs.

    1. Elizabeth H.*

      “The fact of the matter is that your only power to stop the behavior directly was to quit” – I don’t think this is quite right. It’s not like quitting automatically stops the behavior! Nor DID it it sounds like! It’s just ending personal involvement in the situation.

  133. ItsOnlyMe*

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    There isn’t much I can add that hasn’t already been said but I do understand that when we know better, we do better and you have done exactly that with this story. And your day to day advice and kindness and compassion speaks to who you are.

  134. ScreechOwl*

    “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” Attributed to Maya Angelou.

    As we share our triumphs, our failures, and our wishes for do-overs on this forum, we all get to “know better” and we all get the tools needed to “do better.” Thank you all and thank you Alison.

  135. MillersSpring*

    Thank you so much for this detailed post. I applaud your honesty, bravery and transparency. I’m now an even bigger fan of yours.

  136. Properlike*

    Thank you, Allison. You tried to do as much as you could with the tools you had at the time. It’s not nothing. Just because it was mostly invisible does not make it unworthy. People forget that we are in control of only so much, and other people’s behavior is not one of those things.

  137. Tuesday Next*

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    (This may sound facetious but it’s not intended that way.) It’s reassuring to know that someone of your calibre has also given someone who didn’t deserve it the benefit of the doubt because of a friendship, made decisions they regretted, and been left with a story they’d rather forget.

    We’ve all done these things but often can’t forgive ourselves for them. People are fallible and we only learn from our own experiences.

  138. MommyMD*

    This must be very hard for you. I don’t like how people peripherally in the picture are being blamed for someone else’s actions in all the fallout of this.

  139. Everyone reading this needs to get googling*

    Because Alison is actively censoring comments. And she’s censoring because of five things:
    – she doesn’t want anyone to know what a minor issue she prioritized over women
    – she doesn’t want anyone to realize that it wasn’t some mixup at happy hour but a rape
    – she doesn’t want anyone to realize that she was actively hiding the issues from new employees
    – she doesn’t want anyone to realize that other people left in protest way before her
    – she doesn’t want people realizing that she was writing this blog for 3+ years at that point

    She’s minimizing a lot.

    Let’s see if this gets through.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m not trying to censor comments. As I said above, I haven’t released from moderation things linking to articles and info on the org that I think will expose me to legal threats from the man.

      To answer your points here:
      – He had sex with someone who was drunk enough that I don’t believe she could have consented in a meaningful way. I heard many different accounts at the time about what happened, but no one disputes that she was drunk. It was predatory at a minimum.
      – Seven people left in protest right afterwards. I respect that they did that. I wish I had done it.
      – I did not try to hide the situation from new employees; I remembering having several awkward conversations with people as part of making job offers afterwards, because you can’t hire someone into that without telling them the organization had just been through a major trauma (it would be actively against the org’s own interests to do that — they were going to hear about it regardless!). But it sounds like not everyone got fully informed, and that is horrible. I don’t remember that, but I believe people if they say that is true. I was a mess for months during this, and maybe that’s how that happened. But there was no hiding what happened — it was a huge deal at the time.
      – I was indeed writing this site for three years at that point. I started it in 2007.
      – You are right that I prioritized keeping the organization running over the women he was harming. I was horribly, horribly wrong to do that.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Alison, I’d like to push back on one thing you’ve written here. I understand that you’re trying to keep yourself out of legal hotwater – but I think there is an important space right here to take the risk of exposing yourself to that in the name of doing what is right and distancing yourself further from you then and you now.

        It’s this – if you believe that she was so drunk that she could not have consented in any meaningful way, that is the legal definition for rape, and I think you should be using the term rape when you talk about it. Even if you limit your statement to “From everything I have heard, I believe that she was too drunk to consent and that would mean that she was raped”. Consult a lawyer if you want to have some backup on what words you use, etc. – but if you believe that she was too drunk to consent, I think you need to be clear to everyone (including yourself) about what that actually means happened to her.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t want to protect him. My whole reason for writing this was to undo what I had done in protecting him earlier. But he cries “defamation lawsuit” at the slightest hint of what you are suggesting, and I am trying to thread a very thin needle in talking about it without provoking that.

      3. blackcat*

        Normally, I’m 100% with you. I’m a survivor of rape. I am generally, really, really bothered by that language.

        But in cases where someone is publicly calling an easily identifiable perpetrator? Protect your butt, legally. There is a recent trend of dudes who have been booted out colleges suing their victims. And they sometimes win. (stories are google-able)

        Plus, in many jurisdictions, raping someone via intoxication/incapacitation is not actually legally rape. Sometimes it’s defined as another type of crime, but there are plenty of places in the US that still only recognize forcible rape as rape. So saying “he’s a rapist” could be defamation even if the a man has been convicted of “sexual battery.” I understand Alison’s desire to protect herself legally here.

    2. Nope*

      You surely didn’t intend to throw women under the bus like that. And it’s worth pointing out that there were multiple groups working on the same thing, so it’s not like hers collapsing would’ve ruined the endeavor.

        1. Maiasaura*

          I tried to write a response saying what you did, but I couldn’t figure out a way to do it that would not result in somebody accusing me of throwing other women under the bus. Pretending that marijuana laws do not disparately, disproportionately, intentionally, and tragically impact segments of our society—particularly minorities—is a pretty gross form of privilege.

    3. Observer*

      It takes all of a minute to find the major article about this. Alison is not stupid, and she knows this.

      In other words, it’s highly unlikely that she’s trying to hide anything. It IS likely that she is genuinely worried about legal blowback.

    4. LBK*

      I mean, it takes zero effort to find an article about it if you’re so inclined – I found one easily on my first attempt at googling it. If her goal were to prevent people from learning the details of the situation, blocking links to articles about it here would be a mostly useless way to do it, since it’s not like it’s hard to find in other ways.

    5. The Rat-Catcher*

      We all can read. We can read the date on the article and one click on “archives” will let you know how long the site has been going. It’s not some deep dark secret. Even the copyright watermark at the bottom of the page says 2007.

  140. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I do want to emphasize that I made mistakes, and I am responsible for those. I don’t want those to be glossed over. I did appear to be an an apologist for him; I did take actions that I hoped would help the organization move on but certainly must have made people feel shut down.

    Another thing I want to acknowledge: I even did some paid contract work for the organization after I left. I needed money, but it was the wrong choice and I don’t want to wrongly imply that I never had contact with them again after I left.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Sure you made mistakes, but the real problem there was your boss, not you. The mistakes you made wouldn’t have even happened if he’d been less of a horrible person. At least you learned from what happened.

      1. serenity*


        It was very brave of Alison to open herself up and talk about this, and yes admit she made a mistake and might or should have handled things differently. I think we should support her, and the attacking comments regarding this have been disappointing to see.

        1. JTnon*

          I agree that the attacking comments are difficult to see – but I think several of the comments pointing out the very distancing language (e.g. I appear to be an apologist instead of I was one) being used – even in the post above are valid – those comments of Alison’s show a bit of disconnected thinking about the severity of the situation and her role within it.

          1. serenity*

            Yes, those comments have been made and duly noted and don’t require a pile-on. And it’s subjective if Alison was “an apologist” – we don’t need to nitpick her use of passive voice and read into that more than is warranted.

            1. serenity*

              And she has now acknowledged, in multiple comments here, that she regrets her actions and wishes she had acted differently.

          2. LCL*

            Sometimes one uses distancing language to deal with something bad. It can be easier to analyze things if one can hold them at arms’ reach. If disconnected language is what it takes for serial harassers to be exposed, I’m all for it.

            1. Natalie*

              Eh, I don’t really buy it in this circumstance. Alison isn’t exposing a serial harasser – for one, they had already been exposed, but more critically she didn’t name the person or the organization. She’s writing about her role in the situation with the express purpose (as far as I can tell) of taking responsibility. Given that, the distancing language isn’t appropriate and it is worth it for her to reflect on that.

              1. Ramona Flowers*

                And if she hadn’t used that language I’m sure people would find something else to criticise.

  141. MuseumChick*

    I want to say one more thing, a lesson we can all take away from this and reflect on how we have acted in the past. When you have a friendship with someone you are naturally inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. This is why it is a terrible idea manage, and in some cases, even work with someone you are friends with. Behavior generally has to get much worse to call out or take action against a friend than for a non-friend.

