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

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who reported her sexist team to HR but hadn’t realize it would launch a big investigation? Here’s the update.

I took a little bit of time after writing to you to figure out how I wanted to approach the situation with my HR rep (M). M had requested written statements for every occurrence of sexual harassment I’d experienced – pretty typical as I’ve come to learn – and I was avoiding sending that information in until I knew what I wanted to do.

I knew a full-blown investigation would change things greatly at my office, for better or worse. On a big picture level, I hoped an investigation would improve the culture within my team and make it a safer environment for women. On a personal level, it would definitely impact my ability to work with my team and strain even the good relationships I had with some of my coworkers who would’ve inherently been included in my statements. And M’s suggestion that I work separately in a different office building made me feel like I was being punished by having to work alone because of all this. I legitimately was contemplating quitting because I felt so powerless in all this.

After taking some time, I looked at my entire employment experience with the company and did some research on HR protocols. That’s when I realized, my company had never done any sexual harassment trainings with my team while I’d been employed, against state law at the time. I asked a coworker who’d been there years before me and he also stated there’d never been any training of that sort; the same went for a coworker on a separate but adjacent team. Sexual harassment in the tech industry had already been illuminated in the media for quite some time and I was shocked to know my company had been so negligent all these years.

I wrote to M and requested another meeting with him and his manager. I explained that while I knew an investigation is standard procedure, I felt the impact of that would’ve placed undue stress on me as a result. I noted that not only had no sexual harassment training been done with my team or other teams this company managed, there hadn’t been any HR trainings for other issues. I let M know that this felt negligent on the part of our company and had facilitated the environment for my situation to even occur. They told me they would think about next steps and let me know.

A couple days later, they emailed me stating I did not need to pursue the investigation if I did not want to. They also let me know they would be implementing new HR trainings across all the teams in my office and that they would facilitate an all-team meeting to address the sexual harassment while keeping my identity anonymous. I’m not sure if they thought I was gearing up to sue them or something, but I was happy to hear this.

I knew I wasn’t working with a team of awful misogynists but that my company had done nothing to create a culture around fair and safe employment. Ultimately, I did not follow through with the investigation however my situation improved drastically following the all-team meeting and having new precedents set. I moved to a new and much better company around a year later. Most of the folks on my team at that time have also left. A friend of mine who joined the team shortly after this HR situation tells me she feels comfortable at work and that no issues regarding sexual harassment have crept up since I left either.

{ 169 comments… read them below }

    1. Joan Rivers*

      Some comments seem to be uneasy that an investigation could be “uncomfortable” for someone. I think we need to face the fact that investigations, at work, or criminal, can do that. It’s the nature of examining bigotry or criminal behavior.

      Let’s celebrate that the system works.

  1. Hadespuppy*

    That’s a fantastic update, and it’s nice to hear that the HR team let the LW take the lead on what she wanted to do, and listened to her suggestions.

    1. ThePear8*

      +1. I’m planning to go into a STEM field, and a notoriously sexist one at that, and I’m scared of finding myself in a situation like this but also reassured to know that it’s possible to stand up for myself and have it handled well.

  2. Momma Bear*

    This is a good update. It is one thing to investigate and punish specific people, but to change the entire culture and expectations is really the better long-term result. We had a similar situation a few jobs back – big bosses realized that they needed to clarify what was acceptable and what was not. I’m glad OP’s HR stepped up and things improved for everyone.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      It seems to me that people should know what is and isn’t appropriate, until I think back over my career and realize that we have annual training so that’s probably more the real reason I know.

    1. Liz T*

      I mean, it looks like what worked is that the sexist people left the company. Which an investigation might have made happen sooner!

      1. Mars Jenkar*

        An investigation might have made it happen sooner but it probably would have been far more painful for everyone involved, and might have caused lasting damage to a lot of people on both sides of the issue, and even some not part of it at all (as in, not participating in or knowingly abetting the bad behavior but not acting against it either–from what I can tell, it’s very common for people not a part of this kind of behavior to not realize it’s happening, *especially* when there hasn’t been any training on these issues). From what I can tell, changes happened swiftly enough without harming those on the wrong end of the behavior (or not party to it at all), and there’s better awareness now of expectations than there used to be.

    2. Anon for this one*

      Did it though? Or did the problems just leave?

      I’ve never been convinced that anyone prone to sexual harassment or workplace violence has ever had the thought “well, better not do it, that half-hour seminar said not to.” If lawsuits and criminal charges aren’t a deterrent, the yearly lip service won’t even register.

      1. Frank Doyle*

        I think it depends on how egregious the actions are. I too am in a male-dominated field, and a lot of dudes have ingrained thoughts and habits that they just haven’t examined yet. For example, I spoke to one co-worker about referring to a professional woman as “girl.” It had honestly never occurred to him before, and he was a little defensive at first, but I explained my thoughts on it simply and without judgment, and he made an effort not to do that anymore, and then he didn’t do it anymore! And I was very happy about that, and it improved my working environment!

        A lot of people say racist/sexist/etc stuff not because they’re jerks, but because they just haven’t THOUGHT about what they’re doing, and forcing them to really think about stuff from another person’s perspective can be effective.

        1. ambivalent*

          Agree, it’s like the “JewTown” update. For many people all that is needed is for it to be explained that some terms are considered sexist/racist. And to be honest, it is often quite arbitrary. For example, Americans say “colored” about non-white people, which sounds super racist to me (I spent a long time in the UK) but apparently is considered acceptable. But you know, it’s often usage that defines if something’s considered offensive. It’s when people refuse to change the way they do things (I mean, when it’s a simple thing) after being told it’s offensive, that tells you something deeper might be wrong.

          1. Idril Celebrindal*

            I thought I’d mention that in the US, “colored” is considered racist, but “people of color” is not. Colored has strong connotations with Jim Crow laws and segregation, and I would REALLY side eye anyone using that in conversation.

          2. wittyrepartee*

            Ohhhhh… do not use “colored” in the US. Person of color, or POC (pee-oh-sea) is fine. I’m both a person of color (although white appearing?), and made that mistake when I first heard those terms being used. MORTIFYING.

            1. Anonamom*

              Yes same! I wince to think about it, but I tried to use the word “colored” in a college application essay(!!!) a million years ago because I’d heard it on an old black-and-white movie and it never occurred to me that it’s meaning might be different than “people of color.” I was trying to write about how I wanted to learn in a more diverse setting and yeeesh did I need that more than I knew.

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              Post WW2. “Black” came in in the 60’s and has stayed with us. The 70’s flirted with “Afro-American”, while the 80’s brought us “African-American”, to parallel formations such as “German-American”.

              Here is an interesting read that goes thru it all briefly, while making the point that many dark-skinned peoples do not originate in Africa (but once they hit American shores they are subsumed into “Black Which Equals African-American): https://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/smart-living/black-or-african-american-which-term-you-should-be-using/ar-BB16iuip

              1. Charlotte Lucas*

                Yep. I remember talking about this with Black friends in the 80s. A lot of them, especially of Caribbean ancestry preferred “Black”– if we *had* to use labels.

          3. Sweet Christmas*

            It’s not arbitrary; it’s defined by different historical and cultural influences and practices in different countries. But yeah, ‘colored’ isn’t OK here in the U.S. either!

  3. Zzzzz*

    OP! This is amazing! I’m a lawyer and my original response was AAM’s – it’s the law, they gotta do the full investigation. Maybe, but you gave them another option, and it turned out to be a win for everyone. It’s good thinking, not driven by lawsuits (well, maybe), and sounds like it led to positive changes throughout the organization. You sound amazing and impressive and it was so wise of you to slow down, do some research, and then make a proposal that would work better for you. Thanks for the update!

  4. HRBee*

    I’m sorry, but I just… don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling from this resolution. Long-term change is great. Training implementation is fantastic, and I’m glad OP was able to effect this type of change. BUT the investigation should have still happened along side these changes. It is irresponsible of the company to simply drop the investigation, and quite frankly, leaves them with a large area of potential legal liability if something else happens in the future.

    I know investigations are uncomfortable. I know it’s easy to guess whose making the complaint when you’re the only woman. But the company letting the alleged perpetrators of gender based harassment off scot free just doesn’t sit right with me. This, to me, is just another failing of the company. They took the easy way out; generalized training they should have already been doing instead of actually disciplining and dealing with problem employees.

