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What It’s Like Being The Only Girl in The Office

Trigger Warning: Sexual Harassment

“Congrats! You got the job. Ha, we finally have a girl in the office.” That’s what I heard when I got a job at a small real estate company over a year ago. I was so excited to start, this was the industry I wanted to be in. Fixing and flipping houses, wholesaling, all of it. This was exactly the exposure I needed and knew this would be the perfect learning opportunity. On top of that, this place was only 10 minutes away from my house. No more running frantically out of my house to catch the early morning, packed to the brim train to the city!

Do I wish I was warned that I would be the only woman in the office before I accepted the job? Yes, but I don’t think it would have changed my mind about my decision at the time. 

The owners of the company were two brothers who were a year younger than me. I really commended them for taking the risk to drop out of college and start this company together. I looked up to them in that way and they seemed very professional from the start, despite having no professional work experience before starting their company. 

They were also straight-forward about protecting me as the only woman in the office. This was why all of the cameras were pointed right at my desk. This area of real estate is super male dominated, so if anyone spoke to me in a certain way, they told me I need to make them aware because “we don’t need to work with anyone, especially someone who disrespects you”. Seemed like they valued me, and I felt protected. 

sexual harassment workplace

The head boss, my CEO, seemed to be in the office more than his brother. So I got to know him really well. I thought nothing of it when he would compliment my looks or my perfume, I brushed it off as him being an immature 23 year old who doesn’t realize that he’s being inappropriate. I thought nothing of it when he would invite me to lunch, assuming he did that with everyone. I thought nothing of it when he would call and text me after hours, sometimes sending me pictures of himself. I thought nothing of it when he would go off and run errands and ask me if I wanted him to buy me a gift from the mall. I thought nothing of it when he would invite me to his house, or ask about my personal life. I thought nothing of it when he would ask if I was single, or if I wanted to “date a rich man”. I had to think nothing of it. I was the only girl in the office. 

I started to see everyone’s true colors when I spoke to a potential client and he started asking me inappropriate questions. He asked how old I was, asked about my ethnic background, then asked me to come to his lake house with him for the weekend while flaunting the amount of money he had. If that didn’t cross the line, he started texting me pictures of his properties and himself and then asked that I send him a picture of myself in return. 

When I confronted my boss about this behavior, I told him that I don’t want trouble so I’m not asking that we drop him as a potential client, I’m just asking that I cut off contact with him and have someone else be his point of contact from now on. My boss seemed unfazed, and definitely not offended at this man’s behavior. He even jokingly encouraged that I go to the lake house to win this guy over for us to snag the deal. He said that’s just how this guy is, “he’s old, he doesn’t mean anything of it. Just send him a selfie, big deal”

My other coworker chimed in, saying he heard me on the phone and if I hadn’t flirted with this man he would not be treating me like this. I automatically got defensive and stood my ground that I wasn’t flirting with him. My coworker shot back that I was being really nice to him, so I ultimately gave him the wrong impression. “But that’s my job: to be nice to potential clients.” He laughed in my face. I sat down in my cubicle in disbelief. Is this really how it’s going to be? I thought they had my back, but I was just made a mockery of for defending myself against creepy behavior and then blamed for it. What’s worse is my boss already didn’t take this seriously, so the last thing I needed was this other young coworker laughing it off in my face. I left work that day and cried in my car for 30 minutes. 

My boss said he’s not dropping the client because it would be a really good deal that we can’t pass up. Stupidly, I agreed with his decision but still refused to be his point of contact. A couple days later, the client asked for a change in the contract that required some money being paid before signing anything and my boss refused and dropped the deal. He was quick to drop this client when it came to money, but my mistreatment meant absolutely nothing. It showed me that maybe I’m not as valuable as I thought I was. Not in their eyes at least. And I was definitely not protected.

sexual harassment workplace

I experienced creepy behavior from all types of people: attorneys we worked with, clients, agents, you name it. Since we had to use our personal cell phones for business calls, I had different agents and attorneys calling me outside of working hours asking to go out and one even asking me to live with him and plenty of them found my social media accounts because they were linked to the same phone number. I had no choice but to brush it off. I didn’t want to be known as a problem starter. Women are already labeled as emotional and dramatic and that was not the impression I wanted to give. I wanted to be taken seriously. 

“Maybe change the way you dress then” said my COO after confiding in him about some harassment I was facing. “Change my clothes?” I asked confused, looking down at my turtleneck and jeans. “What’s wrong with how I’m dressed?” I had an HR background in a huge corporate Manhattan company before this job so I know what’s appropriate and what’s not. Meanwhile my bosses wore jeans, backwards caps, and Adidas Superstars to work, and the other male coworkers would wear cargo shorts, t-shirts and walk around in socks. “Because you’re attractive and dress nice. Maybe if you dressed, I don’t know, uglier, then you wouldn’t be treated like that. For example, look at our attorney. She dresses frumpy and she doesn’t get the same attention as you. Maybe dress like her, ask her where she shops.”

