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Part 2: The time I was sexually harassed at my "dream" job

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

Hi friends,


In last week’s blog, we dove right into the sexual harassment I experienced at my first full-time job. Picking up where we left off, I was getting physically ill every day because of the toxicity and stress from my work environment. I absolutely dreaded going into the office and especially hated having to see my manager, particularly one on one. While I hadn’t mentioned any of the harassment, I’d made several attempts to bring up my other concerns to different managers, including the issue of being treated differently/assigned certain projects because of gender and the sexist and misogynistic comments that I and other female coworkers were subjected to daily. Those were largely brushed aside until finally, during a meeting with my direct manager, I got up the nerve to say that I was going to go to the Senior Director of the Stats and Info Group with my complaints. I purposely didn’t mention bringing up any specific incidents regarding my manager, not that he would have been concerned. He always seemed to think he was blameless in the situation and acted as though he was on my side in trying to help address the issues. Immediately though, my manager advised against emailing the director, a female who still holds the role today. When I added that I felt I needed to because it had gotten that bad, he told me again that I shouldn’t because it would come back to hurt me. I pointed out that was retaliation, but he reiterated that it would hurt my assignments and how I was viewed in the department. Regardless, I chose to send an email, to which the director replied, thanking me for my “impressions and preferences” and scheduling a meeting for the next day.


Meeting with the Senior Director of SIG

While I was nervous about meeting with her, I was optimistic and felt as though I might finally be able to change the situation so that I could go back to enjoying my job. Looking back, I can laugh at how incredibly naïve and misguided my optimism was. The director started the meeting by telling me that she was glad that management had been able to accommodate a schedule request I had made, the first in nearly two years in the department. An Eagles fan, I had the opportunity to go to Minnesota for Super Bowl LII so weeks earlier I had asked to switch my off days in order to attend. “You’re welcome for that,” she said. It was a weird way to start the meeting and I felt like the comment was meant to subtly suggest that I was somehow indebted to her and management.

Regardless, I was willing to look past it as she told me that she wanted to get to the bottom of my concerns as she would never run a department that would discriminate against females. Though my heart was racing, I tried to calmly explain the inappropriate discussions about my manager’s sex life, the sexist comments from others in the department, and the uncomfortable shoulder rubs and other behavior that crossed a line. When I finished, she chose to focus on work assignments being based on gender (even though I hadn’t mentioned that during this meeting), ignoring what I felt were the much larger issues. She insisted that managers weren’t intentionally assigning the three female researchers to women’s sports, instead saying it was just “unconscious bias”. As I mentioned in the last blog, my manager told me that the only reason I was assigned to Women’s NCAA Tournament was because I was a woman. (But either way, isn’t any kind of bias, unconscious or otherwise, a problem?)


The meeting just got worse from there, as she told me that, having worked in sports for 20 years, she understood what it was like to “perceive” your work environment as being unfriendly to women and that she’d been in situations “where the work environment actually was like that”, a clear indication she didn’t think that was the case here. I was shocked to have another woman belittling my experience with sexual harassment. Then, in a complete topic change, she told me that the SIG leadership team valued my work and that’s why they had sent me to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in January and suggested I should be grateful for that experience. Like with her comment about my off request, I was extremely confused as to how this was relevant.


Towards the end of the meeting, she insisted that I was the only person who felt that a problem existed and that other researchers certainly didn’t notice an issue. I was made to feel like I was crazy and that I was the problem. What shocked me most about the meeting was that she never once touched on the inappropriate behavior and comments that I had brought up and mentioned were commonplace in the department. Rather, most of the meeting focused on assignments, a much smaller issue compared to the larger ones I had clearly raised.


Meeting with HR

As a follow up, I met with an HR representative, where I finally got to delve into my manager’s behavior. The woman seemed shocked by what I described and though she said she didn’t know my manager personally, she promised to conduct a full investigation. It was the first time in months that I felt as though I was being heard. Again, so naïve!


