The personal cost of a hostile work environment

I'd really like a do-over on this week. This was probably the least productive, worst week I've had in a long, long time. It started with this lovely incident, and went downhill from there. Astute readers may recall that I really couldn't afford any distractions this week, so the fact that I basically did just the bare minimum to not get me fired really was not my best career move.

So instead of making progress on my frighteningly long to-do list, I've been:

  • dealing with a backache that won't go away, no matter how many tried-and-true yoga stretches I do
  • feeling intermittently like I am going to lose my lunch
  • micro-managing my tenure process AND the investigation into the phone call
  • worrying about the glacial pace of the investigation
  • trying to track down our campus ombudsperson
  • jumping every time my office phone rings or the message light goes on
  • looking over my shoulder every time I have to walk across campus at night, or any time others are not conspicuously present
  • snapping at Mr. Jane
  • making backup copies of the message so that it doesn't suddenly disappear (which has happened before)
  • starting to use the phrase "hostile work environment" when talking about the situation...because really, after this many phone calls, that's really what this all boils down to....
  • brainstorming about which senior women I can and should talk to about this situation
  • worrying about the impact this will have on my tenure case
  • unable to concentrate on any one thing for longer than 10 minutes

So, in a nutshell, nothing that will get me tenure.

Does this mean that the caller has won this round?

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Oh Jane, that is just terrible. My sympathies. Have you tried massage for your backache? I've found that it has helped a lot for my back and shoulder problems.

I wish there were something I could do to help you...

Jane, I have not been following this so perhaps this has been brought up many times before, but do you have someone who is non-judgemental and not directly involved that you can talk to? I went through a stressful period (completely different issues) and had counselling that was very helpful. It won't clear up your basic problems but it might reduce the amount of stress you are understandably feeling.

I hope you get your problems sorted out soon.

By Richard Simons (not verified) on 31 Jan 2009 #permalink

Hang tough.

Don't let the bastards get you down.

Nothing will pain the critics, snipers and backstabbing cowards as much as seeing you succeed.

Jane, I'm so sorry to hear about your terrible week. I hope that things get better. I've always wondered why I actually want an office phone. I've never had problems with it like you, but it just doesn't improve my life. Why don't I just unplug it?

I agree, unplug the phone. Who needs it?

Also, I encourage you to find someone you can talk to. I had a counselor during my tenure year, one who was familiar with academia. The tenure year is enormously stressful and I found the grounding necessary. Don't let the anxiety take over your life.

Finally at some level it is necessary to give the finger to this phone caller and the whole sexism business. Before I came up for tenure, a lecturer in our department told me I had "bad qi" and shouldn't walk past his office anymore. I also had a late-night phone message like the one you describe (with a whispered death-and-dismemberment accusation), although it didn't repeat and was judged to be random-dialer. And my car window was smashed early one morning. (However, these events did not all happen at once! But over 2 or so years up to my tenure year.) Well, you know, they can go soak their heads.

At this point in time I would practice a profound internal deafness. Be deaf to the voices outside of you saying 'no' to your competence, and be equally deaf to any voices inside of you saying 'no'. Instead, get up every day and say 'yes' to anything that makes you stronger.

If the harassing phone call has a negative impact on your tenure case, you've got a reason to appeal because of discrimination. "Hostile work environment" is exactly what's going on, and it should reflect poorly on your institution, not on your research and teaching.

You are not the only woman in science/engineering who has experienced harassing phone calls (or notes). Hang in there - and know that, with real support from colleagues and administrators, it doesn't have to happen.

I'm so sorry for you Jane. How positively crappy to have to deal with this other stuff instead of your work. I bet if you weren't so stressed with everything else, this phone call crap would be a lot easier for you to handle. Hang in there.

I am so sorry, Jane. You ask if all that you have been going through means that the caller has "won" this round. Well, what exactly has he won? He's still a miserable cowardly bastard who isn't even brave enough to be a harasser in person, has to do his sniveling business over the phone and out of sight. He hasn't won a goddamn thing because at the end of the day he's still a sorry piece of shit. You, my dear, are still a goddess with a large posse of friends and supporters and admirers who want to see you succeed and thrive. You are still brilliant and passionate and caring. You are still the fabulous mother of Baby Jane and wife of Mr. Jane.

If you don't take the time to do the things you have done this week, then you won't be able to do the other things you need to do that are more directly related to getting tenure. So you are doing what you need to do. It sucks beyond belief that you have to put out this extra not-directly-related effort, of a kind that men generally never have to expend. But you are still on your way. When you are driving around the roadblocks it doesn't feel like you are making progress but you are. You are. You are. You are going to get there. Love, Zuska

I just now got acquainted with your situation. I suggest that you buy some pepper spray. You shouldn't have to worry about your safety--your institution should have fixed this long ago--but having some pepper spray may make you feel safer.

I'm so sorry you are dealing with this.