Unlike the owners of the company, my COO was not related to them but was still an executive at the company and technically my boss as well. He quickly became my best friend at work after having my back during a separate really serious harassment incident. We also got along great. I really considered him to be a good friend to me. 

He had a beautiful wife and two adorable kids who I met in the office once. He was also in his 20s which was crazy to me that he was only a few years older than me but had this super adult-y life with a house, family and kids. So I really never expected us to get along like we did because we were at two really different points in our lives and came from completely opposite backgrounds. He came from a conservative culture where this was normal and expected. But I think after working in this type of environment with a bunch of party animal, young 20-somethings who lived in the moment, he kinda started to feel like he missed out on some parts of life. I felt bad for him, and would hear him out when he would vent. And he was always there for me when I needed to vent.

sexual harassment workplace

“Why are you weirded out by that? Yea, I like you but not as much as I like my wife.”

My COO and I started to meet outside of work to discuss a business we wanted to start together. At the time we were both being treated really badly by the two company owners and were owed money by them. On top of that, they were doing unethical things that brought on tons of lawsuits to the company so we knew this place was reaching its expiration date. We decided we would be a great 2 (wo)man show and be better off on our own: him with his COO and previous CEO experience, and me with my knowledge of the business and how to execute the deals from start to finish. 

We once met at a bar near work to discuss our business plan when his phone rang. “Yea, no I’ll be home soon. Sorry, it’s really loud. They decided to have the meeting in a bar nearby super last minute. Ok, yea talk to you later. Sorry, that was my wife”. They? Did I mishear him? I was tempted to ask him why he just lied to his wife making her believe he was in an executive meeting with our two bosses, and why he didn’t tell her who he was really with. Did she not know about him planning to leave the company and start one on his own? Or did he not want her to know he was with me because he knew he was crossing a line somehow? I chose not to ask, I was afraid of the answer.  

I was afraid of asking a lot of things. I was afraid to ask why pictures of me and my ex on my Facebook bothered him so much, so much so that he repeatedly told me to delete them. I was afraid to ask why he had just sent me messages about how he would rather have gone to his family vacation with me instead of his wife and kids. Instead, I brushed him off and said “well, that’s because we’re friends and sometimes you just wanna hangout with friends right? Especially when we’re around the same people every day. Right?” “No. That’s not what I mean.” 

He then sent pictures of where he was staying. “We gotta go here lol”. I’m just going to assume “we” means the entire company and not just me and him. He’s married, he doesn’t think of me like that. Besides, didn’t he mention something about planning a company trip? Yea, that must be it.

I divert the conversation back to us talking about some things happening in the office while he’s gone. He randomly writes “So you like me because I’m the smart guy…smart is boring I get it.” Confused, I ignore it and continue talking about our coworkers and work drama he’s missing. Then he responds with “k” to my next couple texts, so I ask why he’s being like that. He starts asking me confusing questions, like why I don’t try to annoy him. I’m beyond confused about what he’s talking about, so I tell him he’s sounding like a therapist. Then he says “Well, your last guys didn’t do any of that for you. Arlea, don’t worry about anything…lets just stay like work associates, this is apparently too much for you”. What. The. FUCK. I tried to hide my facial expressions because he had cameras pointed to my desk, cameras which only he had access to and even though he was across the country I knew he would be watching me from his phone, looking for my reaction. 

sexual harassment workplace

I try to laugh it off and write back “Stop trying to make me uncomfortable!!! We are work associates and that’s it 😂😂😂”. I was beyond uncomfortable at this point. And then the dreaded next texts came through: “I am not joking and it’s not funny. I’d like to have a private convo with you soon.”

He called me while still on vacation with his family. I didn’t know what to expect, and wanted to believe he was just messing with me but my gut was telling me this wasn’t good. He started off by expressing his disappointment in me, how I wasn’t a good friend because I brushed off his advances making him feel stupid. He was the victim in this, can’t you see? He was married and liked me, and that makes him uncomfortable. He didn’t know how to handle it. He needed my help figuring out his feelings. He needed me to feed his feelings. “Besides, it’s not like I would do anything about how I feel. I’m not like your exes, like those douchebags you’re used to dating. Yea, I like you but I like my wife better”. “YOU SHOULDN’T LIKE ME AT ALL. THAT’S THE PROBLEM” I blurted back. He didn’t care what his wife thought. He just wanted to feel like an irresponsible, carefree, normal, 20-something year old for the first time in his life. But he wasn’t happy with my response. As he was talking, I was trying to figure out how to diffuse this once more to not hurt his feelings or make things awkward. HA! Imagine, me worried about making things more awkward. 