    1. Starbuck*

      Yeah, I would have assumed it would be a legal requirement to continue the investigation – or at least, strongly recommended by the company’s legal team. It’s really sketchy to let the victim stop the investigation once they’ve complained, because wouldn’t you assume they’re retracting because someone threatened to retaliate against them? At minimum, you’d need to be concerned if that was the case and ask about it.

      I agree, seems like the company did not do a good job here.

      1. Charly Bee*

        An investigation would have resulted in disciplinary action for her teammates up to and including termination. She pointed out to them that the company was negligent in not providing sexual harassment training of any sort. So rather than fire these men, they had the opportunity to be redeemed. The OP didn’t want them fired; she just wanted them to stop. So it’s win-win-win. She got them to stop (without the icky feelings). No one got fired. And the company didn’t get sued. So, good update.

        I was involved in a sexual harassment investigation (as part of the investigating team) that ended with firing a 19yo in his first job over behavior he had no clue was problematic – for example, saying things like “your boyfriend is really lucky” I wished we could have just given him a disciplinary coaching and some training, but those decisions weren’t handled at store level, nor were we given any input. I still feel icky that this kid got fired never understanding what he did wrong!

        1. DArcy*

          No, people not getting fired for sexual harassment because the victim was afraid of retaliation is *absolutely never* a win and the idea that it is is deeply disturbing.

          1. Batgirl*

            I agree with you, but straightforward retaliation wasn’t really OP’s concern. She was rather more concerned with friendships and her own sense of fairness and a proportionate response. I’d have to know more about the type of harrassment she suffered to be sure, but she had no problem telling her company it was negligent so.. I dont think it was a retaliation fear, but a sense of fairness. She could be wrong about that, but I don’t think it’s because she’s afraid.

            1. Sweet Christmas*

              She specifically said it was because she was afraid in her original post.

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

              I told M that it took a lot for me to even approach him about the issue and that I feel I’m going to be pushed into a corner by people either being bitter or overly sensitive about interacting with me, and that this in turn is going to affect how I function in my workspace. I don’t feel unsafe and I do enjoy my office, but the inequality was getting to me… I feel like my needs of a comfortable work space are being jeopardized and while they say they want to protect me, it’s is doing the opposite.

              Everything she explicitly said about her fear had to do with retaliation, not fairness.

              1. Batgirl*

                Yes those are the words I think refer to her friendships..”I listed situations with people I’m actually friends with too. M said they need to conduct this formal investigation so that if anything further happens in the future, they can take appropriate action, which may mean termination from assignment. I’ve become SO distraught imagining how people (friends or not) are going to react knowing their job security is now up for debate”… She never imagined their jobs could be at risk.

              2. JonBob*

                Retaliation is different from consequences. Outing everyone’s bad behavior and getting people fired might not lead to retaliations, but it will chill any working relationship.

        2. pancakes*

          It doesn’t have to be that simplistic at all. The idea that the only options with regard to your 19 yr old former coworker who didn’t understand that it’s not ok to leer at his coworkers (!) were firing him or communicating with him about why that’s not ok is just silly.

          It’s also not necessary to regard the letter writer in this scenario as the only woman her coworkers have to learn how to behave around. The fact that she got what she wanted doesn’t mean all women who work or will work for her employer got what they need.

          1. DArcy*

            The idea that an adult man *doesn’t realize* that sexually harassing women is wrong is simply bullshit. No, men fully realize this is wrong, they just do it because they know they can get away with it.

        3. Sweet Christmas*

          While I do think that sexual harassment training can be effective and a good thing, people don’t harass people because they haven’t had training. I don’t need to be trained to not harass, say, trans people or people with disabilities, both groups that I’m not a part of. I may say insensitive or ignorant or stupid things because of my privilege and and ignorance, but harassment? I work in a very male-dominated field and while the men at my workplace have sometimes said insensitive or ignorant things about women (or people of color), it’s almost never intentional, and a quick conversation fixes it. It’s a place where I feel safe to gently tell people that they’ve said something insensitive and have confidence that they will fix it.

          The OP didn’t want her coworkers to get fired because she was afraid of retaliation, not because she thought they didn’t know what they were doing.

          1. L*

            +1. She’s not specific about what happened, but it was bad enough that she spent 30 minutes crying in the bathroom. I’m DEEPLY skeptical that that’s something that can just be trained away.

        4. Mookie*

          An investigation would have assured every employee that a victim’s safety and security will always be prioritized over somebody else’s reputation, including the company’s, given that no organization likes to fire someone for an offense that makes the company look equally bad plus negligent when it comes to light. That would be the ideal message to send before launching a series of harassment training sessions, that the consequences are serious for all parties. Organizations do their own case no good pretending that the absence of such policies mean no one is responsible when people behave badly, whether they claim ignorance or not, and when those same people are protected rather than disciplined by the employer because Nobody Told Them They Couldn’t or Shouldn’t. Benign intent and ignorance don’t automatically protect anyone from being terminated when the offense is technical or job-related, so why make this exception under these circumstances (an employee-initiated report of harassment)?

          And, I’m sorry, but this concern, genuine or otherwise, over victims’s “icky feelings” and guilt is part of the reason why this shit still happens. Internalizing victim-blaming messages or enabling it in victims who already express hesitation or doubt is malpractice. I understand the LW’s pov and they have a right to not participate and to have their identity protected, but an already lax employer should never offer to do this when on the brink of finally acknowledging this problem, their obligation to address and mitigate against it, and their historical failure to do either. Letting the LW believe the retaliation they fear is possible is the message they’re sending, even when stating otherwise.

        5. ReadItWithSpanishAccent*

          OP does not get to decide if HR takes action. This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest mistakes HR does with sexual harassment: you don’t take action at the request of the victim, but at the knowledge that sexual harassment is happening in your company. Whether OP wanted them fired or not is irrelevant: they commited a fireable offense, and they must go. People not getting fired after a sexual harassment case is not a “win”.

          Also it is not the work of HR to “redeem” employees at the expense of their victims. I am sure they 19yo of your example understood his behavior wass problematic and had time to reflect on it during unemployment.

    2. Theory of Eeveelution*

      I agree with you. I’m overall happy OP is in a better situation now, but the company really got away with some serious wrongdoing here.

    3. WellRed*

      Yes, I was disappointed throughout, all that was happy to see at the end OP is doing better, but the company needed to do better, here.

    4. Boof*

      I think it depends a lot on what sort of incidents are reported. If it’s a lot of small stuff from different people, then a general training (especially if it’s never been done before!!!) makes a lot more sense then an in depth investigation on each person and incident. Ie, being always asked to get coffee, someone referring to as “the gal”, etc
      If it was an incident that would be a major safety issue or otherwise severe enough to lead to firing (ie, assaults and attempted assaults, very nasty name calling, sexually explicit material) then yes, full investigation is warranted

      By op’s description tough it sounded like a lot of small but pervasive things

      1. introverted af*

        I agree with this mostly I think. I’m glad it got better for the OP, but if it hadn’t? They would be back at square one and having to do the investigation anyways to get the ball moving. While OP’s coworkers thankfully were reflective and thought about their actions, I do think it was important for those individuals to be held accountable for their specific actions. It sounds like those actions weren’t so bad that it would have been more than a stern conversation, but I think OP’s coworkers are adults (and clearly they demonstrated after the training that they’re not trying to be assholes) and should be responsible for their actions. And it would have been especially important if they had not improved their behavior after the training, or if they had become retaliatory towards the OP.

      2. selena*

        I think OPs initial shock at how this became A Big Deal already says a lot: that she saw it more as a bunch of misunderstandings and lack of awareness than as an unredeemable sexist office culture.

        Not pushing through with the investigation was a gamble on the part of the company: if there had been more complaints afterwards they’d have been on the hook for ‘throwing meaningless diversity education at real complaints’.
        But it also meant they did what the victim specifically asked them to do, instead of taking away her agency by second-guessing her motives (that she might have felt pressured to withdraw accusations)

        1. Boof*

          Well if there’s never been diversity education that would seem like step one, for things that aren’t clearly illegal anyway. Otherwise there’s a pretty straightforward ignorance defense; I would agree if things continue or if education had already happened a more targeted investigation would be the next step.

