I wasn’t sexually harassed by my first boss, but my coworkers were

Last month I wrote about my welcome to “women in tech” moment. Of course, for many women their welcome to tech moment (or congratulations on staying in tech moment) is worse than a mistaken handshake at a Christmas party. For many women that moment involves sexual harassment, and that first moment is rarely the last. Although I wasn’t sexually harassed at that first job, at least two of my coworkers were. Not by the handshake guy but by our department manager.

I remember being called unexpectedly to Human Resources. It felt like I was being called to the principal’s office. I worried I was in trouble even though I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was completing surprised by what the HR person had called me for.

He asked if my boss ever made me uncomfortable. He asked if my boss had ever said anything inappropriate to me or touched me in a way that made me uncomfortable.

I said, “no” because that was the truth. I didn’t like my boss, but he had never done any of those things to me.

The HR person went on to explain that some of my coworkers had complained about my boss. He said they were both blond and one was an intern. He said that’s why he wanted to talk to me. Because I was blond, and I had been an intern. Basically, he was saying I was my boss’s type.

Whether or not I was his type was irrelevant though. My honest answer was still no.

Then the HR guy went on to ask me if I had seen my boss act inappropriately with any of my coworkers. I forget if he said specifically who he was talking about, but he didn’t need to. We were a small department. Only three women, including me, were blond.

Again, I said, “no.” I said no because that was the honest answer. I hadn’t seen my boss do anything or say anything inappropriate to my coworkers. I had no reason to doubt the word of those women. They had no reason to lie, but I wasn’t going to lie either.

I wonder what would have happened if my answers answers had been different. If I had been sexually harassed by my boss, or if I’d seen him sneaking up behind a coworker to give her an unwanted back rub (as was one of the complaints). If my answers had been different would my boss have been fired or sued instead of simply being put on a “special project” without any people reporting to him but still having a good job at a good company?

RELATED POST: My welcome to “women in tech” moment

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