Besides, he didn’t think what he was doing was wrong. Right before his trip, he had foreshadowed this. “All men have wandering eyes. Any man nice to a woman is only nice because he wants to sleep with her.” “That’s not true. I’ve dated guys that suck but there’s guys out there that don’t think like that. They’re able to think platonically about women, like my dad”. “You think your dad hasn’t thought about other women sexually after he married your mom? Yea, right. Stop being so naive. This applies to all men, the only thing men care about is sex. Even in my conservative community, there’s plenty of men that cheat on their wives. It’s normal.” 

Maybe he’s right. He’s a guy after all, he knows better than I do. Have I been so naive this entire time that I didn’t know that? No. He had been gaslighting me to think that all men are like this, so that whatever he does towards me isn’t bad and my potential participation in it is normal. 

During the phone conversation, I reassured him that I never did anything to lead him on and thought I made it clear that we were friends and only friends from the beginning. But then I realized that was the problem. That’s why he called, yelling at me. He was mad that I didn’t fall into his psychological traps. He was mad that I dated people “worse” than him but wouldn’t give him a chance. 

He then called me an opportunist, saying I was only nice to him because I wanted something from him. That something being this new business venture. “I’ve been nice to you since the day I started this job. I never asked you to defend me [with my previous sexual harassment experience] or be my friend. I’m not nice to you because I want anything from you. I’m nice to you because I really considered you to be my friend.” What a joke. Isn’t he the one admitting to be the opportunist, being nice to me because he had ulterior motives? I then stopped trying to salvage whatever this future business relationship was. I didn’t want to own a company with him. I didn’t want all my hard work to go to waste, all the hours I spent after work every single day and on weekends working on our new business plan. I didn’t need him playing games like this, treating me like an object and not an equal. I know my worth and don’t need that kind of treatment. So I did something he didn’t expect I would ever do…

sexual harassment workplace

I ended the conversation apologizing for making him feel that way and we ended it on a good note. Or so he thought. I called my boyfriend crying right after. He was furious and always suspicious of this guy’s intentions. I went home and cried to my sister. I felt so betrayed. Someone I confided in now threw my problems back in my face and was only nice to me get something in return. Someone I trusted just broke my trust and showed me how naive I really am for ignoring my intuition and choosing to only seeing the good in people who don’t deserve it.

I had the weekend to think about what had just happened. I went to the office Monday morning at 7:00 am before anyone had gotten there. I packed all my things and I left. I brought my boyfriend for protection. If I had gotten caught by my CEO, I was scared of what he might do to me. He had just gotten in trouble with the building manager a couple weeks prior because he punched a window and shattered it out of anger. Imagine what he would do to me. 

I left my CEO, his brother and the COO messages about how I quit and cleared my desk. I got very angry messages back to which I did not respond. I then started getting harassed with phone calls and texts in the middle of the night from random numbers, most likely by the CEO from texting apps that he would use on clients. After days of this harassment, I threatened legal action and told one of the random numbers that I knew it was him and that’s when it finally stopped. 

sexual harassment workplace

The last person I had contact with was the COO. This is what I wrote to him:

“Hey, just wanted to let you know I cleared my desk and I quit. I cannot work in an environment where I am disrespected and there is no room to grow. I also cannot continue to be part of your exit plan. I put all my effort into trying to make it work, but your phone call Friday caught me off guard and the more I thought about it, the more I realized I cannot work with someone who does not respect me as an equal and thinks I am an opportunist who is using you for your resources. I also cannot work with someone who admits feelings for me that are not platonic when you’re married. I wish you all the best.”

He responded by blowing my phone up with calls and texts. He wrote back asking me to answer his calls. Then he said that I owe him a phone call. I don’t owe you shit. When his efforts went unanswered, he kept calling and texting me to make an appointment to talk to him. “I’m doing some driving around 11 p.m., can we talk then?” No response. He calls me anyways. The next morning: “Hi gm what about 8:30am?”. This just pissed me off beyond belief. I didn’t expect him to act with any common decency since that was something he clearly lacked, but harassing me and acting like he can just pencil me in especially after I made it clear that I do not want to talk to him? Fuck no. 

He then wrote:

“I’m sorry that anything had to turn out this way, I feel like the outcome of the call should’ve played out differently since I guess I sounded more intense that it came across. I told you my feelings not because I was entertaining the idea to you but rather because I was not going to change anything in my life and I felt that to make things less complicated by sharing it with you. Apparently it had the opposite effect “

Any doubts or concerns I had about quitting my job with nothing lined up had completely dissipated now. I knew I made the right choice. I had no one to protect me. The best part is, the COO was basically the HR department. His boss was the CEO who was also harassing me. There was no one I could turn to for help. I had to have my own back.

sexual harassment workplace

If you’re in a similar situation, you are not alone. Here are some 2021 stats on workplace sexual harassment:

If you are experiencing harassment of any kind at work, I urge you to talk to someone and speak up. Whether that be an employment attorney, another coworker that you trust, or a manager, you need to speak your truth and shed light on what you are dealing with. Worst case scenario is you leave the toxic environment behind and find a new job opportunity. But I beg you, do not put up with mistreatment or harassment of any kind. 

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