        2. Sweet Christmas*

          They weren’t second-guessing her motives. She explicitly said that she did not want to continue the investigation because she was afraid of how she might be treated by her team afterwards. It’s all over her first post.

          Does this

          My feelings of discontentment have been getting greater and greater these past couple months, and I came to a breaking point last Friday. I felt unwelcome and belittled. I ended having to leave my desk for 30 minutes and crying in the bathroom. I felt like I either needed to leave this job because I wasn’t respected or that I needed to do something about the feeling.

          sound like “a bunch of misunderstandings and a lack of awareness?” It doesn’t to me. It is really common for people in toxic workplaces to rationalize and minimize them so they can simply survive while they look to get out, but for all we know it wasn’t. Maybe there were a few guys on the team who really didn’t like having a woman there and were doing this purposefully, but subtly enough to fly under the radar. Maybe they had a really toxic culture before she came and were simply unwilling to change.

          The reason why this is so pervasive is because people make excuses for it, repeatedly, over a long period of time – “oh, I just didn’t know, I didn’t get the training, nobody ever told me…” When are we going to stop letting that be an excuse for people? Why do we assume that people need special trainings to not be sexist when the majority of people seem to manage that, at least on a surface level, just fine?

      3. Sweet Christmas*

        Not necessarily, although I could see why someone would make that assumption.

        “A lot of small stuff from different people” could indicate a larger systemic issue that needs to be addressed by the company – and perhaps a general training is not what the solution needs to be. The company won’t know until they actually investigate it. If I worked on a team of 10 men and all of them consistently asked me to get coffee or refer to me as ‘the gal’ – that kind of team culture doesn’t arise by accident or out of nowhere. Maybe there are some people on the team who are fomenting or encouraging it.

        Besides, things like assaults and nasty name calling are made possible by the pervasive everyday things. It’s the culture of pervasive sexism that makes it possible to introduce other elements. These things don’t occur in a vacuum, and a series of negging and sexism can be just as damaging to a person in the long-term as other kinds of behaviors. Slapping people on the wrist for “small” things and only engaging when someone gets assaulted is how we get assaults in the first place.

      4. MCMonkeybean*

        I agree, it sounded like there wasn’t any one particular incident OP wanted investigated or any one person she thought behaved particularly egregiously, but rather a general environment issue. In that situation it does seem like widespread training is the best outcome at least for now.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This lays the groundwork for systemically stopping _all_ harassment, AND everyone’s formally on notice of consequences for stepping over the line in the future.
      That is a win for me.

      1. Julia*

        What consequences? OP didn’t mention anyone faced consequences for their behavior. Maybe the training mentions consequences? But if the company has failed to actually enforce any of its rules up to now, I see no reason why anyone engaging in sexist behavior would change their behavior based on “consequences” of which they are now “formally on notice”. I’m with the person you replied to. HR dropped the ball by not having training in the first place and then dropped it again by allowing a whistleblower to unilaterally put the kibosh on their legally mandated investigation.

        1. Julia*

          Plus, what if things got better for a little while and then people backslide to their former ways? The next woman who wants to complain will see that the last time someone complained, the company didn’t stop the behavior or talk to the perpetrators – the company just implemented training which everyone sits through. Is that an incentive to complain again?

      2. Liz T*

        Look, they should do the trainings. But that doesn’t replace addressing things that have actually happened.

    6. Liz T*

      This actually isn’t really an update at all, exactly: OP knew in the first letter that there hadn’t been trainings, and wanted to do that instead, and AAM explained why that wouldn’t be enough.

    7. kt*

      I’m going to bring up an opinion that once got me labeled “an apologist for the patriarchy”. For the record, I am a woman in STEM and have always been in the minority and have always needed to grapple with gender issues. I have been dealing with them firsthand for over 30 years, because I had to start in elementary school.

      I think this was a win.

      The letter writer is succeeding in her career, her workplace improved, her coworkers became better coworkers, future problems were prevented.

      You know what is not a win for me? An individual woman having her career destroyed and being run out of a tech career so that “the investigation” can happen. An individual woman being frozen out and sidelined because procedure needs to be followed. And all that happening with no formative action for the individuals who were behaving inappropriately. That’s what I’ve seen.

      I am not saying HR shouldn’t deal with harassment. I am saying that people do have a learning curve and deserve a training and the chance to correct their behavior. Once the training’s been done and it’s been clearly said, “This is not OK,” then fine, discipline and fire away. But not before.

      And I’m not saying this because I’m warm and fuzzy. I am in fact profoundly cynical about people and their behavior. But I know that there are surface-asshole people who I’d trust with my career and my life and there are “woke social justice advocates” who’d throw you under a bus for your race or gender in 30 seconds flat, and make it seem like it’s your own fault because they know how to talk the talk. Do the training, then proceed from there. LW, this was a win and you should be really proud of yourself and your advocacy for yourself.

      1. Cat Tree*

        I’m also in STEM. I agree that OP doesn’t have some higher obligation to force change at her own expense. But I’m also not thrilled and excited about the outcome like many people here are. It’s not a terrible outcome, but not a great one either. Incremental steps are better than nothing. It’s also the most realistic outcome for the situation. I’m glad OP wasn’t vilified and also escaped that particular toxic environment, but I don’t have to be thrilled that is the best outcome I can reasonably hope for.

        1. Boof*

          I don’t see how punishment/consequences are helpful if the slights were small an the behavior is stopped. … if that’s what you’re referring to as an outcome you would hope for.

          1. Sweet Christmas*

            I want to push back against the labeling of this behavior as “small”. What’s small or big is relative to the person, but dismissing this as “small” (and implying that it’s not serious or very harmful or even all that bad) is why we get this behavior in large amounts in the first place.

            But I also want to point out that this was 10 people, consistent in type, over the course of two and a half months, that was so bad it made the OP cry. That ain’t small. I wish people would stop calling it that way and diminishing the impact it can have om people.

      2. tangerineRose*

        Things are better now, which is an improvement. Sometimes people seem to expect the updates to be perfect, but this is real life.

      3. Julia*

        “people do have a learning curve and deserve a training and the chance to correct their behavior. Once the training’s been done and it’s been clearly said, “This is not OK,” then fine, discipline and fire away. But not before.”

        I am baffled at this idea. I’ve seen it in a couple different places in this thread. Is there any man in 2020 who really, genuinely doesn’t understand what sexist behavior is off-limits in the workplace? Do you honestly believe the men LW worked with were babes in the woods who would immediately stop their uncomfortable jokes / statements as soon as they were told it wasn’t OK?

        LW herself disproves that idea. She said in the original letter that she didn’t want to talk to these men individually, not because she feared embarrassing them, but because *they wouldn’t take her seriously*. She felt powerless to stop them so she had to go to HR. Does that sound to you like a group of men who just need to be informed that their behavior is wrong?

        1. Tinker Angel*

          Yes there are still men who don’t understand and likely women as well. Education that allows for growth is better than punishment, but education should come first. This is the best way to cause change in behaviors and thoughts.

        2. Batgirl*

          People who are educated and aware to a level where its fluently instinctive are always baffled by those who aren’t. Education of how to behave in 2020 doesn’t just float in the window with the New Year though. Even obvious “aha, of course” items are sometimes only obvious at the moment of teaching.

          1. Sweet Christmas*

            No, still don’t buy it. When people come to my workplace to work, we expect them to have certain skills. If we hire a software developer, we expect them to know how to code because duh. So people go and they get training to learn how to code so they can come work for us and get paid. If it later turns out that they don’t know how to code, or don’t know it well enough, they don’t get to keep their job just because coding knowledge doesn’t “float through the window.”

            When we start treating this the same way – as a skill that someone need to know in order to work in a modern workplace – and actually hold people accountable, then people will seek out the copious knowledge that already exists in these areas and learn it. They don’t know it because they don’t have to, because we’ve all decided to just give them a pass because it doesn’t really matter that much, right?

            1. Batgirl*

              Honestly I think it’s a failing of modern employment if there is no space in the workplace to learn about workplace specific behaviours. The pass is when we decide it doesn’t need to be learned. Your last question is the opposite to how we should be thinking.

            2. Infrequent_Commenter*

              People learn coding in school (but note; even then, there is room for/expectation of growth). Where do they learn workplace behavior?

