Breaking My Silence #silencebreakers

December 8, 2017 Jen Farthing

The day I added #metoo to my social media presence, I started to consider LRN’s course curriculum on preventing sexual harassment. As the head of Education at LRN, I assessed that we had a variety of courses, but none were truly reflecting the moment we’re in now as allegation after allegation comes to light. I knew I’d have to find some time to write it myself, but with a schedule of management tasks and a busy year-end in front of me, I had to wonder where and when I would squeeze it in. I found myself unexpectedly alone on a three-hour drive. Before long, I was in mental list-making mode, cataloging every job I’d had since high school and every incident of harassment that I could think of. When I stopped for gas, I took notes. It was too long to keep in my head. By the time I got home, I had an idea for our course and a wide variety of workplace incidents – from retail break rooms to restaurant kitchen walk-ins, from my first real job up to the present. These had happened to me, or I had seen it first hand, or I was the supervisor the brave ones reported it to.

These were just ideas, and the realistic, workplace scenarios the team and I created merged stories and added to them for clarity in an effort to cover as much ground as we could in 30 minutes of coursework. When I finished the draft, I spoke to some of my female friends who also happened to be former colleagues. Two of the three did not recognize many incidents as sexual harassment – either because they were so conditioned to it as part of a woman’s work life or because they were so “minor.” The other colleague and I traded more stories from corporate America in the 12 years we worked apart, and I realized there would be plenty of fodder for authentic workplace scenarios for the next course. And the next.

These past weeks, I thought a lot about my managers, both male and female, and their reactions to sexual harassment allegations. I contacted the male supervisor who did the right thing early in my career that left a lasting impression on me and gave me the fortitude to speak up when one of my employees was harassed. Frequently, I thought about the times I said nothing because I was afraid to lose my job. More often, I thought about the countless times I had to ignore the words, the hands, and literally the tongues because I had to be cool with it or suffer the consequences. But I only get discouraged when I think about when I spoke up and wasn’t believed.

Like a lot of women of my generation, I regale my younger female colleagues and nieces with stories from the 90s. As #metoo and now #silencebreakers movements get lift in the culture, I found my voice, and I’m using it to educate. LRN has always taken this perspective – do the right thing, speak up, and tackle tough topics head-on. Stay tuned to find out how you can educate your workplace learners about the many types of sexual harassment and how they can contribute to the culture of ZERO TOLERANCE for behavior that destroys respect and decency at work and in our society.

Will I see you at the #metoo march Saturday, December 9 in NYC? I hope so.

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