As a junior manager, I was working late one night when the general manager came past my desk.
He noted that I had had a birthday and he had not wished me. He then proceeded to kiss me entirely inappropriately.
What if no one believes me?
The general manager was my four times removed super-senior. I said I didn’t think what he’d done was appropriate, but I was fearful that the behaviour would continue.
I thought if I told people, no one would believe me. He was a senior exec, old enough to be my father. I was a 26-year-old junior manager.
It was also in the days of Apartheid and I didn’t think they would believe a young coloured girl over a senior white manager.
Reporting sexual harassment without involving HR
I eventually told my boss’ boss. I understand that his boss had a conversation with the GM – who was actually his senior.
I also learnt from my boss that I was not the first. However, I felt entirely disempowered and I needed to reclaim my power.
Confronting the perpetrator
The next time I worked late and the GM came by, I said, “Mr XXX, what you did a few weeks ago was entirely inappropriate. However, I am prepared to forget it and move on, provided that it does not happen again.”
He looked completely shocked at the fact that I had challenged him and said: “I don’t want you to forget it.” Then he walked away.
My impression, though, was that I had won the round. And after that, he stayed away from me.
*The writer went on to build a successful career at the company and ultimately became a general manager.