              Also, even if you were correct that everyone already knows how to behave, what training also does is let people know the company is paying more attention than they used to. So it also teaches “I might not be able to get away with it anymore”.

              I’ll agree with others who say this is not a perfect win(life rarely provides them), but it is nevertheless a positive outcome for the OP.

            3. Mookie*

              A reminder that “work culture” is a euphemism for white, homosocial spaces that actively punish, alienate, isolate, and exclude others and are actually a source of pride in many fields. There, “certain skills” and desirable personality types and backgrounds indicate obliquely the capacity and desire for toxic fraternal bonding, for example. But heaven forfend requiring skills that might obligate these people to treat others respectfully and like equals. That’s an enormous burden we expect of our middle management and csuite dudebros, which is why cooties applicants don’t and will never Fit In.

        3. AdminX*

          50% of the country voted to keep things the way they were.

          As an admin I cringe every time another admin references us as “girls.” Or anytime someone wants to complain about how “you know how men are…”

          Or how sweet it is when someone’s kid calls everyone maam or mister- without asking pronouns first.

          I think there’s a gajillion ways sexism and harassment are still a daily issue in every level of work. That doesn’t excuse it but you can’t deal with the problem if you don’t see the whole thing. A lot of people, of all genders, don’t know, don’t care, and would fight to keep things from changing for more inclusion.

        4. kt*

          In 2020, there are really, genuinely people all over who do not understand what is and isn’t sexist; feel that their particular type of sexism is justified because (whatever); who use sexism opportunistically (they’re not “really” sexist, it’s just so easy to get your lady colleague out of the way by talking over her and characterizing her concerns about revenue as ‘hysterical’!). I think the last category is huge — most people will take advantage of stereotypes and prejudices to bolster their case when they want something.

          I’ll turn it around: If you truly think that every person in the workplace understands, in 2020, what is/is not acceptable in the workplace, why do workplaces still have problems with racism and sexism? And if the correct solution is just “fire men who misbehave”, why don’t we have legions and legions of unemployed white-collar people who used to have six-figure jobs?

          Something just doesn’t add up between “everyone knows standards so we don’t need sexual harassment trainings” and “people behave poorly, but remarkably in this case having sexual harassment training changed people’s behavior”.

          As far as I can tell, it’s not telling these dudes their behavior is wrong, but *management* saying “this behavior is something that is relevant to our assessment of whether you’re doing your job”.

        5. Mookie*

          More importantly, who cares if such men exist? Freedom from responsibility is not universally enjoyed, is a concept fraught with obvious contradictions, and its invocation curiously always crops up when it comes to pervasive abuse of the lower orders by classes protected but never bound.

      4. selena*

        I kinda feel like the people who demand ‘an investigation, no matter what’ just want to see the world burn, without any regard for how that would impact OPs career or the careers of silent bystanders (a lot of whom would have soured on the person or idea that suddenly threatened their career)

        1. pancakes*

          You have that in quotation marks but no one here said that. No one disappointed by the update is being quite that simplistic in explaining why they’re disappointed.

          1. Maria*

            She has that in single quotation marks, which suggest paraphrasing, not an exact quote :)

            People aren’t being that simplistic, but that is what they’re saying is needed. All the people who are saying it’s a good update are pointing out is that investigations don’t always have happy endings for the victim and the generalized harassment training did. In the year she was there between the training and leaving, she said her situation improved dramatically – a win. She also said that a friend who now works there has had no sexual harassment issues – another win.

        2. Bloberta*

          True. I dont want to write it off completely- it’s definitely understandable to just want to see the black and white story of bad guys getting whats coming to them. But yeah, its easy to blow ofd the nuances od a case when youre sitting at home and dont actually have to deal with them

        3. Sweet Christmas*

          If a person ‘sours’ on a person who contacted HR because they were being sexually harassed over the course of two and a half months…they’re part of the problem.

        4. Mookie*

          The only thing that might cause the world to burn is pretending that holding these people responsible is a radical idea akin to nihilism. What you’re describing is not an inevitability or a force of nature but a threat the status quo makes, time and again, when it is suggested they stop behaving badly and stop defending injustice. “You’ll ruin your career, honey” is not, in fact, the realistic, pragmatic message you think it is, and “the world will burn, thanks to you” is just deranged hyperbole carrying water for a world that wants to disproportionately punish women for thinking they’re human. It’s not that victims don’t end up screwed over, it’s the idea that we should just continue to let it happen and ignore the history that says it can be stopped.

          What About the Bystanders, though, is a new one on me. What a world.

      5. KR*

        Yup, agreed. OP is happy with the result and it seems like this was a win-win for those involved. Even if there isn’t outright retaliation, no one wants to be the one that started a sexual harassment investigation and even if there aren’t tangible consequences for that, there sure are social consequences that are hard to quantify and I am glad OP had a choice in whether she wanted to do that.

      6. Sweet Christmas*

        I am a woman in STEM and I don’t agree.

        First of all, we don’t know that her workplace improved and her coworkers became better coworkers, and we certainly don’t know that future problems were prevented. Word gets around. At my workplace, a woman I know was sexually harassed by someone, an investigation was kicked-off, and the short version is that nothing happened, he got to keep his job, and she ended up leaving for another company over it. The women on my team were deeply affected by this, and it shook our trust in the system. This kind of thing gets passed on, especially amongst women, over the years. It could make things worse. It could be that the men responsible viewed as getting off easy – all they have to do is lay low for a while and all they had to do was go through a training.

        We know that their behavior seems to have reformed, for now. Actually, we don’t even know that – we do know most of the folks from her team left after this. There could be so many reasons for that – maybe other people also didn’t like the toxic culture and left because they perceived their company wasn’t going to do anything other than train them; maybe some of the men engaged in the behavior left because they didn’t like having their behavior curtailed this way.

        We don’t know what the outcome of an investigation would’ve been either, so we have no way of knowing that would’ve been worse. No, it would not have been a win if she was run out of a tech career for the investigation, but that would not be the fault of the company for doing the investigation, that would be the fault of the sexist people on her team retaliating against her because THEY fucked up and don’t want to be held accountable for it.

        But no, I do not fundamentally consider it a win that a woman felt uncomfortable pursuing an investigation in a culture so toxic that she had to leave her desk to cry, specifically because she knew her coworkers would retaliate for it, and that she was successfully able to persuade her company to set aside its legal obligations to do so because of that fear (and the tacit admission that the retaliatory outcome was likely, possibly even probable). That is not a win. That is a loss, for our culture in general. The system successfully stopped people from getting consequences for creating a toxic sexist culture. How is that a win? Being “frozen out and sidelined” would not be a result of “procedure needing to be followed” – it would be a result of the men on her team retaliating against her because they were sexist and got consequences for it. We can’t say we shouldn’t investigate because bad things might happen whenthe bad thing things are direct consequences of us allowing this kind of thing to flourish in our culture.

        I do think that sexual harassment training can be effective, but I also don’t buy that this kind of toxic environment – so bad that the OP is crying in the middle of the day – happened because people simply don’t know they’re being awful. I am skeptical of the learning curve. I have to tell grown adults that it’s not okay to make sexual jokes at work? And also, what the fuck am I supposed to do while these people have their learning moment on me? They, a grown-ass adult, get to be mean and awful and make me cry on a regular basis and then get to say “Oh, I didn’t know that I was supposed to respect women and not call grown people girls or insinuate that they got their job because they’re good looking?” Mmmpf, nope. It’s 2020 and if people don’t know this, it’s because they have chosen not to, not because they didn’t have the opportunity to learn. You don’t need to wait for your job to offer you a sexual harassment training – there are so many materials on the Internet and elsewhere that allow one to educate themselves on experiences they don’t have.

        If that makes me a woke social justice advocate, so be it, but since social justice is about about making sure people get treated fairly and their rights are recognized, I generally don’t consider that to be a bad thing.

        1. Roci*

          I don’t think it’s helpful to think about this in black-and-white terms like “is this a win” for this reason.

          The outcome was successful for OP in that the harassment towards her stopped, her company now does legally mandated trainings, and she wasn’t subjected to the discomfort and possible retaliation caused by an investigation and the career repercussions of that.