Several weeks later, we met again. At that point, the HR rep told me how helpful our Senior Director had been in addressing the concerns about assignments being based on gender (still not the major issue!). But again, the other complaints regarding the hostile work environment never came up. Not once did she mention trying to change a culture where it’s acceptable to make sexual jokes to employees or laugh at a woman talking about football. While I was on the verge of tears, I remained hopeful when the woman said she’d spoken with my manager. Originally, I thought this was a good thing as I figured that she addressed this inappropriate behavior with him. Instead, I was shocked when she said that I had brought all of this on myself. According to the HR rep, my manager had said that, having just been promoted when I started full-time with the company, it was difficult for him to transition from being “friends” and colleagues to being my manager and that if he had made me uncomfortable, I should have said something. I took issue with this for several reasons. First, I had said something! And when I did, he completely ignored me, telling me to lighten up and continuing to act in the same way. Second, as a 22 to 23-year-old recent college graduate trying to make a good impression, I didn’t believe it should fall on me to make sure that my manager behaved appropriately.


She then told me that my manager believed I had “abused our friendship” by bringing my sexism concerns to him and that I needed to “set boundaries” for our relationship so that I stop “taking advantage of him, whether intentionally or not.” At that point, despite how upset I was, I stood up for myself, noting that I went to him as my manager about these pretty important work-related issues. I told her how he’d tried to give me my annual review in his bedroom. Despite previously claiming she didn’t know him, the HR rep said, “That doesn’t sound like the [manager’s name] that I know.”


This rollercoaster ride of a meeting went on for what seemed like forever. At one point, the woman from HR acknowledged that a lot of people in the Stats and Info Group weren’t happy and that the environment was affecting all employees so maybe there was a bigger issue. The very next sentence, however, she told me that I was really the only person “taking work home” with me and causing problems.


Finally, she said that she didn’t want “this” to affect me or to become what I was known for in the department. I left feeling completely blindsided and upset by what I had heard. I was told we were going to discuss next steps. However, absolutely nothing had been said about addressing my concerns. Rather, the entire meeting was spent turning things around on me and making me feel as though everything was my fault.


The aftermath

For months, I had been trying to ignore the situation, including the toll it was taking on my health, and questioning how I could even consider leaving what I’d long believed was my “dream” company. That meeting, however, finally convinced me that I needed to go. There were much larger cultural issues at play that weren’t going to be fixed, at least not any time soon. So I left. And so did 30 other people in the department over a six-month span, including all of the other females that had been there when I started.

An email sent to the department about "self-inflicted personnel issues" aka sexual harassment

Several months after my departure, my manager was fired for inappropriate behavior and harassment, the exact concerns I had raised to HR and our director months earlier, only to be told that I was the one in the wrong. Notably, the department announced my manager’s firing in an email in which they praised his “significant contributions” to the department and the “integral role” he played.

The email sent after my manager was fired for harassment

There’s no real happy ending here. Yes, my manager was eventually fired but not until after multiple women had been harassed and left the organization. While he deserved to be dismissed, his firing was simply a band-aid that allowed the department to continue to gloss over the major issues. And although I was happy to be out of that environment, I was disappointed that I was forced into a career move, when I had genuinely enjoyed the job itself. Still, though the experience altered my career path, it also shaped me as a person.


In the years since, I’ve recognized how important it is to talk about what happened. Not just as a way to educate others, but to help myself. First, I had the chance to help conduct impactful research on women’s experiences in the sports industry with some incredible women at Temple University. In assisting with that research, I shared my own story with the members of our research team, Dr. Elizabeth Taylor, Dr. Katie Sveinson, and Despina Evangelopoulos. While I remember being terrified about how I'd be perceived and whether they'd blame me for my situation, they were so incredibly supportive, providing a safe space where I was able to talk about my experiences openly for the very first time. It was truly cathartic and allowed me to feel as though I could do more to make a difference.


I’ve also learned to stop blaming myself. For years, I didn’t want to talk about it because I was sure that people would think everything that happened was my fault. With time and thoughtful conversations with loved ones, I’ve started to move past that guilt.


For those of you who have experienced something similar, know that you’re not alone. And if you ever need support, a shoulder to lean on, or someone to talk to, know that Sam and I are here for you and ready to listen.



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