Harassment in the Workplace Is an Issue for Everyone—Not Just Women

Thoughts from an engineer who says she was fired for speaking up

8 August 2017

I worked as an engineer for 30 years, moving up the career ladder. That was until I trusted personnel from my employer’s human resources department. I went to them with allegations about misconduct by a high-powered executive who made lewd and inappropriate comments. Because I reported him to HR, I believe, I lost my job. That was in 2015, and my world turned upside down.

My story was covered by CBS News and other media outlets, and people took notice. Engineers wrote open letters—more than 80 percent of whom were men—expressing their sorrow and deep concern about what happened. Many of them knew of me and my work. An online grassroots petition, Women in STEM Matter, started by a female engineer, launched afterward, requesting the president of my former organization to handle my situation fairly. About 2,500 people signed it, with hundreds of comments added expressing opinions, in hopes of encouraging the top leader to do what was right.

But there was no response. As the silence from my former organization continued, female engineers found the courage to comment through the online petition about similar situations they faced. One woman from Ohio wrote that she faced harassment early on in her professional life, and because of that her engineering career was never realized. A woman from Illinois shared how, as a female engineer of color, she has been exposed to subtle mistreatment and believes those actions by colleagues deter women from staying in a profession they love.

Men also chimed in. Mark, from Idaho, wrote, “We as men need to make it clear that we should not tolerate the abuse of our female colleagues. When an organization has someone who behaves inappropriately, this is a problem for everyone. It’s not only a women’s problem.”

The American Association of University Women (AAUW), which monitors the exodus of women from engineering, also extended its moral support to me after I was let go.

In its report “Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing,” AAUW said that 45 percent of women depart by midcareer. Its findings show that women in the profession have to prove themselves much more than men do, and that there is a perception that new mothers are not committed to their employers. It also found that there was latent gender bias among colleagues who may not even realize their actions and statements are sexist or inappropriate.

The engineering community stepped up on my behalf. I am deeply grateful for that and want to express my sincere thanks. As engineers, we must advance our own humanity in addition to advancing society as a whole. Therefore, if you see abuse of power, whether it’s in the form of bullying or sexual misconduct, continue to speak up and do so as a team, because there is power (and job security) in numbers.

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

Learn More