          The outcome was unsuccessful in areas like: the harassers left without being trained or punished. The company actually didn’t do their due diligence here and like you said, they tacitly admitted that retaliation would happen and they weren’t going to do what it takes to stop it and protect OP. Their handling of this does not convince anyone that they will handle future allegations of sexism with privacy, justice, and sensitivity.

          Sometimes outcomes are messy and this is an example. OP thought this would be better than being retaliated against and forced out, maybe she is right and if she is happy with the outcome then I am happy for her. But that doesn’t negate the fact that her company and coworkers really failed her here.

        2. kt*

          You’re not wrong… But:

          No, *you’re* not the one who is supposed to be telling grown adults they can’t make sexual jokes at work. *Management* is. There is a responsibility from the top to communicate this. The company already failed in their legal obligations to provide sexual harassment training. That’s a big deal, and the OP got them to rectify it. Part of the problem is that she was placed in the position of having to try to set standards as an individual coworker, rather than having standards set from above in the hierarchy. That is always a disaster.

          It’s not the best outcome, sure. The best outcome would be a discreet investigation that actually resulted in change, as well as the harassment trainings being a regular part of the yearly routine.

          But you described it yourself: your worker complained, had an investigation kick off, he kept his job, she left. That’s what I see again and again and again. I know that women who have complained have changed things for others — I think it is a good thing to do. But I also *hate* this tearing down of women as “traitors to the cause” when they decline to take on incredible personal and financial risk. Your coworker “did the right thing” and she’s out. Who won there? You yourself say trust and confidence were shaken, morale torn down — was that the win you’re looking for?

          There can a conflict between individual and collective advantage here. I don’t believe that women must always sacrifice themselves for the cause. I believe that women should assess the costs and benefits for themselves and others and that we should trust them in making decisions, and that we should encourage and support women (and others) who experience and then report harassment, while recognizing that sometimes the costs are too high. It is really hard. Yes, it’s absolutely true that it’s not the woman who reported’s fault that bad things happen if they happen. But she’s the one who pays the cost!

          It is on people like me (relatively high pay, financially secure-ish) to take those risks, because my friend who is a single mom of two kids constrained geographically because of child custody is not able to take that kind of risk. And I’m not going to castigate her for her choice.

    8. JB*

      I mostly agree. I’m very glad for OP that she was able to get the result that she wanted, and I’m glad that the company is not doing the training that it should have been doing all along. That’s great news. But I am a little uncomfortable with this statement: “I knew I wasn’t working with a team of awful misogynists but that my company had done nothing to create a culture around fair and safe employment.” It lets her coworkers off the hook and puts the entire blame on a lack of training rather than her coworkers’ responsibilities to know how to behave. In this day and age, it should not take training for someone to understand that the kinds of things that OP was complaining about aren’t ok, especially since she was complaining about “a difference in treatment from other colleagues” that she thought “ha[d] to be because [she’s] a woman.” Yes, the company needs to train. But while her coworkers might not be woman-haters, they were ok with having no responsibility to even consider whether it’s ok to make an inappropriate joke or treat someone differently because of their sex or gender. They were ok with behaving however they wanted until the company told them not to. So whatever their personal feelings about women, they were fine with *behaving* like sexists when left on their own. If I worked for that company’s HR, that would seem worth investigating to me.

      1. Sea Witch*

        This! My first coworkers back in the 70s had sort of an excuse in that they were born in the 30s or 40s. But now? How stupid does a man have to be to not know that this is unacceptable?

        1. Batgirl*

          But people born in the 30s and 40s, were born after the fight for suffrage, when women were in the workforce and armed forces and able to get divorces. How did they not know that women wanted slightly more than to be told they’re cute at such an advanced stage in history? Why didn’t they fact check a learning objective they didn’t know was needed against markers of the times? Why would they?
          Honestly, people don’t get education from the calendar. It’s not gifted with your birth certificate. People get education from education. The idea that education is instinctive is not helpful.

          1. Sweet Christmas*

            They didn’t know because they didn’t educate themselves, just like people now don’t know because they didn’t educate themselves. People have a responsibility to learn this stuff themselves – not to sit back and have it handed to them – and it’s easy to find in this day of smartphones and Google. When people don’t know not to tell sexual jokes at work (which I don’t buy), it’s because they’ve chosen not to, not because it’s so difficult and esoteric a set of knowledge to not tell stupid sex jokes at work.

            1. Batgirl*

              I’m glad you are advanced and always have been! Ive told sex jokes at work and there were people who mentored me not to.

            2. Infrequent_Commenter*

              If people were fully capable of educating themselves once they reached adulthood, we wouldn’t need colleges.

              There’s broader problems in society than sexual harrassment/workplace behavior that can be traced to people never learning adulting. Whether it’s money management or how to do laundry, the knowledge doesn’t just get stamped on your driver’s license when you turn 18. Some of it (including how to treat other people) should be taught by parents, but what if no one taught them or things changed since they learned? Whether it’s how to treat others or Venmo, parents don’t always know today’s way either.

      2. Hey Nonnie*

        I cringed when OP said they weren’t misogynists. Um, their behavior indicates otherwise.

        No villain thinks they are the villain, and misogynists think that they are cool with women. That doesn’t make them right about that.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          Eh, but twisted environments can twist people, and lead them to do things they wouldn’t have otherwise. The world isn’t black and white, they’re just people who are capable of misogyny. I’m a woman and I’ve thrown other women under the bus to gain social acceptance (during college years in particular, with my super misogynist boyfriend). It was wrong, it was at odds with my value system, I’ve stopped doing it, I try to speak up for people as much as possible now. So, whether or not that makes me a misogynist is kind of semantics. People contain multitudes, I believe her when she says that some of her coworkers are overall weighed and not found wanting in total.

          1. pancakes*

            That’s not just semantics, no. It sounds like it would be accurate to say you engaged in misogynistic behavior, and no longer do because you’ve learned better. It’s clear you understand the broader idea (beyond semantics) because you also say, of others, “they’re just people who are capable of misogyny.” It’s important to understand that people can behave in misogynistic ways without necessarily being full-time, relentless, capital m Misogynists, or even without the intent of being misogynistic at all. Nuance isn’t just semantics. People who don’t fully grasp these ideas are missing an awful lot.

          2. Hey Nonnie*

            Well, you’re telling me that the entire point of your story was not that you were too lazy to educate yourself and do better. You changed your behavior because you realized it was wrong, and committed to being a better person now than you were before.

            It’s 2020, no one has the excuse of ignorance anymore; and adults have the responsibility to educate themselves and commit to being better than misogyny.

        2. kt*

          Hey, as the person who wrote my controversial opinion above (who is, again, deeply cynical) — every man and almost every women I’ve met is basically sexist. Some people just know the rules, know how to talk to make themselves look good, or have actually done deep work to become better. Basically everyone sucks, and I’ve been betrayed by too many smooth-talking anti-sexist activists to believe the talk.

          What talks, for me, is action. Did the office get better? It got better! Ok! Yay incremental change!

          Evaluate companies, offices, people by the actions — by the metrics. The greatest Instagram posts and corporate statements about diversity don’t mean s*(&. What matters is how folks from under-represented groups are actually hired, retained, and promoted. Everything else is distraction.

          1. Batgirl*

            Exactly, you can’t live in a misogynist culture without being somewhat misogynist yourself. There are some of us willing to learn and there are those who think learning is beneath them.

          2. Infrequent_Commenter*

            I don’t think that’s cynical at all, I think it is realism vs the black and white idealism. Everyone has prejudices, to some degree. Our brains are wired for it (pattern recognition, groupthink). It’s like the Avenue Q song says; Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist. Acknowledging it is important to learning how to properly deal with it.

    9. Ann O'Nemity*

      I suspect HR backed off the investigation when OP called them out for never doing the *legally required* trainings. I can imagine them having an “oh shit” moment and then scrambling to cover their asses.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        Actually, I wonder if they did some sort of mini investigation, or told some managers that the trainings where happening for a *cough cough* cause.

    10. NutsToThat*

      *Requiring* victims of harassment to take center stage in a massive investigation would be a great way to make sure a lot of harassment goes unreported. That means the bad behavior of men imposes a life-disrupting, potentially career-destroying obligation on a woman. Funny how it works out that way.

      Women are not obliged to become heroes because men have behaved badly.

      LW, you did great. Good luck to you going forward.

