Is Sexually Offensive Talk Part of Your Day-to-Day Job?

Businessman looking at businesswoman on table
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A few years back, while I was working as a financial advisor for a large wealth management company, I hosted a women's networking event at my office after work. I was excited to get a group of professional women together and talk about goal setting and how we could accomplish our career goals.

During the meeting, I needed to leave the conference room to get something, and I ran into a senior male advisor who was leaving for the night. He turned to me and asked, "What are you hosting a Tupperware party in there?" I laughed it off, and went about my business.Upon returning to the room, I shared this comment with the women and many were immediately offended and two asked if I was going to report him to human resources. The sad response I had to their questions was to laugh even harder.

This comment, while offensive to many women, was one of the more innocuous I have ever heard in my career in financial services. My husband, who is used to hearing my stories, had the best response. He said, "Maybe if he said this to you with his pants down around his ankles you would report it to HR."

I have seen countless HR videos about sexual harassment and inappropriate comments that women should not have to hear in the work environment; however, when you are surrounded by nothing but men, you realize that those rules don't necessarily apply to a woman working in finance.

After 14 years, I have found that I am almost de-sensitized to statements that would offend other women, and I know I am not alone. If I had to report comments similar to the Tupperware one, I would have a file with HR as long as Moby Dick.

After all, how could I report something like that when I was told at an office holiday party by a male co-worker "You are old enough to be my mistress" when he asked me how old I was.

There was also the time when I was asked by a client, "What kind of panties are you wearing?" I did share this comment with my boss at the time who just encouraged me to brush it off and remember to not drink with this client again.

A number of times when I did speak up, it was almost implied by my male bosses, especially when there was alcohol involved, that I had to let many comments slide.

I was not always desensitized to comments like these, though, I remember going out with a bunch of co-workers right after I started my first job, and one of my peers had a few too much to drink and called me the "b" word that rhymes with witch. I was shocked. I had never been called that word before, and certainly not by a co-worker.

The next morning, I requested a meeting with my boss where I shared this information, and asked him if I should say something to HR. My boss informed me that I was overreacting, remember there was drinking involved, and that he was sure it was a misunderstanding, and I should just forget about it.

This advice led to a long list of other things that I heard and forgot about over the years. I am not saying that this is right or wrong; however, I just don't think that the HR videos fully explore the fact that what may be considered unacceptable in many office environments, is an everyday occurrence in finance.

I am by nature an optimistic person; however, I don't believe that this will change until there are more women in finance who will then have power in numbers to make these changes. Until then, keep track of what is said to you, try to report it as much as possible and hope for one day where women in finance will not be desensitized to gender offensive comments.
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