    Alison feel into this very common trap in this situation. It’s something to some degree most of us have done without ever thinking about it. How many times have we witnessed someone make an off-color joke only to have those who know the person to dismiss it as just, “Fergus being Fergus, he doesn’t mean any harm!” But how many of us feel comfortable actually pushing back on that kind of thinking? Even more difficult is challenging ourselves when we fall into this trap. How many of use have “that friend” who always makes inappropriate joke? Or “that friend” is “a good person” but you would never set them up with another friend on a date?

    I can think of several situations in the past where I should have spoken up, but didn’t. I’ve been lucky to never have been put in this kind of situation anywhere I’ve worked. But its worth us all reflecting on to what degree we have engaged in the same mistakes Alison made in this situation.

  142. Lumen*

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Alison. I think far too many of us are seeing our own experiences reflected in yours, because these problems are so pervasive. I found myself nodding along at several points.

    It IS important to speak up about it and for all of us to talk openly about it. WE shouldn’t be the ones feeling guilt and shame for ‘not talking about it sooner’ or ‘staying too long’ or ‘not doing more’; the habitual predators and serial harassers should be feeling guilt and shame (and losing their jobs and influence) for preying on and harassing people. Enough is enough.

  143. Ali M.*

    The unique thing about the crime of sexual assault and the behavior of sexual harassment, at least in my personal experience, is the way they absolutely poison everything and everyone around them. Everyone who knows either party in any capacity suddenly is stuck in a situation of having to make decisions about how to react, and there are usually no good choices, so nobody exits that situation feeling good about themselves. Somehow it’s much more toxic than any other kind of crime or bad behavior. It really contaminates an environment in a unique way, and it’s so hard inside the situation to figure out what the best course of action is.

    Thanks for sharing, Allison. I think letting people inside your thought process during the events in question can help move our wider conversation about this topic to a deeper and more useful level. It’s important for people to know how the burden of upholding or destroying a community or business in the wake of sexual harassment feels like it’s shifted to people who are not the harasser, and how heavy and confusing the idea of making choices for “the greater good” can be.

  144. Courageous cat*

    This is interesting because it’s so layered. It seems like you were manipulated, too; of course you shoulder some responsibility for being in the position you were in, but he was the one that caused this, and men who abuse and assault tend to over-normalize the situation and gaslight the hell out of the people dealing with them. I have found this to be true so many times, and I think it rings especially true here. You made some missteps, but I don’t doubt you too were victimized by this toxic leadership. He was the boss, he was the person doing this, and it’s still his fault on every last level.

  145. Faithful Reader*

    About a dozen or so years ago, a co-worker told a really awful, skeezy, off-color joke in front of me and a couple of our other colleagues. (I was working for a nonprofit at the time, and this all happened at an event with several donors and other VIPs also within earshot, although I can’t be certain how many others overheard.) The “joke” fell flat in the moment — no one laughed or really acknowledged it in any way — and the conversation moved on. But I was so upset by it (it was REALLY dreadful and disgusting) that I brought it up to my boss AND my grandboss. Both of them were extremely supportive and helped me lodge a formal complaint with our HR department. Skeezy co-worker was reprimanded and made to send me a formal written apology, which I then had to acknowledge. It was humiliating. And I still had to work with this creep on a day-to-day basis. I never felt comfortable around him again, I hated having to interact with him, and there was nothing that could be done to minimize our workplace contact (due to the nature of our respective jobs and the size of our team) short of one of us quitting or getting fired. Unless and until we have zero tolerance policies for this kind of disgusting behavior (meaning you step out of line once and your ass is canned) victims will continue to have no good options and these vile excuses for human beings will continue to get away with it.

  146. Personal Assistant (Finance Industry)*

    I don’t usually comment here, more of a lurker. But I wanted to say thank you for this. We can all learn from what you’ve shared here. You’ve always helped others here be the best that they can be. I’ve taken a lot from this site in the year I’ve been reading. Your words are important.

  147. Gutted*

    It seems like a very unpopular opinion but this is so disappointing from someone i’ve looked up to for a long time.
    It’s always harder to support the vulnerable instead of the powerful, especially when you risk things in your own life, but it’s the right thing to do.
    I find it so worrying that all of the commentators seem really quick to say that this is totally fine and you did nothing wrong. I don’t think you deserve to burn in hell for eternity but it was definitely wrong? We all need to hold people accountable and to speak up when we see harm being done.
    I don’t want to roast you but it bothers me slightly that the comments are all about your courage for sharing your story – you had the perfect chance to share this weeks ago when the Weinstein story broke, but waited until a journalist contacted you. It doesn’t seem like courage.

    1. Nope*

      Yeah, this is a pure CYA post, and that’s reflected in the language in the post and Alison’s comments too. I definitely agree with your entire comment.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For what it’s worth, I was preparing to write about this before a reporter contacted me because I’d heard rumors that additional complaints about him were coming up again and I wanted to publicly call for his removal this time … and then when the reporter contacted me, I felt like I couldn’t do it before her article appeared or it would look defensive, and I hadn’t wanted it to be defensive. But you’re absolutely right that I should have spoken out much, much sooner.

    3. MuseumChick*

      From what I’m seeing most the comments are basically saying “Ooooooo, Alison, yeah that was definitely *not a good call* but I can see both how and why it happened.” Most people are acknowledging she mishandled this situation and acknowledging that she has learned from it. I do see a few people saying she did *nothing* wrong, which I disagree with.

    4. Snark*

      Is it totally fine? No. Did Alison do something wrong? Yeah, she fucked up. I really don’t see many denying that.
      But it’s one thing to espouse the pure and abstract logic of “always do the right thing regardless of the risk to you and others” and another to actually have the courage and clarity to do that in the moment. Because I’ve watched someone deal with a similar circumstance, and the price people like you expected her to pay without hesitation was her chosen career and aspirations, four and half years of research, and a grant that would have paid her salary for five years. Let’s not pretend that was an easy or quick decision.

    5. Snark*

      Is it totally fine? No. Did Alison do something wrong? Could have done a lot better, for sure. I really don’t see many denying that.

      But it’s one thing to espouse the pure and abstract logic of “always do the right thing regardless of the risk to you and others” and another to actually have the courage and clarity to do that in the moment. Because I’ve watched someone deal with a similar circumstance, and the price people like you expected her to pay without hesitation was her chosen career and aspirations, four and half years of research, and a grant that would have paid her salary for five years. Is that a price you’d pay? Really? How long would it take you to pay it?

    6. Observer*

      That’s really unfair. Most of the commenters are not saying that everything was perfect, but that given the situation she did the best that she could – and that the REAL blame goes to the perpetrators and the people in power who could have stopped them.

      As for the timing, really? She didn’t choose what you consider the “perfect time” which proves – what exactly? That she’s never allowed to talk about it? That she’s not the “perfect victim” per your definition, so it can’t be that she really was genuinely trying to help and is genuinely trying to do better?

      I’m going to say this again: The whole blame for sexual predation is on the predator. The PRIMARY blame for women not coming forward is management, ESPECIALLY management with ACTUAL POWER, that threatens those who come forward. But a real issue for women, even (perhaps especially) after they are out of that job is the criticism they get. They came forward too late, they were too shrill, they weren’t shrill enough, they didn’t warn people, they warned people, etc.

      1. Gutted*

        I’m not trying to prove anything actually. Like I said, I’m just really disappointed. I don’t believe that in this circumstance Alison did do the best that she could – I think there were better choices that she didn’t choose. And as I say above, I don’t think she deserves to burn in hell or she’s an awful person, but for me it feels like a blow that someone I look up to didn’t do enough in the face of sexual harassment and rape (and if someone is too drunk to consent, it is rape). I’m not saying that Alison is vicariously responsible for what this man did at all, she’s obviously not. But she’s guilty of staying silent – and if the Weinstein case has shown us anything, it’s that too many people are prepared to not say anything when these things happen.

        1. MuseumChick*

          I think this is a fair criticism but it only goes so far. Yes, she could have different choice but its pretty unrealistic to think that the Alison who now runs this blog and has consistently given great advice for so many years has never made some *significant* blunders in her past. Think about the stupidest thing you ever did, the thing that if you had on wish from a genie you could change, and then it be blowing up all over the news.

