My personal story of gender inequality and sexual misconduct in the workplace is most likely yours too.
I remember what I was wearing that day. A bebe pantsuit in light pink tweed so it looked Chanel-ish. Looking back now, I was still a child (hence, the bebe pantsuit). It was a day full of business meetings. In the midst of one of them, my superior – a Caucasian man – came and approached me from the back and slapped my behind in front of my male peers (who weren’t part of the same organization). We all paused in pure shock.
My face grew bright red, my entire body was boiling in heat. “Be professional, Wendy. Carry on, Wendy.” This had never happened to me before, especially in a professional setting. Something was clearly wrong, so my superior pulled me aside and said, “Hey, I’m really sorry about that, please don’t report it to HR. I’m really sorry.” I saw that he knew he was in trouble, somehow that was enough at the time, so I never reported to HR. This is the first time I’ve ever spoken about it.
I’ve been advised not to share this story because no one wants to be pegged as that girl. No, it wasn’t rape. It was a slap on my butt. It wasn’t really assault. Was it harassment? It’s all very confusing, except for the way I felt. Deep public shame and humiliation in a workplace where I was respected, or so I thought.
I’m sharing it now because I’m not that girl. Unfortunately, sexual misconduct in the workplace isn’t just an American issue; it’s a global issue. Beyond the workplace, gender inequality is even more epidemic. Every time I’ve shared this story with another woman, she has her own story of assault or harassment to tell. So I’m not that girl. Unfortunately, there are too many of us carrying similar unfortunate experiences. So sharing is power. Communication is empowering. I wait for the day when the word “empowerment” is no longer following “women.”
In a different conversation, I’ve heard a male manager say when women come to work “parading themselves in short skirts, they’re asking for it.” As an addict of skirts at any and every length, I want to make it clear: NO WOMAN ASKS TO BE INAPPROPRIATELY TOUCHED.
In some odd, bizarre and twisted way, I’m grateful for this degrading and embarrassing experience. When the time was right for me to create my own company, I knew exactly what kind of culture I wanted to foster. It wasn’t planned that most of our contributors, global brand ambassadors and our core team are females (though that’s a wonderful surprise!). But Jetset Times Inc. is a place of inspiring connections and positive changes. Moreover I’m proud to say, though there are very few of them, all the men on our team are complete and true gentlemen who will most likely beat the crap out of any sexual attacker.
When I speak with other women who have gone through similar experiences, there’s one thing in common: we always remember what we wore that day, because the memory is brutally vivid. We never forget.
To all my sisters around the world, happy International Women’s Day!
CEO/Founder, Jetset Times
Photos: Wendy Hung