This week I saw the film “Bombshell.”
I worked at a cable network for fifteen years, so the subject matter intrigued me. Although I was at a different network from Fox News, I was curious if there would be parallels. How much would I recognize? Would I see situations that were similar to what I had witnessed or experienced?
And not just at the male-dominated network where I worked. I saw familiarity in my whole work experience. I think many women can say the same.
I have a terrible confession to make here (and I don’t believe I am alone.) I never experienced blatant sexual harassment at my cable network. But I was the witness to it. Often. And here is the confession: There is a small part of me that felt that I was not sexually harassed because I was just not pretty enough. And that small part of me felt inadequate that I was not more attractive.
Isn’t that sad?
That the very lack of harassment could diminish my self-worth?
How I hope that young women today (and young men) know how unhealthy that is. Sexual harassment is not approval. Sexual harassment s not affirming. It is not a compliment.
It is an abuse of power.
But it was not just the sexual harassment that I recognized in the movie.
It was fear.
My own experience with workplace abuse was not sexual in nature. It was just plain old abuse. But the reaction was the same. And that’s what we need to recognize. That all abuse elicits the same reaction.
And not just for the person who is being abused.
After many wonderful, successful years in a company I loved, there was a change of management. The encouraging and supportive executives I had worked for were gone, and I did not have a good relationship with the folks who took their place.
My own immediate superior was openly hostile. I believe she may have been directed by those even higher up the ranks to rid the company of certain individuals that were strongly connected to the old guard. And I was one.
After a dozen years of glowing reviews and numerous promotions, suddenly nothing I did was right. If I made a decision, I should have consulted her. If I asked her what to do, I had no initiative. My work was late. My work was hurried. My work was superficial. My work was too complicated. I didn’t support my staff. I coddled my staff.
I believe her goal was to make my life so miserable that I would quit. So the company would not only be rid of me, but could absolve themselves of any responsibility.
But I had invested a lot in my career. And I had a pension to consider. And future employment.
So I toughed it out for a very long time. I cried more than I had ever cried before. But not at work. I didn’t cry at the office.
I was not the only one who did not love the new boss. Some of my coworkers and subordinates were subject to similar treatment. And several more – though treated well themselves – were outraged at the unfairness they saw me endure.
One day a few staff members came to me and expressed their genuine concern. They encouraged me to file a complaint with Human Resources. If I spoke up, they promised, they would have my back. They would confirm my complaint and rise up to support me.
And after many sleepless nights, that’s what I did.
In “Bombshell,” Gretchen Carlson files suit against Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. She is sure that if she speaks up, she will give others the courage to also go public. There is a scene where she asks how many other women have come forward.
This is the scene that staggered me.
Because when I went to HR with my complaint, that’s what happened. No one from my staff spoke up in support.
And I couldn’t really be angry with them. They were experiencing the same thing I was.
Abuse of power creates fear.
And the fear permeates. No one wants to be hurt. No one wants retaliation. No one wants to put themselves or their families or their livelihood at risk.
I loved my staff. And I hated how my situation added to their fear. They weren’t to blame.
And although I do blame the boss who was abusive, in some of my kinder moments, I wonder what pressure she might have been under. Who did she fear?
There will always be people with more power than others. And it will not always be used well.
But if you have a little bit of power, you may be able to make a difference.
There was one person in HR who believed me. And although I cannot disclose the details of how it turned out, I was okay.
And I eventually stopped crying.