          1. Gutted*

            Yeah that’s fair.
            Well, I don’t think the ‘stupidest thing’ wording is completely apt to be honest, I think this is a moral issue.
            But of course I have done things in the past that I consider morally wrong and that I regret – I understand that everyone has.
            At the same time, I think it’s still important for us to call a moral wrong a moral wrong (and I totally accept where I’ve made immoral decisions, people have a right to stand up and say so).
            I wasn’t commenting to be malicious or hurt Alison – to the contrary Alison has been such a role model to me and someone I really respect – but as I read through the comments I felt really uneasy that a lot of the comments were mitigating/rationalising what happened and the actions Alison took, and saying she’s brave for telling this story now, which I don’t really agree with.

            1. MuseumChick*

              I do think it’s fair to point out the mitigating/rationalizing, but I think that is happening because a lot of people have been where Alison has been. Or, at least, they can totally see themselves (regrettably) doing similar things in the moment. That is the conversation I think it’s important to have in this context. I said in another post that we all tend to give people we are friends with the benefit of the doubt. We all have that one friend who makes inappropriate joke or who we know not to set other friends up with on a date. Alison fell into this trap and could see it for what it was in the moment. So, the discussion going forward (IMO) should be for every to reflect on times they have let someone slide or brushed something off as “Fergus just being Fergus” and to really thing about what to do differently going forward.

              1. Gutted*

                I think your point about people seeing where Alison has been actually worked the other way for me – not that I’m saying that her posts/the work she’s done since on AAM to encourage people to address harassment don’t count now or anything like that because of course they do – (sorry for rambling here) what I mean is that I started reading this blog a while ago and really felt ‘this is someone who shares my values, who I respect and aspire to be like’ for me, I’d only seen Alison being a great ally with a hard stance on harassment before and then I read this post and it feels like a bit of a blow that that person did something I feel really uncomfortable about.
                And yeah, I think it’s so important to keep critically analysing our biases and what we accept from our friends.

                1. MuseumChick*

                  No worries about the ramblings (some of posts here over the years..oh boy). (And just a side note I’m really enjoying our discussion. I know tone is hard to tell in text so I just wanted to say that). I may get into rambling territory here.

                  My grandmother was *very* concerned when she found out I was going to attend my prom with my best friend at the time, a boy who happen to be gay. She was very worried about this and had a long phone conversation with my dad about it. Fast forward 15 years and my (male) cousin is married to a man, they have three kids and my grandma sees them no differently than her other great-grandchildren, demands to see them as often as possible, and adores my cousin’s husband.

                  While, obviously not exactly the same the point I’m trying to get at is people can have Not Great or even Terrible way of thinking/behaving that then change over time. I’m not thrilled that grandma was homophobic in the past but the important thing to me is her growth over time.

                  I can understand a shock to the system at first but I do think it’s unfair to Alison to expect that her past is full of nothing be Perfect or just slightly not perfect choices. She’s human, and has grown since leaving that company. Does this make sense or am I just babbling at this point? :)

        2. LBK*

          Isn’t the whole point of this post Alison specifically saying that she didn’t do the best she could’ve? She makes that statement multiple times and has repeated it in the comments. I mean, she literally says:

          But the fact that I didn’t leave sooner and do more to expose him publicly on my way out is the biggest regret of my career.

          That doesn’t sound like someone who’s trying to argue she had no better choices available to her.

          1. Gutted*

            Yeah – sorry that comment was in response to Observer saying that most of the comments are saying that she did the best she did.
            I didn’t mean to imply that Alison had said she did the best she could.

          2. Myrin*

            Exactly. I must say I’m a bit… I don’t even know. Frustrated with?… some of the negative comments here. And that has nothing to do with the fact that we’re talking about Alison, whom I’ve liked and respected for many years now. I get that exact same feeling with letters – and, even more often, updates – where an OP says “I did XY. I f*cked up horribly and am deeply ashamed. Can I ever get back from that?/How can I speak about it in the future?/How can I make sure something like this never happens again?/so forth.” and then there are dozens of berating comments.

            And my reaction to that is always a handwringing “What exactly are you trying to accomplish with this?”.
            Because I can’t shake the feeling that most of the time, it’s just finger-pointing, yelling “Shame!”, trying to make oneself feel better by making others feel worse, or just simply taking pleasure in making others feel bad.

            There is certainly value in, as you say perfectly in another comment, LBK, “point[ing] out ways in which [OP] might still not have a clear or honest view of her actions for her to consider” – there’s a comment further up which questions how Alison still doesn’t seem to feel ready to call what happened to the drunk young woman “r*pe” (censoring because I think that automatically gets sent to moderation?) and I think that’s a very fair and important point.

            But all too often, negative comments aren’t doing that – they’re just variations of the same old “why didn’t you?”-spiel. To which I have to say – do you actually want people to come out and admit they made mistakes? Is there even a possibility for anyone to admit to such a thing which leaves you satisfied? Are you only going to accept an admission and apology you deem “perfect”? Why are you telling someone who says “I am ashamed” to be ashamed? What is your end-goal here?

            1. LBK*

              Agreed – at what point do those comments become nothing but seemingly insatiable calls for self-flagellation? That’s never been the kind of criticism we seek to provide in the comments here and I don’t think that changes now.

            2. The Rat-Catcher*


              I see it a lot here and even more so on Captain Awkward. Yes, some people are genuinely trying to enlighten others, but a lot of others are just in a race to show that THEY are the most enlightened ones.

            3. Gutted*

              Yeah I see what you mean – as I’ve said somewhere else, I felt uncomfortable that a lot of the comments were very mitigating/explaining Alison’s actions, quite a number of commenters have called her brave etc. I don’t think that that is the case, and I don’t think a mistake like this should be met with a general message of ‘you did your best, don’t worry about it’ type of thing. And also I’m saying what I feel because I do genuinely feel gutted about this – like you might if you found out that one of your favourite politicians who you’ve always admired had voted against gay marriage or something.
              I’ve tried to avoid personal comments for the reasons you address so it doesn’t come across like I’m just trying to shit on someone, because that isn’t my intent.
              Again I’ll reiterate that I don’t think Alison is an awful person or anything, but I think she didn’t do enough in this case.

              1. Myrin*

                Oh, I wasn’t actually referring to your comments, I just found LBK’s to latch onto which just so happened to be in your thread; I hope it didn’t come across like I was criticising you specifically!

      2. Snark*

        Like the thread above: When you decimate a rebellious or vanquished army, you pick every tenth man, and force the remaining nine to beat him to death. Nobody walks away from these situations with their hands clean and their conscience clear. That’s how and why these assholes operate the way they do – they turn everyone into a victim, an accomplice, or a guilty bystander. And then nobody dares defy them.

      3. Nope*

        She was HR. She had actual power, power which she used to undermine any attempt to oust him. I find it telling that they did manage to put in place a harassment policy … after Alison left.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          They put it in place while I was still there, after the incident in 2009. And they only put it in place because at that point they had to appear to be doing something. I had pushed for one for years, and the executive director basically laughed at me for suggesting it each time.

          1. Umvue*

            So can I ask, given your experience (which is horrific), what makes you optimistic enough to think women should bother reporting? Obviously the correct outcome is for harassers to be shown the door, but given the world we live in (which I do not actually think has changed fundamentally in the last couple months — though I’ll be thrilled if I’m wrong), I feel like the happiest plausible ending is “victim finds safe foothold somewhere else”… and that’s not really compatible with speaking up.

          2. Mananana*

            Allison, as”Nope” appears to be trolling; I wouldn’t waste any more energy in responding to her. Because no matter what the facts are, she’s decided that you’re the bad guy here, not the actual abuser.

            1. Alice*

              While I’m not taking sides between Mananana and Nope, it is possible for two bad guys to exist in one story. Or a bad guy and a person who made some decisions that she regrets now. Or maybe even two people who made some decisions that they regret now.

              1. Mananana*

                Most commenters seem to get that Alison acknowledges that she didn’t do enough and that she wishes she would have made different decisions. But if you read Nope’s other comments, you’ll see that she’s stuck on a single-track of casting Alison as the bad guy, not a person who regrets the choices she made when faced with a truly crappy situation.

