Bad Career Advice

Well, I’m dumbfounded by Penelope Trunk’s response to Guy Kawasaki’s question about responding to sexual harassment at work.

In most cases, you will destroy your career if you report sexual harassment. So unless you are in physical danger, you should not report harassment.

Someone asked me today what my values were, and I said fairness is one of them. So it hurt to read someone tell people to ignore harassment at work. An employee that’s harassed will be less productive, or they will quit. A good employee leaves, and you still have a problem, as well as the expensive task of filling that vacancy. An employee who harasses not only hurts their targets, they are breaking your organization.

If you’re being harassed at work, talk to your manager, your director, or HR representative. If that doesn’t help, seek council. If you know a resource suggest it in the comments.

Update: in the comments, Karen Anderson relates her experience with a harasser at work, and the difficulty in getting evidence. However, as Cynthia’s late father said, “Karma is a bitch.” The harasser got his due in the end.

  • Karen Anderson

    When I was in my early 30s, I was harrassed by phone by a senior manager from another branch office of the large company where I worked. I reported directly to the head of my own regional office, so I went to my boss with my problem. I explained that this fellow, who had met me once on a site visit, kept asking me for dates. When I declined to date him, he told me that he was ex-CIA, was watching me (I lived alone) and would come to my house some night when I least expected it.

    My boss looked at me and said, “Oh, I can’t believe he’d do something like that. He’s a psychologist with a Ph.D.”

    My jaw dropped. My boss then asked me to write up a description of what had happened, with dates, and witnesses. Well of course there were no witnesses — my harrasser was not an idiot. I wrote up the description and gave it to my boss. My boss never met with me again, never called me or sent me an email again, and never assigned me any more work. I was effectively frozen out of my own job.

    I knew that two other women in the company had also been harrassed by this same senior manager. I spoke with them, and both of them told me that if I told our boss about their involvement, they would deny it. They felt the harrasser was in a position to ruin their careers. (One of them was a woman who put herself forward as a “mentor” to younger women in the organization!)

    With nothing to do (because my boss would not interact with me), I quit the company.

    At one job interview, I was asked why I had left, and I referenced the sexual harrassment. The interviewer turned pale, and they abruptly lost all interest in hiring me. I never mentioned it again.

    There is, amazingly, a good ending to this story. Years later, I was on a plane sitting next to an older gentleman and told him the story, just as I told it here. He turned out to be the VP of Human Resources for the national office of the company I had once worked for. A few months later he called me to say that he had made some calls, had unearthed a half dozen mid-level women in the company who had been harrassed by this same senior scientist, and had fired the jerk.

    The wheels of the gods grind slow, but…

    So, would I report the sexual harrassment today? Perhaps, but only if I had gotten a witness to listen in one one of the phone calls or had arranged for the police to arrest the guy on my front porch. Frankly, I’d be much more likely to hire a private security firm and pay them to have a little “talk” with the guy.