A Career Challenge for Women: Sexual Harassment
Dec 15, 2017
Rabia Chaudry speaks on a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June.
The challenges women face in America today are numerous: pay inequality, barriers to safe and affordable family planning, juggling professional life and child rearing, and sexual harassment. And while sexual harassment has been a problem for years, a cultural shift is underway. Women are telling their stories, and many accused men are exiting positions in news, Hollywood, and Congress. While women have made great strides — they’re more educated than ever before, they’re often the primary breadwinners, and half of American women work — there’s much more to do. “We’re present,” says gender consultant Pamela Reeves, “and we’re an important part of the fabric of our nation, and yet we still face unique barriers.”
Reeves, who advises companies on developing gender strategies, joined eight women on stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June. She pointed out that white women make 78 cents to every dollar a man makes; African American women make 65 cents; and Latino women earn just 56 cents to every man’s dollar. “The fact is, women experience America differently than men, and I think there are vast differences among women and the lived experience they have in this country.”
Sexual harassment is a common experience.
For Rabia Chaudry, an attorney, author, and activist, one story has stuck with her about sexual harassment. Six years ago, as a fellow of the Truman National Security Project, she met with a group of women. The women, also fellows, went around the room and shared some of their greatest challenges at work. Amazingly, Chaudry says, the challenge was the same for nearly all 50 women, many who held senior positions at the Pentagon, Capitol, think tanks, and in other government agencies. “Woman after woman said ‘One of the greatest challenges we face in our careers is sexual harassment and sexism around how we dress and appear,’” says Chaudry. She was horrified and saddened, and it resurfaced old memories. As a young eager attorney, she says she experienced inappropriate behavior from her supervisors. In response, she began to wear a Muslim hijab, “and I ricochet to the opposite end of the spectrum where I kind of became invisible.” She felt a sense of solidarity with the women who also shared their personal stories. “They can’t escape their appearance, the way their hair is done, how big their heels are, I mean, we are all in this boat together.”
In the workplace, how do women make themselves heard?
Use your voice, adopt more authoritative language, take up more physical space, and wear high heels. These are some of the tips from our high-powered all-female panel. Gillian Tett, US managing editor for the Financial Times, says start with humor at a meeting and follow up by saying, “I have three points to make.” Then, she says, “you have the right to keep talking.” At 5’2”, she wears high heels to feel more powerful. “I spent the first ten years of my career constantly looking up to men quite literally, and that was a challenge.” She also advises standing up during a difficult phone call. “You’ll get more air in your lungs, your voice will drop, and you’ll sound a lot more confident.” Gillian White, a Wall Street financial analyst turned journalist, suggests imitating the mannerisms of other colleagues. “I examine who gets heard in meetings, and how they vocalize their thoughts and concerns.” Sandra Rogers, chief legal officer for Toyota, elaborates on what’s already been presented in a meeting. For example, she shares, “I might say, ‘Let me build on what Bill has said because he has a good point.’” Then, you’re entering the conversation, amplifying your colleague’s point, and “hopefully you’re the last voice heard on the subject.” Listen to other suggestions from our panel below.
Listen to the entire conversation below.
Written By Marci Krivonen, Associate Editor/Producer, Aspen Ideas Festival