        2. Case of the Mondays*

          More often than not, HR has zero power. They have the appearance of power but they don’t own the business and they can’t force the business owners to do what they should. They stay or quit but that’s not power.

          1. LBK*

            I think this is a very nice, concise way of putting it. They might have leverage if they’re someone valuable to the organization whose leaving would have a serious impact, but they don’t ultimately have authority. In most cases HR doesn’t even have authority over regular managers, never mind the owner of the company – they can make recommendations but they don’t have the ability to discipline anyone of their own volition.

            1. Jules the Third*

              Mostly, HR’s leverage is ‘you could get sued / fined / in trouble with some regulatory agency if you don’t address this’ and nothing else.

    7. Mananana*

      I’ve not seen anyone say what she did was fine. Certainly not ” all of the commentators seem really quick to say that this is totally fine and you did nothing wrong.” What I’ve seen is people saying that it was an untenable situation that sucked. And that she made the decision that she felt was best for not only the agency, but for those who would be out of a job if the donors left.

      We weren’t there, we weren’t in her shoes. Monday-morning quarterbacking isn’t going to change anything. It just comes across as mean-spirited.

      1. Gutted*

        I have no idea what Monday morning quarterbacking is but I’m guessing like back seat driving? It’s silly to say I can’t have an opinion because I wasn’t there; then (1) neither can anyone else and (2) we should never judge the actions of anyone for anything.
        I don’t think I’ve said anything particularly personal or attacking, I’m expressing how I feel about this.
        The details of it – the fact that they knew this guy has sexually harassing people (and wouldn’t put a sexual harassment policy into place) – to me personally, it doesn’t seem rational to excuse this guys behaviour or stay. Those weren’t red flags – she had firm evidence that this person was a Bad Guy and remained as his chief of staff (not just any employee) up to and after he raped someone. Maybe we have different viewpoints on this and I respect yours if you disagree, for me, the final straw would be them refusing to implement a policy because too many people would be in violation of it. I respect that she left in the end but I can’t understand continuing to work in an environment like that.

        1. Morning Glory*

          Not quite. Backseat driving takes place in the moment, when you have a chance to influence the person’s driving and are responding in real-time to the road, just like the driver.
          Monday morning is after the game, when people sitting on their couches (knowing how the game ended) pick apart the decisions that the quarterback made in the moment, and without the benefit of hindsight. Monday morning quarterbacks are confident that because they can find fault in a quarterback’s decision after the fact, that means that they would have made the right decision in the moment. And the quarterback is incompetent/corrupt/stupid for not doing so.

          I understand where you are coming from in your posts. My feelings about it are complicated, and I feel a certain amount of disappointment in Alison as well. But I also know from experience how hard it can be to make the correct decision in real-time as events are happening. The posts assuming the worst intent about her actions and language – both then and now – are frustrating because they don’t acknowledge this.

          1. Gutted*

            Ah, that’s a great explanation.
            I just wanted to say I don’t think Alison is incompetent, corrupt or stupid (and I think it’s generally bad practice to say someone ‘is’ x or y instead of ‘acted’ and I truly hope I haven’t done that accidentally) I think she made poor decisions in this case.
            I appreciate we all have different moral lines and this post kind of really brings that to light actually – for me personally, I genuinely believe that my conscience wouldn’t have let me stay there – especially after he refused to put a policy in place because too many people would be in breach (sorry not trying to bang on just explain my thinking) I’m not saying I’m a martyr or anything, or more moral than someone else – but this is something in particular that I feel really strongly about.

        2. Mananana*

          Monday-morning quarterbacking is when someone, like yourself, second-guesses the decisions someone else made who was actually in the game. And that’s what you’re doing. You’re saying “but you SHOULD have handled it this way, because that’s the way I would have handled it.” But you don’t know how you would have handled having other peoples’ livelihood (and your own) on the line.

          (And I didn’t once say you didn’t have the right to your opinion. I did say that it’s mean-spirited to sharp-shoot Allison when she already stated, several times, that she wished she would have handled it differently.)

          1. Gutted*

            I see where you’re coming from there, but I think it would apply equally to the people who are saying ‘you did the best you could’ etc because they couldn’t know what it’s like to be there either – what are your thoughts?

            Sharp shoot isn’t something I come across much either so I looked it up (are these Americanisms or am I just really out of touch??) and urban dictionary says ‘To dissect an opposing opinion into little chunks in order to point out irrelevant specifics’

            I really don’t believe that that is what I’ve done here. I do think that I’ve mainly addressed two issues I think are important – that I think she did wrong by not leaving earlier, and that I don’t think it’s courageous to comment on the story now. And I’ve expressed my own feelings that I’m lexperiencing disappointment about this.

            It certainly hasn’t been my intention to dissect things unnecessarily or to make a personal attack. As I mention above, I don’t think Alison is a bad person or awful or anything.

            1. Natalie*

              Most likely Americanism – “Monday morning quarterback” definitely it, since we’re the only country with American football.

              For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’ve been especially nitpicky or making personal attacks.

        3. Daffodil*

          If you’re not familiar with American football, the quarterback is the guy who controls the game as it happens. He usually gets the lion’s share of the blame and/or credit for the outcome of the game. Most football games are played during the weekends, so a Monday morning quarterback is someone who points out all the things the quarterback did wrong with the benefit of hindsight and not actually being on the field making difficult judgement calls while half a dozen huge guys try to flatten him. Sure, you can have an opinion, but it’s way easier to judge what someone else did in a tough situation than to actually do it yourself and do better.

          Alison’s been pretty blunt that she made the wrong call several times, and I agree with her assessment. At this point I’m more interested in understanding why and how that situation happens and how to combat it than in assigning moral blame to people who didn’t actually have the power to make it stop. I also wasn’t personally hurt by that situation or one like it, and can certainly understand how people who were would feel differently.

    8. Jenn*

      We all grow up with black and white stories around what we’ll do at the moment that we find out that we must slay the demon or lock up the bad guy or confront the fraudster. And these are really good stories because ultimately, yes, we do need to do that – stand up for what’s right. We do. I think most commenters are clear that Alison could have made better choices, and so is Alison.

      And yet in life, we rarely get that one moment where we reject the Dark Side of the Force or whatever. It’s messy and it’s a thousand choices at the time, even if looking back we can see that we should have quit the day we found out someone was raped. It’s that “what was I thinking?” thing. You can’t go back and be equally exhausted/enmeshed/triggered/depressed/recovering from a year of 4 flus/underwater financially/schmoozed by a charismatic predator /hooked into the idea that you’re on a mission and Only This Guy can accomplish the mission/whatever all over again.

      If you’re never been there, I salute you, truly, and I hope you are on my team. For me, I know sometimes I have been the person with that clarity of vision to say no or quit. And sometimes, I’ve had that clarity at the cost of having completely f’ed-up/been completely f’ed up in the past. Humans are wired to adapt to their environments and wow, do weird environments create weirdness…and sick environments create sickness.

      So when I congratulate Alison it’s because I know what it is to have been in the swamp pit, to have come out of it, to have sat with the brutal shame of it, and then to have talked about it – but I don’t know what it’s like to have built a career on good advice, and /then/ come clean about a disaster.

      IMHO we cannot FIX this bs until we really understand how it happens, and we can’t understand without listening, and we can’t listen if no one’s sharing. Today I’m a supportive listener. Alison’s earned that from me with her free advice here. It’s truly fine if you feel differently.

      I hope that helps a bit with your sense of ick.

    9. Indie*

      I would agree with you if Alison had ever at any point had any real powers or responsibilities. These things were denied her, despite her repeated requests. Socially we’ve set up a situation where company owners are free to break laws and abuse their power without ever answering to anyone. So we feel guilty and turn around and blame his female employee! Why don’t you do something public to ‘speak out ‘? If Alison has a responsibility it’s no greater than the one we all share.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Just to be clear, we didn’t have “HR” in that sense. I was the chief of staff and did a lot of the day to day management, and if there was personnel stuff, it ended up falling to me.

          But he was my boss. I had no power over him.

    10. violetta*

      Same. I’ve been reading this site for years and this post (which feels kind of minimizing to me given the extent of what alledgedly happened) and all the fawning comments left a bad taste in my mouth. I will stop reading here, sorry.

