Sexual Harassment At Work : The Inside Scoop with Melissa Sassi – Episode 43

We discuss our experiences with sexual harassment and how we handed it at the time!

If you do need help then contact your local organisation, in the UK we have Citizens Advice

But of course elsewhere in the world there will be local organisations, or talk to a friend who will help you to workout what to do.

Nathaniel Schooler 0:24

In this episode, I’m interviewing Melissa Sassi from across the pond, she’s actually an ex Microsoftie turned IBM-er who brings passion and purpose to the tech industry with her belief that digital literacy is a human right.

So about sexual harassment. I mean, this is something that, you know, happens to guys as well, right. But how do you deal with it?

Melissa Sassi 0:51

I think as someone who’s been in that situation before, it’s hard. You know I know, they’re all these handbooks and guidance and things that tell you, you’re supposed to, you know, go to your manager, or, you know, go to HR, but when you’re in that situation, it’s scary.

I personally was interviewing for a job, and this is a C level individual, I’m not going to name the company, I’m not going to name the individual. That’s all water under the bridge now, but, you know, I went to this interview, and it was set up as, say, we were at a conference.

I was invited to this conference, because this individual is going to be at this conference and said, Why don’t you join, come to this conference, we can get to know each other better. And we’ll have formal interview. Okay, fine. We were in this hotel.

He had some stuff in his hands. And he’s like, Can you help me carry this to my room? And yeah, and in my mind, I wasn’t thinking that something I always expect, you know, the best in people. And, you know, I never think about, you know, is that person’s intentions bad, and nor did I, you know, kind of think that what ended up happening was going to happen.

We get up to his room, and he’s like, a whole and so he’s putting some stuff away. And I’m standing there, and I can see he’s like, messing around with something across the room. And so I sit down in this chair, like when waiting for him, and I looked down at my phone and paying attention to my phone and I look out, I look up and he’s taken his pants down.

And, and I was like, what in the heck is going on here? Like, you know, I’ve been in some crazy situations we all have. But this one was like, the icing on the cake. And, you know, I wasn’t an employee. But I knew, you know, he was on company business, and I knew I was there to be interviewed and, you know, I didn’t punch him in the face that I didn’t, you know, storm out, I just said:- “Hey, you know, can you put that away, and that’s enough.” And I didn’t show up to the conference, and they say, I left and, you know, I thankfully didn’t get the job.

And I didn’t know what to do. You know, I really didn’t, I went home. And I reached out to a friend of mine who, you know, worked as an attorney, and what, what do I do?

I’m not really an employee, you know, I don’t get it. This is a C-level individual, I don’t want it to, you know, impact my, my ability to find, you know, a role in my field. And I knew he was in a new a lot of different people. And, you know, I got some thinking, and I knew someone in the HR team at this particular company. And, you know, I decided I would, I would tell her, and I did.

I don’t know what exact conversations happened. And I didn’t do anything legally, formally. I know, everybody has their own path. You know, some people, you know, feel like, I have to take the legal route, I have to do the formal route.

And I honestly don’t think I was strong enough to do that. You know, I said, something I spoke up and, you know, he ended up leaving the company. I don’t know if that was related to related me. I’m not sure.

Nathaniel Schooler 4:25

Yeah

Melissa Sassi 4:25

But I always, you know, look back on that situation. And I always feel like, gosh, should I have been stronger? Should I have done something formal? Should I have spoken out?

And I didn’t, in a formal, outspoken way, and I still kind of regret it. I still kind of wish I would have done something different, but I was I was really scared. I think nowadays, I think things are much more formalized and open. This was probably this is more than five years ago.

Nathaniel Schooler 4:56

Yeah, yeah, I had to, I had something happened to me. When I was at college, I had this so I worked in a wine merchant. So worked in a wholesale wine warehouse, which was was with a small company, I mean, they had like, nine shops or something like that, you know, they supplied a lot of a lot of pubs and hotels and posh bars and stuff. But my manager, he was basically just like, he was basically like, bullying me. And, yeah, he and he, basically, yeah, quite a few times. He sort of said to me, you know, some really awful things because he was, he was gay.

