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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Sexual harrassment and gendered expectations: All in a day’s work for women

Ultimately, it’s clear that despite real progress, in many places a deeply misogynistic corporate culture persists today.

Sexual harrassment and gendered expectations: All in a day’s work for women
[Rido/AdobeStock]

In this post-#MeToo era, I love seeing professional women finally able to focus on their work without fear of sexual harassment, unwanted advances, and misogynistic comments.

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I’m only kidding, obviously. In too many workplaces, women are still putting up with the same behavior from others as we always have. I continue to witness actions that make female employees visibly uncomfortable. Just last week, I was in a meeting with several people when one of the male higher-ups started stroking his female employee’s hair. I find that this type of behavior is still commonplace: hair stroking, hand touching, awkward massages.

Women have made enormous strides in the workplace, with everything from hiring and promotions to the freedom to speak up about harassment and abuse. This progress cannot be discounted. Yet even as women occupy more CEO positions than ever before and represent nearly half the global workforce, too many of us still face male entitlement and abuse in the office.

As a female nonprofit executive who spends a lot of time as the only woman in the room, I’ve been judged, objectified, and hit on at conferences, networking events, and even on LinkedIn. It’s not something that I lose sleep over, mostly because it feels “normal” at this point.

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Research tells me that I’m not alone in this experience. According to Inc, 54% of women report being sexually harassed in the workplace. Female managers may be at even greater risk: a recent study found they are more than twice as likely to face sexual harassment than their rank-and-file counterparts.

Although professional attire has generally become more casual over the last decade or so, corporate culture still seems to hold women to a much higher standard when it comes to maintaining appearances. For example, it’s now pretty common for men to show up to conferences in jeans and a T-shirt—particularly in industries like tech. I’ve been to several of these conferences, and I’ve never seen a woman try to do the same.

Ultimately, it’s clear that despite real progress, in many places a deeply misogynistic corporate culture persists today. That’s why it’s incumbent upon us to keep fighting for a workplace that’s entirely free of misogyny and gender discrimination.

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Is there a solution? Absolutely, and it is clear as day. More women need to have a seat at the table—especially at the head of the table. For decades, offices had the feel of a “boys club,” but those days are over. It’s time for more female entrepreneurs to claim the seats they have earned. As women, we have to continue putting ourselves out there. We have to be the support system for other women—especially minority women—in order to make our workplaces a reflection of the world we want to live in.

Of course, this burden doesn’t fall on women alone. Leaders of all genders need to institute clear policies and guidelines to protect their employees. Give your team a safe space to talk to you about any discrimination or harassment they experience. Listen to them with open ears and an open mind, and without judgment. Most importantly, advocate for women. Be an ally, a cheerleader, a partner. Support has to start at the top.

I’d like to close with a personal anecdote. A few weeks ago, someone in my professional network tried to proposition me romantically via direct message on LinkedIn. He finished his message with, “I would love a non-judgmental and mature response from you.”

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Well, here’s my non-judgmental and mature response: Buzz off and let me do my job.


Ashley Sharp, Executive Director, Dwell with Dignity

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