    11. Ramona Flowers*

      Nobody is saying it’s all fine and sunshine and lollipops and rainbows. But we all, in the right circumstances, could make the same choices. Even me. Even you. We’d all like to believe otherwise, but often people who fail to act as we would wish them to are not merely awful but the product of a system or a situation.

      How are we to do better at this if nobody is allowed to reflect on their mistakes without being condemned? How are we to do better if there is only perfect forgiveness or complete condemnation?

      It takes courage to publicly admit that you made mistakes. It takes courage to speak up and say you were part of the problem. If it was totally fine I’m not sure I would think it took courage to share – but it wasn’t, and it did.

      1. PlainJane*

        Well said. None of us is perfect. We all make bad decisions occasionally, some with huge consequences. I don’t see commenters saying she did nothing wrong. I see commenters saying she was in a difficult situation, made some bad calls, learned from it, and went on to be a strong, uncompromising voice for fair treatment of women in the workplace. This blog is popular because of Alison’s wise advice, and wisdom is almost always hard-won.

  148. Daffodil*

    I too handled the first sexual harassment situation I was in poorly and have tried to do better since. I don’t think anyone handles this shit gracefully the first time around. Fortunately I was a college intern with zero authority and the damage I did by handling it poorly was limited.

    I’m also very leery of the trend to blame people who don’t have authority over the abusers for their part in the mess – especially when it plays into our cultural tropes of holding women responsible for men’s sexual behavior. Yes, it’s not good, but it’s the people who can enforce consequences but don’t who need the yelling at.

      1. Observer*

        Neither is correct. On the authority issue – her boss and the Board outranked her. Her boss didn’t want to change, and the board didn’t want to force him to change either.

        Based on the article, which is totally not sympathetic to Alison, it doesn’t sound like she was trying to undercut the attempt. She did stop supporting it, but while I think it was the wrong call, it’s very different from undercutting it.

          1. LBK*

            She withdrew her recommendation that he be fired after being talked down from it by him under the reasoning that it would be worse for the organization because they’d lose funding – he basically threatened her to coerce her into changing her mind. That is certainly not irrelevant context.

    1. Plague of frogs*

      Yeah, I am so tired of, “Why didn’t the victim do x? Why didn’t the bystanders do y?”

      Why didn’t the harasser just NOT DO THIS SHIT IN THE FIRST PLACE? You know, like the rest of us manage to do every single day?

      1. JulieBulie*

        Yes. Why do people rake someone over hot coals for failing to use their super-powers to defeat evil and save the world? Newsflash: super-powers aren’t real. All the time and energy that people spend rebuking a victim or bystander (i.e. anyone who didn’t try to beat a game that was rigged) is time and energy that isn’t being focused on the abuser.

  149. Kaitlyn*

    Alison, one of the biggest gifts you’ve given me, and so many other readers, is a sense of what “normal” is in the workplace. Normal is a moving target – practices that were “fine” or glossed over in one decade become headlines and arrests in the next. What might have been seen as a necessary trade-off to access someone’s resources, skills, or big brain becomes unacceptable and punishable, and we evolve.

    I trust your judgement – you’ve made thousands of good calls in the last ten years. The proof is all over this site. I admire the way you’re owning this – not what you did in that role, but that you don’t want to protect your actions then from conversation and scrutiny now.

    1. Nope*

      I personally think this casts her judgment in serious question, especially for the posts done while she was working there.

        1. Gabriela*

          For what it’s worth, sometimes people make mistakes that are big enough to call their judgement into question. I think this falls into that category. I believe Alison when she says she is ashamed and regrets it, because it seems so out of character, but it is incredibly disappointing still. I’m not going to stop reading, but I can see where some of the commenters are angry that the overwhelming majority of comments seem to want a tidy “you made a mistake- no one’s perfect!”

          I also don’t think that is what’s being offered here. Alison’s thoughtful, non-defensive replies to comments are why I am not giving up on this site, but readers have a valid reason to feel angry.

          1. MuseumChick*

            That is very true, I mean, we have so many letters on this site where the answer basically comes down to “Honest mistake, but still a fireable offence” but that attitude towards those situations on this site has always been “I really hope the person learns from that mistake and goes on to do better” and here Alison has done exactly that. She make a really bad mistake, learned from it, and has done better going forward.

            And since this guy is threatening to bring legal action against anyone who talks about this situation, I can understand why Alison didn’t talk about this before now.

            1. Gabriela*

              That is fair. I just have so many FEELINGS about this. On the one hand, it’s enormously frustrating that this situation is coming down to holding Alison accountable for her boss’s abuse (however complicit some of her decisions may have ended up being), but it does make me think back about how some of her responses when discussing systemic issues of sexism and how this may have colored them.

      1. LBK*

        I guess to me, the barometer for this is: were there any letters where you specifically disagreed with her advice without knowing this background and where that advice now makes more sense in the context of what you’ve learned here?

        If you still think the advice is valid, I’m not sure what the issue is; I’ll agree there’s a certain level of potential hypocrisy if she was giving advice that was contradictory to what she herself was doing at the time, but that doesn’t suddenly invalidate whether that advice is good or not.

        1. Nope*

          There’s been a bit, actually, especially ones where she takes an oddly pro-management don’t-rock-the-boat note, but especially with regard to the topic which shall not be named in this post, where her overly-harsh attitude to disagreement suddenly makes a lot more sense.

          1. MuseumChick*

            It’s pretty normal for someone to change their opinions, attitudes, and views over 10 years years. Alison even said in a post a few years ago (I believe it was called “Things I’ve changed my mind on”) that her opinions have become more nuanced over the years as she has gotten feedback from readers.

            Again, it’s unrealistic to expect that Alison, or anyone, has not made *significant* mistakes in their past. But I guess you must never have!

          2. LBK*

            I’d completely disagree that she has a “don’t rock the boat” attitude. Rather, understand realistically what rocking the boat is likely to achieve – in many cases, it achieves nothing because the boss is too well-protected to experience consequences and ultimately all you can do is leave. Even if she had done more at the time, it’s most likely that he would’ve remained in power and there’d have just been more fallout to the people under him – which I don’t think means she did the right thing, but I genuinely don’t see a pathway that would have ended with him being fired/forced to resign from the organization since the only people with the authority to enact that didn’t want to. I don’t think Alison’s common refrain of “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change” is epitomized more than in the situation discussed in this post.

            I also don’t really understand what you’re referring to with her overly harsh attitude to disagreement or on what subject you’re implying she has that attitude?

            1. Natalie*

              I believe the “topic which shall not be named” is recreational marijuana use, which has inspired some fairly fraught arguments here before and is relevant to the organization in question.

              1. LBK*

                Oh…well it’s never been a secret she worked in marijuana legalization advocacy, so that always made sense. I didn’t realize that was new information to some people as of this post.

                1. paul*

                  I didn’t know it before this honestly; I’d always thought she worked with PETA (oops). I know she’s pro-legalization, but didn’t realize it had been something she’d been involved with professionally.

                2. LBK*

                  I think she has also worked for animal rights orgs before (although I don’t think PETA specifically was one of them). Either way, it’s not brought up frequently, but I never got the sense she was trying to hide it. I think she’s even clearly mentioned it in answers to letters from people asking things like whether to include work experience at non-profits with potentially controversial missions on their resume.

                3. Natalie*

                  I don’t think it’s new information to this post, I’m assuming the poster that brought it up thought they needed to obscure it because the organization isn’t explicitly named in Alison’s OP.

        2. JulieBulie*

          This is an interesting question (advice that makes more sense in this context) because Alison almost always firmly advises people not to quit a job unless they have a new one lined up. Now that I know more, I’m not sure whether that makes more sense to me or less.

          1. Gaia*

            She does expect in extreme cases. There have been a few where she recommends that people consider whether or not that is a reasonable option for them. Which is legitimate. It would be pretty poor advice to tell someone who may have no savings to up and quit a job knowing that 1. it could be months before they have a new job and 2. employers look less favorably on this.

      2. Kathryn T.*

        I can understand why you’d feel that way. I think you’re probably not alone. A lot of people are probably going to be disappointed with her, and that disappointment is completely justified. I think she knew that was likely to be a consequence of writing on this topic, and I’m glad she decided to do it anyway, but that doesn’t absolve her from those consequences.

