December 14, 2018
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It’s no surprise to hear about sexual harassment in Maine workplaces

Ted S. Warren | AP
Ted S. Warren | AP
A marcher carries a sign with the popular Twitter hashtag #MeToo used by people speaking out against sexual harassment as she takes part in a Women's March in Seattle, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. On the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, people participating in rallies and marches in the U.S. and around the world Saturday denounced his views on immigration, abortion, LGBT rights, women's rights and more.

When the #MeToo movement began, it began big, with much fanfare and well-known names and faces. Many of us charged right in, posting #MeToo to our own social media accounts, some with stories, some without. But for many women, being one of millions who had suffered and survived sexual harassment, it was a call to come out of the shadows.

And for weeks and months, it continued. And in that time, it continued to be — at least in the news — something happening somewhere else, to someone else. Then, two weeks ago, it came home, when Jess Knox, the co-founder of a nonprofit that helped startups, admitted he behaved inappropriately toward two female colleagues. His organization, Venture Hall, took action quickly, closing its doors and sending a nearly half-million dollar grant with it. His accuser spoke eloquently, and we are left thinking, “who’s next?”

Of course, no one should be surprised it happens in Maine — it happens everywhere.

[Maine firms contend with costs of misconduct after startup leader’s downfall]

In Maine, we have had a law against sexual harassment since 1991. The Maine Human Rights Commission has rules in place that are very clear, and in every organization where I have worked, I have seen those rules followed. Yet, I have also seen sexual harassment. Sometimes it was reported, sometimes it was not.

The women we have seen in the news are now, if they weren’t then, rich and famous. They are the A-list celebrities who have, rightfully, spoken out against predators who took advantage of their power and position to coerce or force women who were dependent on them into doing things they did not want to do. But in many cases they did, because they wanted to move ahead in their careers or wanted that part in that movie.

What about women who are not rich and famous? Those who are still working hourly jobs or haven’t made it into leadership positions? They may still be caught in the cycle of being coerced or forced into sexual “favors” because they are still dependent on that man in power to feed their families, pay the mortgage, and send their children to college. Is it yet possible for them to speak out, without retaliation from the boss and possibly their peers? Too often, these women are caught in jobs where they face harassment because they need to work.

When women leave those jobs, often the job they find is at the same level, or even lower, but they take the job to get away from the harassment. This is another way in which women are paid less than men over time — they leave to protect themselves, but are not able to climb the corporate ladder because they can’t gain seniority. We have been told time and again women are paid less because they leave the workforce to have children, yet this more insidious reason for leaving the workforce, or changing jobs abruptly, is rarely mentioned.

Women and men need to be able to work together in order for businesses to survive. Women need their male — and female — supervisors to mentor and sponsor them. They need to be able to work on projects that take them on the road, require long days, and include a business lunch. They do not need to be judged for having dinner with a boss, they need to be admired for their drive to succeed.

We live in a competitive world, and women are ready to compete. Sexual harassment hurts us all — women, men, businesses, families, communities. All of us need to be vigilant about knowing and obeying the law, and also to allow women and men to work together free of coercion, innuendo and bad faith.

We can do better, and there is an economic imperative to do better.

Megan D. Hannan is the executive director of the Maine Women’s Fund, a public foundation that grants to Maine nonprofit organizations serving women and girls. She lives in Bath.

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