And he said some awful things to me. And I and I, and I, kind of one day, I was just like, you know, I’m just going to quit and, and I actually, actually, because I spoke to the owner of the company, I called him up and I said, Look, I said, He’s, he’s really not very nice to me.

He keeps harassing me, I didn’t tell him that it was sexual because, you know, I mean, he never touched me or anything, but it was like the innuendos and he would harass me for like me. So I would leave my cup on the table. And within like, 20/30 seconds of me, finishing my last mouthful, he told me to wash my cup.

In England, we drink a lot of tea, right? That’s, that’s really, that’s really annoying. If you drink tea. Like, that’s your time. That’s like your solace, you know, to me, like, when you finish that moment, have a nice cup of tea with a bit of milk, and you put your tea down, you know, that’s, like, encroaching upon your space.

But so I called I called the called the owner of the company, the chairman. And I told him, I said, Look, you know, he’s, he’s not very nice. I’m not enjoying working in this warehouse here. And he said, Don’t worry, you know, you just, you stick it out. And, you know, you can come and work at head office with me kind of thing. So he buried what I was saying, kind of with, with it with a carrot, you know, manipulated me to, to stay working there.

But one day, I just had enough and just decided it’s quite a funny story. Actually, I was at the time. I don’t ride motorcycles any more, thankfully. But at the time, I had this motorcycle and I bought I bought a new one. And the guy at the motorcycle shop. He said to me, he said he’d fix something on the bike, but he never actually fixed it. So one Friday, I just decided I was going to change my life. And I walked into the bike shop. And I said, I said, Look, you’re not you’re not, this isn’t working for me. You need to just change this motorbike. I’ll take that one over there. I’ll, I want you to take the centre stand off for me. And I’m going to be leaving in an hour. Oh, and can I use your phone because this was back when before, you know, before we even had mobile phones, pretty much. And then I called the office, the head office of the company. And I just said, I just, it all just got on top of me. And I just called them up. And I said, I won’t ever be in again. Goodbye. And I just hung up, you know?

And yeah, it was, it was it was such a relief. But my dad said to me, I should have actually taken the guy to call and I feel I feel that I should have done and I still feel like that now. Yeah,

Melissa Sassi 8:07

Yeah, well, I feel this, I feel the same way about what, what happened there. But, you know, and I think, you know, I’ve been in a bullying situation, you know, with a manager, you know, myself, you know, in my professional career, where we did not see eye to eye, we did not like each other.

And, you know, I ended up, you know, looking and thinking, you know, you’re just, you know, not a professional manager, and I don’t want to work with you, I don’t want to work for you. And I think we, you know, our, I always heard these things about, you know, whether you’re talking about sexual harassment, or bullying or whatever, you know, you leave a boss, don’t a company. And I’ll tell you, I’ve left a boss. And I am very glad that I don’t, you know, work with that same individual any any longer.

And I am so much happier, you know, thinking about that time that I left that manager and went on and did something new. And I’ll tell you, it was really stressful, I was really distraught. And it took me a lot of time of kind of questioning myself, and then realizing that Wait a second, you know what, we just don’t vibe and I don’t like you, you don’t like me, we’re not going to see I to I, my career is important. My personal well being is important. And we spend a lot of time at at work.

So we’ve got to, like the people we work with, or at least be able to, you know, tolerate them, you know, and for me, having a good working relationship with my boss is important. I’m very thankful I have my boss, I would consider her a role model. You know, my current Boss, I look up to her. And one of the kind of important measures that I think about when I’m looking at a team member or a manager is what’s going to happen if I get stuck in an airport with you?

If I stuck in an airport with you? Am I going to am I actually going to have a good time? You know, nobody wants to be stuck in an airport. But am I going to enjoy that time. And when I think about, you know, during my interview process here, at, you know, IBM and thinking about my manager, one of the things I asked myself was that very question when I was on my path of deciding whether I wanted to, you know, accept the offer from IBM for this role. And it was, yeah, I could totally get stuck in an airport with you. And we’d have, we’d have a good time and, you know, naturally in a miserable situation, but we’d have a good time.