      3. Kaitlyn*

        I’m curious as to what you’d like to have seen her done while it was unfolding. It’s easy enough to say, “Not good enough,” so please walk me through exactly what you think she should have done.

        1. LBK*

          Not a question addressed to me, but I think she could’ve left sooner and also been more open with the rest of the company on her stance re: his actions. That’s one thing I took away from the article I read about the situation – it seems the employees felt she was completely on his side and was doing nothing to try to stop him, which obviously contradicts her account here. But I think those are both things that are a lot easier to recognize in hindsight, and I don’t know that they’d have ultimately changed the overall outcome.

          I think more transparency probably would have emboldened more employees to quit so they could get out of the bad situation sooner, but I don’t think there’s any chance the boss was going to be fired no matter what Alison did, so in some sense this was a lose/lose situation – I really believe she could’ve only mitigated the impact to others but the problem was out of her power to be fully resolved (i.e. the boss actually experiencing consequences for his actions).

          1. Anna Banana Fofana*

            While I appreciate your comment, don’t you think that “left sooner” or “been more open with the rest of the company” is easier said then done, particularly after she had to weigh potential impact to the organization and all its employees? Was she in a position to walk away without financial or professional repercussions?

            The idea that I might be the catalyst to a mass layoff would give me pause — which is why I vehemently disagree with the black and white worldview of the harshest critics here in the comments.

            1. LBK*

              Oh, I totally agree, that’s why I said, “But I think those are both things that are a lot easier to recognize in hindsight, and I don’t know that they’d have ultimately changed the overall outcome.” I think any discussion of what she might have done differently is going to be with the benefit of hindsight and will be easier said than done. If it had been easier to do, I imagine she would’ve done it – of all things, Alison has never struck me as complacent. I believe that these were agonizing decisions that she genuinely thought were for the best overall at the time.

              In short, I think this is a case of maybe having had less-bad options, but no truly good options.

  150. tinyhipsterboy*

    Thank you for sharing, Alison! It must have been hard. From the relatively little time I’ve been reading this site, it seems to me you’re working hard to help people advocate for women and sexual harassment victims. Even if you made a mistake before, you’re helping now. I think that’s what matters, especially when you can’t do much because the person you supposedly enabled was in a more powerful position than you.

  151. LBK*

    For what it’s worth, I think you’ve been incredibly successful at getting it right going forward. I did look up one of the articles about the incident (that ended up almost being more about you than your boss) and the person they describe is completely unrecognizable to me relative to the person I’ve come to see you as through reading this site for the last few years.

    To me that lends credence to your account here of what you were trying to do behind the scenes (not that I doubt it at all but it seems like there are some commenters who do) because it’s consistent with the values you’ve always espoused here even if you weren’t equipped to follow through at the time. But at the same time, I think it also speaks to how you’ve learned from that situation and truly resolved to help people handle things better than you feel you did – but most importantly, still doing that in a way that feels realistic and achievable.

    I think there’s people who might have come through that experience with a certain fiery attitude that would lead to giving very aggressive, black-and-white advice that would border more on the fantasy of things you wish you’d done than anything that a real person would probably feel comfortable ever doing. It’s probably still gratifying to imagine unleashing a searing rant on him the first time something happened, quitting on the spot and then taking him down in a blaze of glory while still somehow miraculously saving everyone else from fallout, and that could lead you to encourage others to do that. But I don’t think that’s actionable, so it’s admirable to me that you’ve continued to balance out pragmatism with what I’d guess is still a certain amount of idealism that lingers from wishing you’d done things differently.

    It’s that steady pragmatism that sets this site apart from any other advice blog I’ve ever read, and I commend you on maintaining your level-headedness especially as it comes to genuinely reflecting on your own actions and acknowledging missteps, which necessarily comes with a variety of complex, painful emotions usually driven by the simultaneous instincts to downplay your part but also eternally wonder how things would have turned out if you’d acted differently. I don’t envy having that weigh on you or drudging it up now to be examined anew, but hopefully posting this relieves some of that burden. Thanks for being honest and self-aware and for dedicating so much of your time since then to helping others do the same.

  152. The Supreme Troll*

    Alison, thank you very much for sharing this; I know that it must have been extremely difficult to do so. I have been reading AAM since around the end of 2010 (I was a lurker for a really long time!). I have learned so much from you and the other commenters , and AAM is something that I will probably never tire of reading. All the best.

  153. Starryemma*

    Thanks for sharing this, Alison. I’m glad that you feel comfortable doing so, and that the broader culture is changing so that women and others can speak up about workplace harassment.

  154. Chris*

    I applaud the courage it takes to not only bring conversations into the light that need to be had, but to own your past mistakes. In this case, it’s hard to second-guess what choices you made from the benefit of hindsight – it sounds like you were in a very unenviable position, caught between your sense of duty and obligation to those you managed and the organization overall, and the ethical compromises the board forced you to make by failing to define a standard in the first place.

  155. Kristen*

    Thank you for what you wrote. I’m sure it wasn’t easy at the time (or now) and certainly not the press attention. Many of us have been in similar situations, but had the fortune to deal with it in private. By sharing your story and the reality that mistakes were made, you help/helped many of us.

  156. Constant Reader*

    Can you tell us if the organization or the CEO was ever called out or sued over this? Or would that be risky for you?

      1. Constant Reader*

        found it, thanks. The guy was caught three years after Alison left. Then the board let him stay on another seven years. Pathetic.

  157. Tata*

    thank you for sharing! no one is perfect and we all learn from each other. That’s what I love about your blog. I believe women have been conditioned to not report sexual harassment even to just recently. I also hate the jokes I’ve seen posted on social media…one I saw was about old cartoon where the skunk chases the cat mistaking cat as female skunk. The cat does everything in her power to get away but Pepe is still there. Post was Pepe was reported for sexual harassment. I moved on…..I chalk it up to be tone death & foolish. Reading your post gives me/us a real world view. The real world can be harsh and unfair.

  158. ouinne*

    Alison, I just wanted to say thank you for writing this. It it is very hard to look honestly at what we have done in the past that has hurt people even inside our own minds. To lay it out to an audience like yours must be so much more difficult.

    All any of us can do when we make mistakes is try to do better. I know that doesn’t always help much when I feel shame for something, but it does mean that there is an outlet for that energy?

    1. Nope*

      She’s not looking honestly, though – she’s still minimizing, and only being actually honest in response to criticism.

      1. LBK*

        Is that bad? It’s not like she’s doubling down on anything in response to that criticism. If the aim of your criticism is not to point out ways in which she might still not have a clear or honest view of her actions for her to consider, then why are you doing it?

        1. Nope*

          Why do you think that’s not my aim?

          I’d also point out Alison isn’t the only one reading the comments. I find it disquieting how many people jumped straight to further minimizing her actions – some above even say she didn’t do anything wrong, she was doing the best she could and should shoulder no blame at all. It seems like a lot of people either genuinely don’t know more than what Alison’s said in her (understandably) slanted post, or they’re being willfully ignorant because they like her.

          1. Snark*

            “Why do you think that’s not my aim?”

            Because you’re prioritizing self-righteousness over accuracy, mostly. I too have read the article whose entire tone and content you seem to have adopted as your position.

            1. LBK*

              I don’t think anyone here is saying that the allegations against the boss are inaccurate, just that the article is written in a way that doesn’t allow for grey areas for anyone else involved.

          2. sunny-dee*

            Just FYI, any comment when uses the word r a p e gets automatically hidden or moderated or whatever. So, describing what that man actually did –> hidden.

              1. Erin*

                I can vouch for this, I remember using that word (don’t recall the context) in a comment before and seeing it go to moderation. I remember thinking, that’s normal, and immediately realized what word had flagged my comment.

                So yeah, not a new thing for this post.

              2. Sylvan*

                Oh shit. I didn’t know why it went to moderation, but I’ve noticed over months/years that “r-pe” and “s-xual assault” (censoring to try to get past the filter right now) both go to moderation. What is wrong with people?

            1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

              I just did a search for words in this post. Rape comes back with 15 hits (sixteen, including this one). Two of those are reference to grapes.

              I don’t mind holding people accountable, but let’s not vilify without completely checking the facts.