      1. F as in Frank*

        I agree. This forced the organization to go down a path to address a organizational root cause (no training, lack of leadership) rather than an immediate cause (sexist employees). I think this has a better chance of resulting in good outcomes for the LW, her colleagues and the organization.

      2. Batgirl*

        She also understood the nature, causes and cure of the harrassment better than the company did. Thats a funny coincidence too.

      3. DeltaEcho*

        This. I’m astonished by the number of people who think OP should have just been forced to endure an investigation that could have seriously damaged her career. If the “solution” harms the person who is being discriminated against, it’s not a solution!

    11. Detective Amy Santiago*


      I also made the mistake of looking up my comments on the original and ugh there was SO much victim blaming.

    12. Cat Tree*

      I understand why OP didn’t want to pursue an investigation, but I was really bothered by her conclusion that she “didn’t work with a team of awful misogynists”. They discriminated and sexually harassed a woman. How is that not misogynistic? I haaaate this myth that to be a “true” misogynist/racist/homophobe/whatever, the person has to be a cartoonishly evil, moustache-twirling monster. Men who seem nice can still be misogynists, and that is awful. In fact, most misogynists don’t go around advertising it because they want to blend in. We, as a society, will bend over backwards to justify why that man who did misogynistic things isn’t really, truly a misogynist. Oh, he just needed training because never in his entire life until adulthood had anyone mentioned to him not to sexually harass women! It’s not like he could have ever figured it out on his own!

      I’m a woman in engineering. I’ve faced tons of discrimination, although fortunately not as bad as OP has. I’ve also worked at one place (my current job) that is much better about not discriminating (but still not perfect) so I know it can be better. Maybe that changes my perspective to expect better. I’m simply not nearly as forgiving as OP is about misogynistic behavior.

      The situation turned out about as well as it usually does in practicality. It’s sort of good, not really bad. But it’s not great and doesn’t give me warm fuzzies.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        This is a delicate and complicated topic, and the way I think about it is influenced by me being German and the way Germany had to deal with the fact that a very large percentage of ordinary people were culpably involved in the criminal Nazi regime.

        Two things can be simultaneously true: that the actions in question are clearly, without any doubt, misogynistic; and that the perpetrators were socialized into a misogynistic culture and, once new rules are laid down, can function just as well in a non/less misogynistic culture. Scrutinizing whether someone is a “real” sexist for this kind of person is usually an extremely unproductive task.

        By the same token, I also subscribe at the a same time to these principles:
        – That people who commit sexual harassment need to be held to account for their actions
        – That the target of sexual harassment must not be victimized a second time by the investigation / punitive action
        – That for a specific situation the ultimate yardstick for an action is whether the situation is improved in the end

        These three principles are in conflict here, due to the failings of the company ahead of time. Just satisfying the first without concern for the second and third is not something I can subscribe to. Treating the LW’s complaint like you would treat as if the complaint had been made by an employee in a fully functional organization where everyone, including the LW, is clear what the processes and consequences are would have created even more of a burden on the LW. If the LW had felt deprived of agency and ended up unable to continue her job I could not have agreed with the solution.

        The way I see the update, it’s not fully ideal – after the training has taken place and things shake out, I think the company could have gone back and THEN have serious talks with the main perpetrators. (Though that could have been criticized for not acting in a timely manner.) But the satisfaction of the target of harassment AND the fact that future employees do not seem to experience harassment any more counts for something.

        (I mean, also, I’m quite aware that a lot of how I live my life pretty directly contributes to massive injustices – environmental, social… I, like probably everyone who reads this, benefit from the exploitation of nature and people in developing countries. I try to live my life ethically, but maybe when I’m 80 the younger generation will come with pitchforks for me…)

        1. Cat Tree*

          I can’t tell if you’re trying to disagree with me but didn’t actually read my comment, or if you’re agreeing with me in a weirdly condescending way. I literally, factually said that I understand why OP didn’t want to pursue this (it was my very first sentence), but that’s not at all the point I’m making here.

          I’m certainly no expert in international policy (I’m in the U.S.), but isn’t actually illegal in Germany to support Nazi-related things? I wish we would take such a hard stance with misogyny, rather than wringing our hands and claiming that the poor dears just don’t know any better. A person who does misogynistic things is a misogynist, and a person who does Nazi-related things is a Nazi.

          Also, feigning ignorance that misogyny (or Nazi-ism) is bad in the year 2020 just does not cut it as an excuse. If someone willfully ignores all the messages to not be a jerk, they don’t get a pass when they end up acting like a jerk. It actually makes it worse.

          1. tamarack and fireweed*

            I was half-agreeing, half-disagreeing with you, and mostly disagreeing with the framing of the conversation. Whatever may be coming across as condescending I have no idea – it doesn’t correspond how I feel about your argument. I was literally presenting my brain dump regarding the topic as, I presume, are most commenters.

            FWIW, I wasn’t drawing a parallel between misogyny in 2020 and Nazism in 2020 but, to the extent I did, a Nazi fellow traveller past in 1950 or thereabouts.

            One aspect I have an firmer opinion about in all this is that misogyny isn’t an attribute of this other type of person, the misogynist. I only have to watch just about any movie that is older than 30 years, or a lot of stuff I myself enjoyed in my childhood, to see how pervasive an attitude it was. A lot of people will just absorb and reproduce whatever the prevailing culture is. This is no *moral* excuse, but to me that’s rather beside the point. We all have to work with immoral people.

          2. pancakes*

            I don’t see anything condescending in tamarack & fireweed’s comment. More broadly speaking, people who reply to a comment on here aren’t only talking to one person, they are also talking to all of us here. Building on a discussion isn’t necessarily disagreement.

      2. Batgirl*

        How do you know the behaviour OP faced was worse than your experience? How do you know this dreadful behaviour makes them into irredeemable misogynsts? She didn’t specify the behaviour!

    13. Ezri Dax*

      Investigations are often more than uncomfortable. As a former domestic violence advocate, I can tell you the chance of an employer having a positive response to complaints of things like harassment is 50/50, at best. I saw clients ignored, fired, etc. I know companies who investigate in good faith while doing their best to protect victims exist. But victims often rightly fear their employers aren’t the type who will treat them fairly, and where “investigations” are likely to be a sham. I call this a win if OP got the outcome she wanted while avoiding an investigation she feared might turn out badly for her. No victim is ever obligated to open themselves up to scrutiny that might feel unsafe.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        To be honest, the only really *good* result of a harassment report I’ve seen has been the time a (male) coworker reported something on my behalf. It was run-of-the-mill bullying in my case, although the perpetrator may have targeted me because of my gender – I was the only woman in my entire division. A supervisor from another department saw him do something pretty egregious and told management, after which he was quietly reassigned to another team and, I assume, reprimanded in private, since he never started back up again. I suspect other coworkers may have corroborated or added reports of their own based on the way they backed me up in interactions with aggressively sexist customers.

        Most of the time, it seems to be at best a neutral experience for the victim and often very damaging emotionally and professionally.

    14. Jessica Fletcher*

      Agree. If they end up the target of a lawsuit later, it’s still on the record that they didn’t investigate these complaints.

      I also think it’s bizarre that supposedly there was no harassment after the trainings. So…these adult men simply had no idea they couldn’t make sex jokes or whatever in the workplace? They had one training and immediately took their female colleague seriously, never to doubt her again? What? Sexism, vanquished by a simple HR training? That’s either not the full story, or the most incredible HR training in the history of HR, and M should sell it to all companies, end sexism, and retire super wealthy.

    15. pancakes*

      Same here. And the fact that the letter writer’s friend hasn’t personally experienced harassment isn’t proof that the entire company is now a different and better place to work.

      The line, “I knew I wasn’t working with a team of awful misogynists” also makes me uneasy. Sexual harassment and misconduct doesn’t have to be from the most awful misogynists conceivable to have an impact. In the original letter, the writer described feeling so awful about the work environment and “belittled” that they were crying in the bathroom. It’s overly simplistic to speak as if intent is all that matters, but it’s so common for people who are uneasy challenging sexist or racist behavior to speak as if it is. This mindset makes genuine progress more difficult than it needs to be for all of us. The conversation has to be more nuanced than that.