Nathaniel Schooler 10:41

Yeah. So I think it’s, I think women probably get a lot, you know, get harassed a lot. I mean, you know, I don’t work within within a corporation myself, so, I don’t, I don’t really know about, you know, how women like, hit on guys, and then they, they kind of, you know, cause problems for them. I’m sure that that goes on as well. You know, and, and what I think is, don’t be my feeling is, you’ve just got to go with your gut feeling. And that’s the reason you and I both regret not going with our gut feeling, because I’ve got feeling was to do something about it. And we didn’t listen to it. We listened to our head.

Melissa Sassi 11:14

It happened,

Nathaniel Schooler 11:16

Which said, let’s just leave it. We don’t want to make it hassle with, it’s embarrassing. You know, they’re all these things that you.

Melissa Sassi 11:24

Did I cause something, you know?

Nathaniel Schooler 11:26

Yeah.

Melissa Sassi 11:26

I was, I was like to open you know, I’m a pretty open person. And that’s, that’s part of what happened to me. It was a God was I was had to open so I give him a signal. You know, we had some wine at dinner. Oh, gosh, did I go tonight, and now I know better now. I know better. And I’m like, Hell no,

Nathaniel Schooler 11:44

No!

Because Wanger out Mel! In England. We call it we call it a tallywhacker.

Melissa Sassi 11:55

He did he got it out and he showed it to me. And it was a pretty and he hadn’t manscaped.

Nathaniel Schooler 12:02

Awful. I don’t wanna I don’t want to hear any more details about that

Melissa Sassi 12:06

I won’t give you any more details. Because that wasn’t all he did. And it was just terrible!

Nathaniel Schooler 12:11

I yeah. It’s terrible. But so. So has it happened to more than once? Yeah,

Melissa Sassi 12:18

It has it. I it’s happened to me. Actually. I said three times. But it’s actually happened for it’s having four times no one. That one was the worst. And when I told you about was the worst yeah, that’s pretty other ones. Yeah, that one was awful.

That was one that was like, literally, in your face. But the, the other ones were just words. And that made me uncomfortable. But, you know, really also in your face words with, you know, no question. That’s what was going on. It wasn’t like an innuendo. It was like, in your face. And I, you know, I handled each of them, you know, each of them differently. And they were all equally hard.

Nathaniel Schooler 13:04

Yeah, yeah. Well, it is, it is very difficult because you just get lost, don’t you? It just, you know, it’s must be, it must be quite upsetting. And it’s almost like, you think that you’ve done something wrong. And you just and it’s just because people can’t control themselves.

You know, I mean, it’s just, you know, it needs to be a certain level of decorum doesn’t there. And, you know, it’s unfortunate that these sort of things happen, really. But so what advice would you would you give to people who this is happening to, or may happen to?

Melissa Sassi 13:38

So, you know, I think that the, the first thing is, you know, you shouldn’t doubt yourself and blame it on you. Which if I think about, it’s easier for, it’s easy for me to say that. But if I think about the four times it’s happened to me, like, I blame myself each and every time like, oh, gosh, what’s gonna happen if I say something, or what they don’t believe me, or what they think it’s my fault.

You know, especially because in some these scenarios, we were in a social setting, you know, so we were outside of the office and you’re at happy hour or having some drinks, you know, and we’d had a few drinks. And in that case, it’s like, oh, gosh, you know, but I think it’s important to find someone that you can confide in, and, you know, not be like, it’s your fault. And I think nowadays, you’ve got, you know, whether you’re working in a small company, a big company and non-profit, whatever, you know, they’ve got, you know, ways for you to, you know, confidentially even report things. So if you’re scared of, you know, having it tied to you, you know, there are many, many different ways that we can, you know, do things confidentially if, you know, we don’t feel comfortable to, you know, go to our manager, or Heck, if it is our manager.

I think it’s important to speak out and not feel like it’s, it’s your fault. But again, I know that’s easier said than done, because I just always do that for myself. And I, every single time that happened, I felt scared and I think part of that was, you know, kind of feeling like well, you know, that person’s in a position of power.

That person is more senior than me, or that person has been with the company longer than me, you know, what if, what if I lose my job and I’m supporting my family, you know, or what if my significant other fix It’s my fault, you know, so many different things going through your head.

Nathaniel Schooler 15:34

Yeah, must be must be very difficult. Well, thank you, Mel. It’s been it’s been great. Thank you. Really appreciate it. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Unknown 15:48

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