29 Mar 2021

Time’s up! Bringing Sexual Harassment out of the shadows

In the post Weinstein Era the world has finally woken up to the fact that sexual harassment is everywhere and that no company nor industry is immune. 


As part of our internal transparency report every month, we share any investigations we run – including any involving sexual harassment.  In 2020, Pollen had one reported case of sexual harassment and four in 2019. Two of the women involved in those investigations were comfortable enough to share their experiences publicly. The first volunteered to discuss their experience in detail and the other gave her advice to other people who go through anything similar.


The interviews have been edited in places to remove any identifying details.


First interview


The only details we can give about this incident is that it involved a male (no longer with the company) sending inappropriate content to a woman who reported into him. This is her interview. 

What was your first reaction?

I was surprised by the behaviour. I initially thought that it may not have been an accident. I tried to understand if humor and drawing attention to what happened was the approach he felt was best to not make the situation as serious or awkward. I also felt very conflicted. 


I thought that surely he couldn’t have done this on purpose without knowing how I would react and what the possible outcome could be in light of the recent spike in women coming out about their experience with sexual harassment. 


I asked a childhood friend for advice and she told me to find a new job. I told her I loved my job and was open to believing it was an accident as he said it was. Her response was, “Him and every other person who has been caught with their hand in the cookie jar...”. 

My friend was saying that the majority of people who are caught in this scenario claim it was an accident.  


I expressed concerns to another friend that I have a tendency to make excuses for men and brush their unwanted/inappropriate behaviour off lightly in order to preserve their dignity – often disregarding my own true thoughts and feelings.  The idea of reporting what happened to HR seemed dramatic and over the top. The last thing I wanted was to become one of those women who everyone thinks is “crying wolf” for attention or intentionally trying to ruin someone’s reputation for benefit. 


I wanted to immediately get rid of the evidence because if I couldn’t see it then it couldn’t exist to me. But I felt that if for some reason I was to become a threat to him for having this proof, that it would be nearly impossible to prove myself without it. I felt that what I had, still wouldn’t be considered enough. I felt that the validity of the messages would be questioned. I considered being as thorough as possible but at the same time – I didn’t see the point. I didn’t ever intend to use it against him. I just felt I needed to keep it as protection since I didn’t know where this would lead – if anywhere. 


My hope was that things would just go back to normal and we'd be able to act as if it didn’t happen and that it would never happen again. I had these visions of us being in court and the conversations being presented and people arguing that I didn’t do enough to show that it was unwanted and questioning whether or not my appearance, past or behaviour led to this. I have only ever been told to brush things off and not be over dramatic, which was also my thought process when I see women in the news coming forth about their own experiences.


I burst into tears  thinking that this was my karma for always having doubts in regards to the women that have made their own experiences public. I had someone tell me, "You weren't raped." This hit the hardest in the sense that I assumed that this would be the thought of most people who might hear the story. I was  already being looked at as the woman who is making something out of nothing. I just wished this had never happened.

 

What did you do? 

I decided to come forth to protect my job. I was able to speak to Safiya (EVP Operations)  and was then told how the formal investigation would take place. The following day we sat down privately and I gave a statement about what happened. I also sent Safiya evidence of the incident. I was asked about whether I thought anyone else should be interviewed. I was then told that they would investigate the incident and would collect as much information as possible before actioning.

 

Note: specific actions were undertaken by the company following the investigation but we have not included these details in this article to ensure the confidentiality of this incident. 


Was there anything that the company could have done to make this easier for you?

Although I was told after the incident was reported that me feeling safe in the workplace was the number one priority – I did not feel that way. I wish that there would have been a conversation in regards to what could be done in order to make the workplace more comfortable for me (e.g. alternating office days, moving desks, even just a formal check in regarding how things were going, etc).

 

Any advice that you have to anyone who goes through the same situation? 

Trust your instinct. Do not base your decision on fear of what others will think or say about you. There is nothing that you could do, say, or wear that makes this okay. Absolutely nothing. Lastly, your silence helps no one. This is bigger than you and I. 

 

How do you feel looking back on it now?

I still think about it often. It literally put me in a state of mental hell and it's hard to forget about that. I still have mixed feelings about the whole thing. I'm just glad that the days that my mind spent flooded with thoughts trying to comprehend someone else's behaviour and being plagued with self doubt are becoming less as time passes. 

Second Interview

The only details we can give about this incident itself is that it involved a male (no longer with the company) sending a woman inappropriate content.


My advice is so simple, but speak up! Every incident in which an individual downplays what has happened, is another situation that has gone unnoticed. However insignificant your story might sound, it could be an additional piece that builds on a larger puzzle. Although you feel nothing may come out of it for you, you might be adding further meaning or value to someone else's story.

Learnings from the cases

Safiya, EVP Operations, shares her learnings.


These are always incredibly hard situations to manage. The first priority is that everyone at the company feels safe in their work environment and, simultaneously, there are a lot of legal steps we need to take to protect all parties. I, the People team, and the business as a whole, have learned how to handle these situations better and we have clarified and instigated specific processes and steps to follow. 


While I hope we don’t have to apply our learnings to any new sexual harassment incidents again, I am confident we can do a better job at making sure that all parties understand the relevant actions we are taking to create a safe work environment. What I think we didn’t do well in the past is (1) ask explicitly what more we could do to make people more comfortable, and (2) realize that while the company may deem a matter completed when the formal investigation has been concluded and actions taken, it is not for the people involved. We need to communicate more continuously, and check-in in an ongoing way to make sure everything continues to feel comfortable and safe for the individuals involved. 

How sexual harassment can be reported at Pollen

There are several ways sexual harassment can be reported at Pollen including talking confidentially to a manager, talking confidentially to anyone on the People team or via an anonymous report through a third-party tool (reports can only accessed by members of the People team).

Anne Bedi

SVP People & Culture