As I slip on my tight black dress that hugs my body and cuts off at the shoulders, I can’t help but wonder if he’ll touch me today. Will he put his hand over mine? Rub my back? Squeeze my shoulders? Will his eyes linger on me when I walk into the room?
I’m not preparing for a date or a night on the town. I’m preparing for another shift at work, the dress is my uniform and he is the deputy general manager. He also has a wife and two young children.
When I moved to Edinburgh to study my Masters I always understood that I would need to find a part time job to help support myself and after a week or so of distributing CVs and filling out online applications, I found one. It was in a 4/5 star hotel in the city’s West End. My role was a receptionist and I loved meeting all the different guests who often came from various countries across the globe. I would chat with them, swap travel tips and share in their excitement for this city I have always adored. In the beginning I worked a lot of hours so that I could be trained up quickly and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to continue these shift patterns when I started classes.
However, a few weeks into my job another cause for concern arose that overshadowed any others. Shortly after I started working in the hotel another receptionist warned me that sometimes one of the managers ‘acts a little sleazy’ and when I asked how exactly, she told me that on occasion he asked if there were any free rooms in the hotel that they might go and have sex in. I couldn’t quite believe it but that’s just banter is it not? This was a minor thing right?
During another shift I went into the small back office adjacent to the even smaller space behind the reception desk to collect papers from the printer. It was just him in the office and he asked how I was doing. A perfectly normal thing to ask someone in work but as he did this he squeezed my bare arm. I felt very conscious of his skin touching mine and that it made me uncomfortable but I decided to ignore it. This was a minor thing right?
On another shift I was sitting at the desk looking at the computer and the number of check ins I was still expecting when he came through to ask how things were going. As he did this he placed his hand on top of mine as it rested on the desk and gently stroked it with his thumb. This lasted for about 30 seconds and for that half a minute, I was frozen in my chair. I was penned in between my manager on my left and the wall on my right. I (someone who is very vocal about almost anything) couldn’t muster any other words apart from a feeble “Yes, just waiting on a couple of people to arrive.” This was a minor thing though right?
Again, stationed at my usual post behind the desk and checking over emails and various other admin tasks he came through to ask his standard question and this time he rubbed my back as I sat on the chair, again I froze. I continued working, finished my shift and when I got home, I cried. This was a minor thing though right?
I decided to ask another female colleague if she had ever experienced anything similar to myself and she said that he often touched her in ways that both made her feel uncomfortable and would enrage her boyfriend if he ever saw it. It was then that I realised everyone had come to accept this behavior as par for the course. I needed to be the one to say something. I went to my supervisor who worked below him. The response was ‘I’m sure he doesn’t mean it in a sexual way but I’ll speak to him if it makes you feel uncomfortable.’
I returned to work for my next shift and felt his hands on my back and my arms again. Nothing had been done. I asked my supervisor if he had spoken to Him and the response this time was ‘Oh no I haven’t, I take it it’s still happening?”
I returned to work again feeling more anxious than ever about how I would be treated knowing (hopefully this time) that my concerns had been voiced and relayed to Him. I felt uneasy through out my 9 hour shift and at no point did any member of management ever ask if I was alright or provide me with an update on the situation or their protocol in this kind of matter. I left that night feeling completely let down and in disbelief that this could even be allowed to happen. I cried yet again and decided that I would not work even one more shift in the hotel. I informed my supervisor the following morning and he told me that he found my immediate resignation ‘unprofessional’. My response to this was met with silence from the management team of the hotel and I have not heard from them since, negative or otherwise.
The truly sad thing about this whole experience is that I am not alone in what I went through. It was happening to other women I worked with and still happens to other women and men in many other places of work. Throughout the whole saga of it all I was always made to feel that I was the one creating the issue- ‘That’s just how he is.’ ‘It’s just banter’ but I absolutely refuse to accept this as some kind of excuse. There are far too many people in this world who abuse their positions of power and those under them feel helpless to do anything to prevent it. I was lucky enough to have family support me while I looked for another job which I now have and feel happy with but there are others who fear that standing against this ‘minor thing’ as so many regard it, could result in unemployment or falter their career prospects.
In sharing my story I hope that it helps you to find the courage to speak out should you ever find yourself in a similar situation. If someone continues to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable then it’s wrong, regardless of other people’s opinions. I don’t know if this particular man still works at the hotel in question, I assume he does, based on the response of fellow managers.
For me in the end, it was not a minor thing and certainly not something I could accept and nor should any woman or man be expected to.
Check out these websites if you want to find out more about sexual harassment in the workplace and/or advice: