#Metoo hasn't changed the workplace, women say

All Woman

IMAGINE for a minute that you are a young female accountant. Shortly after university graduation, you land a three-month contract with a top auditing firm, and you are working hard to secure a permanent position at the end of your three months. There is an out-of-town work trip, and the company is paying for a group of you to stay at a hotel. Though no one else is sharing rooms, your manager, who has taken a liking to you, suggests that you sleep in his room and in return he will ensure that you are offered a permanent position when your contract ends. Do you a) sleep with him to secure your job? b) report him, knowing that you have no way of proving what he said? c) turn him down and remain silent, risking his retaliation that may cause you to lose your job anyway?

“I resigned,” the accountant told All Woman. “Because it wasn't blatant like, 'Hey, let me harass you'. It would have been my word against his and he would have won. I was a newbie.”

But had this accountant chosen to report this particular manager, she would have had at least one colleague coming forward to say 'Me too'. She later learned that he had previously asked another young female accountant to share a room with him, but he had told her that it was to cut costs for the company. She only realised that she was not alone after she had left the company, found new employment, and was brave enough to speak up about it.

The Me Too movement was founded in 2006 to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly black women and girls, find healing through sharing their stories, as well as to advocate for solutions to mitigate incidences of sexual violence and help victims to seek and receive justice.

Through the viral #MeToo trend on social media, and the recent widespread reporting on cases of sexual violence including high-profile perpetrators, #MeToo has grown into an international community of survivors, and has helped to shed light on the far-reaching impact of acts of sexual violence such as rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Yet, while making his presentation on the long-overdue sexual harassment Bill in Parliament, Jamaica's justice minister laughed at the idea of the #MeToo movement taking roots in Jamaica, and survivors feeling empowered to share their stories years after they have been violated. The minister has since apologised for his remarks, and submissions are now being made by advocacy groups before Parliament to extend his proposed one-year deadline to report sexual harassment in the workplace.

Meanwhile, the International Labour Organization reports that 54 per cent of women are subject to sexual harassment in the workplace globally, with research showing that the women most vulnerable to sexual harassment are young, financially dependent, single, or divorced.

“One out three female workers are subjected to sexual intimidations for career advancement, with 65 per cent blackmailed weekly by the same harasser, usually a co-worker or supervisor,” the report said. More than half of women subjected to sexual intimidation in the study had resigned from the job.

Now that they are no longer in the spaces that they were being violated, these Jamaican women share their #MeToo stories with All Woman, several months or years after the incidents have occurred, and why they felt they could not report their harassers.

P, 26, publishing:

I worked for a company where sleazy old men targeted young women to feel good about themselves. One in particular had the hots for me, and maybe every other person in the office who wore a dress, but he was particularly aggressive in the way he pursued me. Unfortunately, I had to work with him a few times each week.

The truth is, I wanted to like him because I had approached our work relationship with so much respect and I admired his work, but I immediately saw what he was up to and all that became disdain. Every chance he got he used suggestive language, stripped me naked with his eyes, and violated my ears with his literary attempts to provoke a sexual entanglement between us. For two years I had to play dodge — I had to be alert in his presence as chances are he would try to rub himself against me or brush his hand against a private area. He also always found an excuse to call me into meetings because he “couldn't get enough of” me. My final straw with him was a day on the weekend when few people were at the office and he thought it was safe to grope me. The moment he grabbed onto me, I didn't think. I didn't try to process anything but I knew I had been violated and with all the force I could muster, I slapped him across his face and stormed out of his office. Even after that, though to a lesser extent, he was still pushing his agenda. I knew I needed to leave at this point, and that's what I did.

G, 28, marketing:

I recently had a business owner who expressed an interest in being my client, and he just kept saying all these lewd things about what he wanted to do to me, and things like, “You nuh want a sugar daddy? All you have to do is put your back into it (laughs). We're both adults here...” This was after he expressed an interest in working with me. He dangled the opportunity of us having a lucrative partnership, but then he threw in that curve to say all the things that he wanted to do to me. He really was pressuring. I chose to not work with him, so thankfully I didn't have a physical experience with him, but I see how it could have easily become something that really would have been unsavoury.

M, 25, communications:

I was coming out of a meeting and was heading back to my office along with two senior managers. We stopped briefly on the staircase for a quick conversation. At this point I was in between both managers and the one immediately behind me decided to smack my bottom. I turned around instantly, only to see a smirk on his face and then he casually remarked, “Weh you a go do? Report me?” I honestly don't know if the other manager heard his remarks, but all I did was to walk faster to my office. I didn't report it for three reasons.

1. Because I don't think I was prepared, nor would I have wanted to go through the process with HR. Especially due to his position at work, I know it would have been a case of he said/she said.

2. There has been a case of harassment that was reported in the same environment where the individual (also a senior staff member) was just put on a few months' leave.

3. I was already one foot out the door.

C, 24, information technology:

I have a co-worker who was nothing but nice to me in person. Very quiet in the office, barely even spoke to me. So when he asked for my number so he could follow up on a work-related matter, I didn't think anything of it. Soon he started messaging me, expressing romantic interest in me, which I gently turned down. No harm done. But then he started getting more persistent, and very inappropriate and annoying. One day he sent me a pornographic video, asking if I was into the things that the porn stars were doing. I blocked his number and haven't said another word to him since. I decided against reporting it even though I technically have evidence, because he knows my work schedule and that I live alone with my child, and if he was to lose his job or be punished for it, then who knows what he would try to do to me for revenge? I just try my best not to even make eye contact with him at work.

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