          3. MuseumChick*

            That’s in the vast minority. Most people are opening acknowledging she mishandled this situation. But also recognizing that while she made a really bad call, she has come out the other side having learned a major lesson and doing better going forward in her life.

          4. LBK*

            I don’t think it’s your aim because you seem to be spending more time trying to convince people their opinions on the situation are wrong than being constructive.

          5. Elizabeth H.*

            Maybe people just have a different opinion? You might find it a disquieting and really disagreeable opinion but I don’t think that people who hold a different opinion are necessarily uninformed or willfully ignorant.

  159. Tuesday Next*

    At my first job I was young and particularly naive, and of the few women on the team. Our client took us out for a team lunch. In the dining room of the sleazy bar, was a small stage. While we were eating, a woman walked onto the stage and started stripping down to her G string. I was incredibly uncomfortable but nobody else seemed to think anything of it. A few of the men made off colour remarks, not directed at anyone in particular. And then carried on eating and talking about the project. My lasting memory is feeling embarrassed for the stripper who was removing her clothes while pretty much nobody paid any attention. It seemed humiliating for her. We all went back to the office afterwards and nobody ever mentioned it again. But I have the feeling that someone must have said something because there was never a repeat visit. My MD was a religious Muslim and I’m sure that if he’d been told he would have put a stop to it.

    In retrospect it simply seems bizarre but I guess it ticks the boxes for sexual harassment.

  160. Hilary*

    Many of your former employees find this to be crocodile tears. Hey, Rob is still getting a fat paycheck from MPP- you could go to the board NOW and demand action.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I understand that completely. I would be happy to go to the board now and call on them to remove him. I don’t think they would care, based on past lack of action, but I’ll gladly talk to them.

      1. Umvue*

        You certainly have a hell of a platform now! You may find that a complainant who can boast a frillion pageviews a month gets a very different reception.

    2. Mananana*

      Hilary, what do you think that would accomplish, exactly? Why don’t YOU go to the board and demand action?

      1. Natalie*

        This is out of line IMO. It seems likely that Hilary is a former employee. I rather doubt that the defense Alison wants is one predicated on needling the very people she regrets not protecting.

    3. ArtsNerd*

      I understand the frustration but am curious about what possible leverage she’d have by bringing it to them now. There’s not much incentive for them to act on the demands of an ex-employee.

  161. Zuppa da Clams*

    I sympathize with Allison. She was not acting like a good manager at the time, that’s for sure, but as a manager, I’ve made this mistake before. I’ve defended my company over my employees, even over serious allegations-because I loved my company and my job and I thought we could weather it. I was a woman working against other women because of something bad a man did. I can only go forward and improve and acknowledge that I not only did I choose the wrong side, I actively worked for it because doing the right thing would result in me having to leave my job. I didn’t want to hurt *me*. But eventually, you realize you have no options when it comes to doing the right thing. And that was for a small business. Allison worked for a major non-profit with much greater stakes. Allison has always said in her bio she has made many many mistakes. She’s paid for her mistakes. She wants to be better and she’s been doing better. I can’t condemn her for it.

    1. Indie*

      *I was a woman working against other women because of something bad a man did.*

      And I’m sure the man in question never stacked the deck or anything. No we’ve never seen anything like that, have we?

      1. Zuppa da clams*

        That is the thing-it’s like, well, I’m conditioned to behave this way. But I also have to be responsible for my actions and I’m furious with myself for making excuses and feeling like I play the victim. I feel for Alison because there is not a single day when I don’t remember that mistake and wince and feel like a terrible person. I don’t think this illegitimizes her advice-people can call her a hypocrite but it’s better to help
        Yourself and help other people than throw your hands in the air and do nothing. And her advice is still excellent and has helped me be a better manager.

        1. Jules the Third*

          Internet hugs if you want them. I hope that reading these comments helps a little. We understand being in a situation with no good options. We understand the crappiness of abusers and harassers, and how it drags down everyone around them.

  162. Hurricane Wakeen*

    If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past year or so, it’s that I’ve made a lot of mistakes in sensitive situations, including ones where my friends were sexually assaulted. Thank you for sharing your experience, and for being an advocate for doing better going forward. It’s hard to talk about situations where one was in the wrong, and I appreciate your doing so.

  163. phedre*

    I have so many feelings about this. I’m disappointed and sad because someone who I look up and respect to made a mistake. A really, really bad one. It’s like the first time you realize that your parents are humans and have the same frailties the rest of us do. I’m proud of you for admitting something that you’re ashamed of and that you’re owning your mistakes. I understand how this could have happened, and I sympathize with you – I know you’ve felt guilt and shame over this. I’m glad that you’ve been able to learn from this and give such amazing advice to people. But I’m also angry because you did nothing at the time. Real harm was done to the victims through your actions, and I feel terrible for them.

    But part of my anger is also directed at me. Because as much as I want to pretend that I would do things differently than Alison… the reality is I’m not sure. When your job is at risk and your family depends on your paycheck and you believe in the nonprofit’s work and don’t want to harm it, and the perpetrator is a good person (except how good are they really if they’re doing this?), and people in power are minimizing the damage being done (“Can’t you just take a joke? Stop being so sensitive! Boys will be boys!”)… it can be really hard to come forward, even if you know it’s the right thing to do.

    I want to believe that I’d be a whistleblower. That’d I go to the police and the media and quit my job in righteous anger. And I hope if I’m ever faced with that decision I would. But deep down I know that maybe I wouldn’t, because I’d be scared I’d be blacklisted and never find work again, or I’d be evicted because I don’t really have savings and I can’t afford to be out of work and pay rent. And that’s how this stuff continues – because otherwise decent people look the other way.

    This article by Rebecca Traister really resonated with me: It’s about the complicated feelings and anger around this post-Weinstein reckoning. But she also talks about feeling complicit, so this excerpt seems applicable today:

    “Just a few years ago, I was working at another job. A new boss had been installed and wanted to hire the Harasser from my old workplace; I told him I would not work in the same office as that man. I was on maternity leave; he promised that the hire was only temporary, that the Harasser would be gone by the time I returned. And he was. But soon after I got back, the office’s youngest women began to come to me confessing that in the few months the Harasser had been in place, he’d creeped them out and sent them off-color, middle-of-the-night DMs. I had made my stand on my own behalf — I would not work with that man! — but had failed to protect my less powerful colleagues.

    So, no, I was never serially sexually harassed. But the stink got on me anyway. I was implicated. We all are, our professional contributions weighed on scales of fuckability and willingness to go along, to be good sports, to not be humorless scolds or office gorgons; our achievements chalked up to male affiliation — the boyfriend who supposedly supplies you with ideas or the manager who took you under his wing because he wanted to get inside your pants. We can rebuff the harasser; we can choose not to fuck the boss. But in a world where men hold inordinate power, we’re still in bed with the guy.”

  164. E*

    You’re human, you’re allowed to make mistakes. And it takes a lot of guts to own up to those mistakes especially when they impact other folks. I appreciate your honesty in this article and the comments. I want you to know it has only added to the value I see in the advice I see from you on this blog, because you’ve been in the situation that you advise others on and you made a decision you regret, but you learned from it and faced it.

  165. Lolli*

    Thank you for sharing this, very personal, part of yourself with us. I have a “Me Too” moment from when I was 18. Up until this latest “Me Too” movement, I was completely ashamed of myself for it. Now I realize my boss was a sleaze and I was just young. My more recent “Me Too” experience was in the form of retaliation after I told my boss he needed to stop touching one of my employees. I did it privately and with quite a bit of “this is not your fault – she doesn’t like anyone touching her”. Now I realize I should have gone straight to HR. He stopped touching her. And I got lukewarm reviews, snide comments, and outright rudeness to the point I was humiliated in front of peers many times. I also was passed over for a substantial raise. Luckily, his boss saw my value and pulled me and my whole team out from underneath him. His boss later got rid of him. And my salary has increased.

    1. Jules the Third*

      Thank you for sharing that good things can happen despite harassers. Unfortunately, it takes men who hold power being willing to take actions; we’re not yet to the point where women can take direct actions.

      There’s a reason that so few women are on boards.

  166. Nobody Here by That Name*

    We all like to think that in the moment we will say the perfect thing, do the perfect action, save the day, and be rewarded by everyone around us clapping.