      It seems like what happened here is someone with very, very little understanding of how sexual harassment claims should be handled was clued in to the basics by Alison, but still doesn’t have a handle on the bigger picture.

    16. Sweet Christmas*

      Agreed. It’s a good update on a personal level for the OP – I’m glad she found a resolution that worked for her, and that she moved onto a better company. But stopping a sexual harassment investigation on a team with such rampant sexism that someone has to go cry in the bathroom doesn’t feel like a win – and the fact that OP was so uncomfortable with actually going through with the investigation also says bad things about this company’s culture, too.

  5. Jess*

    This really illustrates how women who are victims of sexual harassment in the workplace often end up caught between a rock (having the harassment continue) and a hard place (having your own worklife and even career thrown into disarray) and end up not reporting it at all or not having it fully pursued.

    I’m glad this compromise worked out for the OP, but I’m not sure it would work everywhere, especially places where training is already in place.

    1. Kimmybear*

      Completely agree but unfortunately it’s the same for many types of investigations I’ve found. I reported a local grocery store that fails to meet basic ADA requirements and it falls to me as the complainant to report, agree to an investigation, file FOIA accessible paperwork, etc.

    2. Liz T*

      I’m really not sure those trainings *work* at all, except that HR can point to them and say “You had no excuse; you knew this was not acceptable.”

      1. Aitch Arr*

        They may lessen legal liability but without teeth behind the trainings, they are not worth much.

        And by teeth I mean consequences for policy violations.

        1. Liz T*


          A 2-hour training just CAN’T cover all the ways marginalized groups are made unsafe at the office. A 10-hour training can’t. The company has to take responsibility once problem behaviors arise, because they *always will* no matter how good the training is.

          1. misspiggy*

            A good training which outlines those consequences can though, if consequences are then also put in place. I’ve seen it happen when the company concerned wasn’t toxic, just previously blinkered.

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        They only “work” when the people in question are generally well-intentioned and compassionate, and have only been behaving inappropriately out of ignorance or thoughtlessness. For those people, it really can make a difference to have someone clearly show them where the line is and give some context to show why things they thought were harmless are, in fact, damaging.

        People who are stubbornly entrenched in their ways, have a misogynistic worldview, and/or enjoy abusing power over others are not going to stop just because a training said it’s bad… but fortunately, not everyone is a jerk.

        It’s really no different than any other training. Doing safety trainings is a major part of my job. Some people just didn’t know the right way to do stuff, or were never told why something is dangerous… once they’re trained, they’ll follow procedures to a T. Some people don’t really care, but training helps show them that the company takes it seriously and they’ll follow procedures to conform to social norms. And some people will only comply to avoid punishment. Those people, the best you can do is weed them out as fast as you can spot them.

  6. Sea Witch*

    It’s sad and frustrating that, in this day and age, men actually have to be taught how to not be sexist. I started working in the late 70s when it “just one of those things”. So disheartening that, 43 years later, it still has to be pointed out that some behaviour is unacceptable at work.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      OP’s coworkers probably knew they were being sexist, but did it because the culture allowed them to get away with it. The training may have just been a signal that the company started caring about it, and negative consequences for violations may follow.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        Some of them did it because they got away with it, some of them did it because they bent to the culture, others participated or were passive about it because it’s hard to go against the culture of a place.

      2. tamarack and fireweed*

        My mother and stepmother worked for a large industrial corporation. THE large employer in a small city. One practice that was extremely common back when I was a teen was that the employees would fill their own needs in stationery from the company office supplies. We children of [COMPANY X] employees would recognize each other by the type of notepads and pens we all had. When I had a month-long student job there aged 16, the engineer I was assigned to and who showed me around specifically pointed out the nicest items to me. There were some informal social pressure controls that prevented people on completely clearing out the (rows and rows of) cupboards, but everyone I knew took the occasional eraser, handful of pens and other items, enough to supply a private household’s needs.

        There were no memos at the time that admonished employees not to do this. (They came ~10 years later.) So were all the employees just common thieves? It’s not a productive question to ask, as, yes, sure they were ALL stealing. They were also in no other way different from the people at a different employer who weren’t stealing. Whether someone was a thief, therefore, was largely an accident.

        Let’s imagine a stunned employee keeps a log of who-takes-what for a month and then goes straight to corporate finance with it. If the company had just from one day to the other, with no previous policy admonishments, had disciplined everyone on the list, and fired/filed police complaints for the 20% with the largest haul, they would have been fully within their rights to do so. They’d also have become unable to operate, and the “narc” would have been unable to ever reestablish productive work relationships with their co-workers. So this course of action, however justified, would have been stupid from the company’s POV and unjust concerning the whistleblower they’d have been unable to protect.

        1. Analyst Editor*

          Very interesting story and illustrative of why it’s good that we aren’t ruled by computers, but by people with discretion who can apply the rules with discretion and tact.

    2. Retail Not Retail*

      I work with a man in his 70s and when I reported his sexist BS, our male HR manager excused it because of his age. I didn’t know women haven’t worked with him up until the 21st century! Fascinating!

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Seriously. He’s been around for the social changes of the last few decades. Being old does not make you Rip van Winkle.

        1. Sea Witch*

          Not now, no. A man who is in his 70s now was born in the late 40s and came of age in the 60s and 70s.
          But a man who was in his 50s when I started working was born in the 30s and came of age in the 50s… so, the notion that you couldn’t tell a young female employee that you’d like her to be your mistress*, right in front of everybody, was a revelation to them.
          (*Yes, that was me. I just laughed and pointed out that he was married. When he said “I don’t mind”, my reply was “Well, I do.”)

    3. Boof*

      I actually think people (and most any animal outside of those that are more related to their siblings than to their own children) are inherently selfish and prone to grouping with those more like themselves and forming hierarchies; and so yes, we do have to be taught how to to not behave that way.

    4. Batgirl*

      “It still has to be pointed out that some behaviour is unacceptable at work”
      I mean.. that’s just management. Its not just behaviour towards women but all behaviour needs tweaking before its professional. People of all descriptions will make mistakes about work appropriate behaviour, at the intern level at least.

  7. learnedthehardway*

    I’m glad that the OP was able to find a solution that met her needs, improved the company culture, etc. etc.

    I’m appalled that she had to a) experience the harassment, b) find the solution herself due to HR and company negligence about the issue and legal requirements for anti-harassment training, and c) that the perpetrators weren’t penalized.

    However, this entire situation illustrates so very clearly how difficult it is for women to navigate sexual harassment issues. It’s also a good example of how to do so successfully.

    1. Self Employed*

      Is it possible that managers recognized which of their employees were the worst about sexist behavior before the training, so they pulled them aside and told them “This stuff in the training? do it again, you will be on a PIP and possibly out if you don’t take the PIP seriously.”

  8. Manana*

    Way to go OP! I’m sorry you had to deal with all of this on your own but it’s incredibly badass that you held on to your power and convictions to achieve what seems to me a far more restorative and effective outcome than what was originally proposed.

  9. Have to be Anon*

    Definitely a win. Here’s the long story of what happened when I spoke up. I reported sexual harassment at a huge national health provider, knowing it would trigger an investigation after my boss had previously reported the issue to HR and nothing was done. I felt immediately sick when, during the initial meeting with HR where I told them what was happening, she told me they would investigate ME first because “so many of these stories end up being exaggerated for attention.” IT immediately seized my laptop and I was told I wasn’t allowed on premises during the “investigation” because I said I felt unsafe around this guy (we’d dated years before, I’d ended it, but he wouldn’t accept the rejection and made my work and personal life increasingly difficult). It was basically a constructive termination – they gave me a loaner laptop to work remotely but I could only access my email inbox, no shared drives, internal portals, or old emails, so I couldn’t really do much actual work. The investigation was a sham and a nightmare, where they brought in outside attorneys who interrogated me for hours at a time about my sex life, dating history, and medical/psychological history while HR pushed me to resign. It was clear from the start they were protecting this guy, who brought all these false accusations against me in return (I was just an obsessed ex of his who was trying to get revenge). I’m an attorney myself, and had documented everything just as I was supposed to. HR, however, used it against me – they said by documenting it, it proved I was indeed obsessed with him. HR also went through my insurance claims and found a single instance where I’d filled a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication and used that as evidence that I was “unstable.” This guy had stalked me and assaulted me, then went on a smear campaign to our colleagues as well as my family (who he didn’t know but found via Facebook), and after 6 weeks (and me refusing to participate in further “interviews” with the outside attorneys) I was fired and forced to sign an NDA on the spot. It was deeply humiliating and set my career so far back that it’s taken me 3 years to fully rebuild it. He was eventually fired for doing the same thing to someone else, but he had another cushy job handed to him immediately afterward. Meanwhile, I’m still getting vile texts from him years later via spoofing apps that are impossible to track. I know it’s pessimistic, but the lesson I learned is: never start one of these investigations unless you’re prepared to be fired, no matter how much proof you have on your side – if their lies sound as good as your truth, no one will care which is which.

