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Are You Being Mistreated at Work? Here’s What to Do About It

Adapted with permission from The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss by Kathy Caprino, copyright Kathy Caprino.

I’ve seen firsthand that there is widespread gender bias, sexual harassment, and other forms of unfair and illegal behaviors at work. Could it be possible that you're being mistreated at work? The statistics argue "yes."

Recent studies have shared that four in ten women have reported some form of gender discrimination at work. Other research reveals that as many as eight out of ten women will experience sexual harassment at work in their lifetimes. If we’ve worked for any length of time, we’ve most likely witnessed or directly faced some form of gender bias or other types of mistreatment. It’s so very painful to experience mistreatment firsthand or see it right in front of you, and feel you can’t say or do anything about it for fear you’ll be punished, fired, or blacklisted in your field.

In looking back, I see that in almost every experience where I felt mistreated or biased against, I didn’t speak up in an empowered way. In numerous cases, I didn’t mention it to anyone at all. In other cases, I told friends and family but didn’t do anything concrete about it. That is, until I had a breakthrough moment about this and said “enough!” This breakthrough experience led me to change course, become a therapist and coach, and launch my own business. And it led me to want to understand more about what is happening in business and at work to women and uncover new ways we can all rise above harmful situations that keep us where we no longer want to be.

Listen to an audio sample from The Most Powerful You!

So, What Changed When I Finally Snapped and Said “Enough!” 

  • I mustered the courage to admit to myself that I wanted something different in my life and I finally felt that I was worthy of something better.
  • I decided that, going forward, I want to have much more control over how I work, who I work with, and what I work on.
  • I realized that for mistreatment to stop in my life, I have to take a braver stand, and start seeing myself differently and behaving differently.
  • I started to see that I wasn’t alone and this was happening to thousands of women around the world, which made me feel stronger and see that my experiences were validated and legitimized.
  • I finally realized this important fact: A woman should never have to face this situation alone, asking herself: “How do I handle mistreatment or suppression from this powerful man who can impact my future here, who makes me feel afraid and insecure, and who pressures me to do things I don’t want to do, in order to stay in my job?”

While many women experience physical abuse, sexual harassment, groping, pressure for sex, and more, there are other forms of mistreatment or discrimination that are more subtle, making it difficult to identify and sometimes even to name. Devaluing of female voices occurs in many professional settings. And subconscious acceptance renders too many women powerless.

Are You Being Mistreated at Work?

Ask these questions to help you uncover if mistreatment is happening to you and where to begin to get help to move beyond it.

  1. Am I experiencing at work an individual who is making me do something I’m not comfortable with? If so, what outside help can I get now to explore my options for dealing with it?
  2. What is my home situation? Is it safe and am I supported, respected, and treated well in my own family life?
  3. What messages did I get in my childhood that taught me that I am not worthy of being treated lovingly, with respect and care? Was I on the receiving end of violence, abuse, or mistreatment of any kind?
  4. Where were my boundaries potentially violated as a child or young person that has shaped me into a person who needs stronger boundaries to say “no” and “stop”?
  5. Have I witnessed unfair mistreatment of others at my place of work and done nothing about it? Is it time now to take a stand?
  6. As a leader and a manager, am I doing all I can to keep the environment where I and others work safe and secure?
  7. What do I need to say “stop!” to today in my life and how will I do it?
  8. Where can I find the outside support and guidance I need to move beyond this mistreatment forever?
  9. What exactly keeps me locked in a situation where I allow myself to sustain mistreatment? If I believed that it was possible to speak up against it, what would be my first step in doing so?

Here’s What to Do About It…

Take these “brave challenge” steps to help you land new opportunities for growth and expansion:

  1. If you are being mistreated, don’t wait. This week, reach out to a safe, neutral, and trustworthy outside party (potentially a legal expert representing employees, or a mentor or sponsor you have) to share your situation and get advice.
  2. Consider going to HR (but only if it’s safe to do that at your place of work) and make a complaint if you are witnessing mistreatment occurring in your workplace to others.
  3. If you’re being mistreated in your marriage or family, seek the help of a marriage and family therapist or social service organization in your community who can help you work through the situation.
  4. Start building your case—with evidence, data, and facts—about the mistreatment that you’re experiencing.

Kathy Caprino

A former corporate marketing VP, trained marriage and family therapist, and seasoned coach, Kathy is a leading voice on LinkedIn and Thrive Global, and top media source on careers, personal growth, leadership and women's career issues and trends, and has appeared in over 200 leading publications and magazines and on national radio and television. For more information, visit https://kathycaprino.com, her podcast Finding Brave at http://findingbrave.org, or contact Kathy at info@kathycaprino.com.

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