Talking to Teens About Sexual Harassment
We interviewed Heather Monahan about the importance of leading conversations with our teens about sexual harassment in the workplace.
After decades of accusations, Bill Cosby was convicted April 26 of three counts of sexual assault.
Cosby is one of more than 30 powerful men accused of sexual misconduct, including Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, and Louis C.K.—just to name a few. As allegations continue to surface and convictions take place, it's an opportunity to speak openly and honestly to our teens about the topic. How should we lead these conversations at home?
We interviewed Heather Monahan, 43, a women’s empowerment and business expert, mom, mentor, and speaker, about how we can spark widespread change and the importance of leading conversations with our teens about sexual harassment in the workplace.
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What has been your own story experiencing sexual harassment at your job?
At my first job, out of college I was sexually harassed by my boss’ boss. I told my boss who was supportive, but was unable to do much to end the problem. He recommended that I document everything which I did. Ultimately, things did not change and I began feeling uncomfortable to go to work. I decided to quit my job to end the harassment. I took the journal I had been keeping in to see the owner of the company and resign. I gave him the journal and told him what had been happening. He asked if I was going to sue him or if I wanted money to keep quiet. I didn’t want either, I wanted to get out of the situation and go on with my life. I told him that I hoped he would fire the harasser, but he ultimately did not terminate him until a few years later. Removing myself from the situation though allowed a much better situation to present itself that I wouldn’t have found otherwise.
How did you feel after that incident?
I felt terrible, I felt embarrassed and angry. I didn’t want people to know what happened as I knew they would judge me and I wanted to protect myself. I was not shocked however that this man was not fired and that is exactly why I decided to quit.
What did you take away from this experience?
I learned that there will be villains in your life at every turn and it is not so much about them but about how you respond to them. Villains typically only respond to a strong punch in the nose. Evading someone and trying to hope the problem subsides doesn’t work – you either need to hit them hard or pack your bags and move on.
What advice would you give tweens and teens entering the workplace and going through a similar experience?
I would tell them to prepare for this as it is much more common than you would think. There are so many different types of harassment and it is not just sexual. There is bullying from female supervisors as well. Developing your confidence and your strength are key to protecting yourself and standing up for yourself. Keeping a journal around harassment is key to ensuring your claims can be proved as sad as that is to say. Ultimately, you need to create boundaries for yourself, surround yourself with good people, and communicate problems. You can’t solve the problem of a harasser in the workplace but you can communicate the issue and remove yourself from the situation if it does not improve. Taking care of yourself if your number one priority. There will be other opportunities and better companies to work for.
What are the signs you should watch for and how can you empower yourself?
Sexual harassment can seem to start off innocently, where a leader may take an interest in you and you think it is because you are an up and coming star. Limiting alone time in someone’s office only with them is helpful and letting someone know that you don’t feel comfortable with texts late at night is important. None of the steps you need to take to create boundaries are easy and often you will be met with negative feedback. When this happens, you want to start looking for other opportunities and different companies that have a reputation of having a positive culture and supporting employees.
What advice do you have for moms to talk to their daughters about these scenarios taking place?
Be authentic, transparent, and honest. It is never easy to share your own story but it is important. Bullying and harassment happens to everyone, let them know your story so they will feel comfortable confiding in you. Validate their feelings so they feel safe speaking to you and don’t judge, you certainly didn’t appreciate it when people did it to you.
What advice should we also give our sons about how seeing this behavior as a red flag at the workplace and how to deal with a male peer sexualizing or being inappropriate towards a female coworker?
I talk to my [10-year-old] son a lot about real world issues and how there is a hero in every story. A hero can be the person who chooses to speak up and defend someone who is being treated badly. Kids see this everyday on the playground and what they learn today they will replicate as they grow up.
What other advice do you have for women in the workplace regarding this topic?
Stand up for yourself and stand up for others. There is strength in numbers. If you speak up and try to change the culture and you cannot, move on. Don’t let the negative environment take you down.
Heather Monahan is a women’s empowerment and business expert, mom, mentor, and speaker.