    1. bleh*

      Dear goddess that’s terrible. And yes, they will believe whomever is most popular or charismatic or seems to be believable to them in the moment.

      I’m sorry it happened to you.

    2. Ezri Dax*

      Your story highlights fears I had at a former job about reporting a coworker for persistent harassment. I’m so sorry this happened to you! The lack of accountability in our society for men who abuse women is, to my mind, one of the clearest signals that misogyny is alive and well.

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      I want to set your entire former office on fire.

      Ever heard of the Gulabi Gang? Those Indian women who dress up in hot pink saris and beat up abusive men with sticks? For the last few years I have longed for something similar in the US.

    4. Sea Witch*

      This makes me wish for a “strangers on a train” kind of secret society of women. They take care of each other’s harassers while having alibis for when their own harasser is being “taken care of”.

    5. Boof*

      damn is there an equivalent to EORC or title IX complaint (I think that’s education institution only) ??? I know it burned you the first time around but that’s so horrible I can’t even

    6. Batgirl*

      Wowzer. It is stalking, not harrassment. Please consider using Gift of Fear’s guidelines for changing your number. You’re right about not fighting unless it works for you; but you deserve to not have one more minute of him.

    7. Have to be Anon*

      Thank you all for the kind words and support; it means the world to me. Batgirl – The Gift of Fear is something that’s been instrumental in helping me deal with the malignant narcissist, and the only reason I didn’t change my number is so I can be aware that the behavior is still going on so I can document it, just in case. I’d rather know he’s still trying to cause trouble than think it’s all over then be caught unaware, and I never respond. I just take a screenshot, save it in a folder I never look at, send it to a family member who also saves it, then just go on with my lovely day.

  10. 'Tis Me*

    I would like to think that after the training, when the men had their next one to ones, their manager brought it up, and let them know that the training had highlighted to them how pervasive and problematic this behaviour had been, that it was not acceptable because it was wrong, additionally exposed the company to litigation risk, that the past incidences of behaviour that the manager had witnessed would go on their records along with the note that they have since received training and been spoken to about their behaviour, and that if the perpetrators didn’t stop immediately they would be fired.

    Otherwise… I am very glad that the OP managed to effect organisation-wide change without torpedoing her career, but the idea that a training session alone could cause such a significant improvement seems surprising, and the lack of consequences for the perpetrators, don’t quite sit right.

  11. Nope*

    Glad OP is at a better company now and that the friend at old company is not reporting similar issues. Disagree with this statement though: “I knew I wasn’t working with a team of awful misogynists…” It sounds like OP doesn’t want to believe this, and they are rightfully blaming the company. But the individuals are to blame as well. Lots of the people you did work with were awful misogynists. They made it clear with all of their comments.

  12. *daha**

    I don’t know about society as a whole, but this is definitely a non-loss for the writer. She was being treated badly and unfairly. She wanted that treatment to stop and the perpetrators to be educated on the difference between right and wrong and on the consequences of continuing to do wrong. She didn’t want to be put on display and made a target. She got what she wanted, and she didn’t get what she didn’t want. It’s not a win because because it isn’t winning to have someone stop mistreating you, it is just the accepted normal.

  13. CubeFarmer*

    M’s “solution” was to suggest that LW work by herself away from her team because she reported the harassment??? Wow, that company is lucky that LW didn’t quit and sue them right there.

  14. Finland*

    Any company that waits until it hears about a sexual-harassment/assault episode before it does anything (training, etc.) is a ticking time bomb anyway. There are companies that perform annual fire safety trainings for a building that’s never been on fire; they know the risks and have been heavily trained on them so it’s very unlikely for someone to claim ignorance if they do the wrong thing and cause damage to life or otherwise. They are also heavily fined for not having a fire escape plan.

    If anti-sexual-harassment training were mandated, and fines levied for lack of a training program and lack of a reporting program, a lot of these issues would have been, at least, mentioned and discussed and evaluated a long time ago and they would’ve had plenty of opportunity to develop robust anti-sexual harassment policies. OP, your complaint has possibly gotten it started for this particular organization.

    1. Batgirl*

      I think this is the thing that truly shocked OP. This is why she left, is my theory. I also think she’s done exactly what she wanted, in the way she wanted and that it’s benefitted others. Brava.

  15. Joan Rivers*

    People don’t stop being abusive “because a seminar told them” — as some say here. But they do if they know what the penalties are.
    When seatbelts first came out, people didn’t always want to use them, but knowing they’d be fined AND seeing results of being thrown from their car helped them to buckle up.
    Now people buckle up to drive to an anti-mask rally.
    Also, I think men have a clue — even if they’re not making sexist jokes or saying things, that doesn’t mean they’re “unaware” that others are.

  16. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    But – a couple things to be noted – amazing that OP had complaints but didn’t have to follow through on them , if I read it correctly.

    There are two sides to every story.

    I worked at a place where a woman filed a sexual harassment complaint around two-three weeks after starting. Against a guy who had been with the company for ten years.

    She was advised -you signed this complaint – YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW THROUGH ON IT. The male employee will NOT be fired immediately, he has contested this, denies your allegations, refuses to resign, and has vowed to follow through on it. He also has consulted an attorney.

    “What if I don’t follow through on this?” Then pack your s**t and get out of here. And she avoided a defamation suit, probably because he just wanted the matter to be behind him, and the company.

    1. Lonely Aussie*

      can we not do the whole “but what about the false claims” thing? There’s a whole heap of comments up thread as to what can happen if you report it and the company is more interested in protecting the accused than the person reporting.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s horrible of the company, and it’s also not legal for a company to do in the U.S. You cannot force someone to follow through on a complaint or fire them for anything related to a good faith complaint of harassment.

      And can we not with the specter of defamation suits for a woman who was intimidated into dropping a harassment complaint? I’m not sure what you’re getting at here, but it’s pretty crappy if I’m reading it correctly (and their relative tenures with the company has nothing to do with whether he did or didn’t harass her).

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        The thing was, it may not have been a “good faith complaint”. You can’t just make a serious accusation and then balk at it the next day.

        She was not “intimidated into dropping it”. She dropped it on her own and left.

        She was making a claim – which would have ended the accused’s career – and was reluctant to carry through on the complaint. Was it real? We’ll never know.

        The problem with such a situation is – the accused is presumed guilty and has to prove his innocence. But he is entitled to due process.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Why on earth would you assume it wasn’t good faith? You have no way of knowing that from the outside. I’m sure you’re familiar with the reams of data on why women choose not to pursue this kind of complaint.

          Please do not post this kind of victim-doubting crap here. I will remove it.

        2. Aitch Arr*

          We are talking – for the most part – about private companies. “Guilty until proven innocent” and “due process” don’t apply.

        3. kt*

          Haven’t you read the other half-dozen stories here where substantiated complaints did not end the career of the accused? And can you name any guys whose careers have really been ended by sexual harassment accusations? (Not rape accusations, but sexual harassment accusations?)

          1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            Actually, I can name a few. Of course, they WERE perps and were removed from their jobs, and AFAIK went on to other endeavors outside of IS/IT. Oh, indeed – I worked in one place where a guy was hired as a senior manager – and had THREE complaints (legitimate, as far as anyone could tell) in the first week he was on the job!

            I’m talking about guys who are accused, and then their accusers seek relief but are unwilling to go through the (due) process. She says “oh forget it” and is willing to go back and work side-by-side with the man she accused? That sets off alarm bells…

  17. MicroManagered*

    So, since the company had never specifically taught anyone how NOT to sexually harass people, the guy who harassed OP just gets to attend the same sensitivity training as everyone else? Am I reading this right?

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