    The reality of it is that things like harassment happen not just because of the harassers, but the culture which enables it. A culture which punishes those who fight harassers more than those who did the harassment.

    You weren’t in an easy spot. You made decisions you regret. Sadly I feel like even if you’d decided differently you’d still have regrets. We don’t get any answer keys as we go through life. We just have our own morals and values and have to try to live them as best we can.

    Good on you for sharing this and always trying to do better.

  167. Longtime Reader*

    I’m so sorry you had to go through that. Thank you for sharing the things you tried, the things that seemed to help, and the things that didn’t. Your lessons learned will benefit all of us. It sounds like you did the best you could with the information you had. Now that you know differently, you look back and think you should have acted differently. We can only act upon what we know at the time. Give yourself a break on that. Thank you for continually sharing good information and encouragement every day on your site. You have helped me become a better manager and leader!

  168. Lies, damn lies and...*

    Thank you for sharing this. I remember that 2010 article also when I starting reading this I was like oh yeah, this story. The funny thing is, at the time that was a-hole boss behaving badly, and we’ve had a significant enough culture shift that it’s something that could result in a drastic leadership change had it come out in an article like that now.

  169. Anonymous1*

    Here’s something I’ve been coming to terms with recently as an HR manager: every time I take action, I fail. Every single time. That time we hired a new employee and fired him for overt harassment three days into his tenure? I failed him by not taking enough time to run a full investigation, I failed his direct victims by allowing our recruiting team to hire him in the first place, and I failed the rest of our company in ways that are unique to each individual and no less real–some likely thought I moved too fast, some likely thought I moved too slow, some likely wanted more information about the incident that I wasn’t able to give. I am both 100% certain that I did everything I possibly could given the context, and 100% certain that I failed everyone involved. The two can, and often do, coexist.

    Here’s the thing: HR is not black and white. Harassment is not black and white. Perpetrators are not just the harassers–they are everyone with a modicum of power who allowed the harassment to happen or didn’t move fast enough to contain it. Victims are not just the directly harassed–they are everyone placed in a situation of discomfort or fear due to the situation at hand. When you are in HR, you are both…you’re the perpetrator for enacting a solution that will inevitably leave someone hurt, and you’re the victim for having to directly deal with a harasser and potentially face their wrath. When you sign up to be in HR, these are the table stakes. You sign up to hold yourself accountable within that dichotomy.

    For all of us here, seven years removed from the incident, it’s really not our place to demonize OR defend Alison for the actions she took. Both are equally poisonous, I think–they continue to push us toward extremes, toward defining this and other harassment cases as black and white. What we CAN do is have a thoughtful dialogue about these situations, and understand that there is no silver bullet, no solution that leaves every victim in a perfect place and every perpetrator punished according to their actions. And from there, we can help ourselves get better at designing solutions that, as Milton would say, deliver the greatest amount of utility for the greatest number of people. But we will never be perfect, and it’s important that we understand that.

    I applaud Alison for sharing this, and I applaud the victims at her organization for sharing their sides, too. Both have their own perceptions and both perceptions are correct. In Alison’s case, she did the best she thought she could given the circumstances AND failed a significant number of people. And so do all of us, every day, when dealing with issues of human emotion and perception. All we can do is own up to our failings, never stop trying, and hopefully, over time, improve.

  170. First Day Training*

    I can understand being in an organization where inappropriate behaviors become normalized, tolerance levels rise and actions that would normally evoke feelings of outrage barely blink an eye. It almost feels like gas lighting, where those around you make you feel like you’re the crazy one. My feelings of sympathy towards Alison are conflicted by the fact that she was a LARGE part of normalizing this behavior. With no prior knowledge of this incident, I did some Google research and learned about what happened. I was disturbed that there was introductory training that warned new employees about the kinds of things the predator may say or do. I would be horrified if my first day of work included being warned that I may be hit on, offended or sexually harassed because that’s just the way he is. I’m curious, what exactly did you say during this “training?”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s something in that article that wasn’t accurate. My training specific to the executive director was routine stuff like “he won’t read long emails” and “he’s hard to reach in the morning.” There was not a “prepare yourself for harassment” piece of it. That said, I wish in retrospect that I had done more to prepare women for dealing with him. I think some other women in the organization did more of that, to the extent that they could.

      1. First Day Training*

        Thank you for explaining. While I’m still processing how I feel about this situation, I do appreciate that you’re answering people’s questions rather than avoiding them.

      2. MuseumChick*

        Yeah, that part did not ring true to me but it cause me… I guess I would call it distress. (I think this who situation has underscored how (perhaps over) invested a lot of us are in your blog Alison.

  171. NotAnonymous*

    “And considering his influence, you would have been labeled a rabble-rouser and blowing things out of proportion, hysterical, and trying to find issues where there aren’t any”

    Yup. I’m pretty sure that I’m viewed as a shrill, uptight bitch at work. I seem to be the only person at my workplace who has an issue with hearing crude and vulgar shit all day long or who understands how that leads to a complete mess of a workplace. I know of four managers who have slept with or dated staff members, one keyholder who has slept with an employee (and was casually dating her friend we hired…which was hidden from me until after I decided to hire him), and there are rumors about one of our staff members hooking up with a staff member in another part of the business. I know how one of my staff members likes to masturbate, a couple staff members have felt the need to share their kinks with the shop, my boss has grabbed asses and playfully bitten people and many of our staff used to enjoy leering at women through the front window. My roommate is also my most recent ex-boyfriend (we broke up 4 years ago), and I constantly have to hear comments about how we’re sleeping together or speculation about my platonic relationship with him.

    I have tried to tell my boss that we need to crack down on this. I’ve tried to tell her that we can’t joke that it’s not sexual harassment if the victim likes it (puke). I’ve tried to explain that it’s a big time liability issue, that I am not comfortable with this type of discussion, and that not everyone will be. I leave work feeling gross a lot of the time, and I can’t get through to these people that their behavior is horrendous.

    It’s hard when you’re in the thick of this bullshit and you can’t see a way to get through to people (or, on my case, easily get out).

  172. Recruit -o-rama*

    OMG, the self appointed and apparently perfect hindsite police are out in full force today!

    Thank you for sharing your story, Alison. I can certainly understand making a wrong decision, everyone has. Real growth comes from recognizing and taking ownership, not from taking a flogging online from people who are not even trying to hear your message, but rather trying to make themselves appear to be above reproach and create conspiracy or deflection where there is none. You’ve certainly taken a bad experience and put it to good use.

    Lastly, I never knew your background before, other than “non profit” so now your perspective on employment drug screens makes more sense to me!

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I know right? And apparently none of them have heard of grooming, or any of the systemic issues that might be behind this – nope let’s just call for her head on a stick.

  173. Girasol*

    If you had it to do over today, you’d do things differently, of course. But if you had it to do over in the environment as it was then, could you really have done better? If you’d seriously blown the whistle, you could have been fired in spite of whistle blower laws. You might have gone with some smirch of rumor as well, maybe that you were acting out of jealousy that he hadn’t made passes at you, for example. And that would have made it all the harder for anyone else to complain. If you had taken it all the way to court it could have gone to a judge like the one in the Stanford rape case such a short time ago, or to one of the judges who would be swayed by the fact that he engaged in the same behavior himself. Perhaps you were smart in pushing the matter just as far as you could effectively go at the time, and in knowing when it was time to quit.

    1. Morning Glory*

      I don’t think this comment is very useful for anyone reading who is in a similar predicament.

      1. When you are not the victim, the end goal should not necessarily be to take action that is best for you. It should be about taking action that is right. This is doubly true when you are in a position of power relative to the victims, as Alison was.

      2. No case is every guaranteed to get a guilty verdict, of course. But a trial was never even on the table: the question was whether to push for the board to oust him, among other work-related decisions.

      I don’t agree with some of the comments coming down too hard on Alison from the comfort of their post-Weinstein perspectives – but she is right to be ashamed of how she acted, and she is wise to have learned from her mistakes.

      1. sunny-dee*

        I can see more of a gray area with the generalized sexual harassment. It’s like boiling the frog there and it would be really easy to lose perspective, especially if there are a lot of other factors (a laidback environment, good relationships, good work) that are legit good.

        However, the r-a-p-e allegation is a whole other barrel of monkeys. That’s hard core.

        1. Jules the Third*