Sexual Harassment Can Only Be Stopped by Company Culture, Not By Outing Bad Men

A few years ago, I took a computer class at a local community college, and I quit after the professor Googled me during class and put the results on the projector. There's a model who shares my name, and he thought she was me. She was wearing her underwear, and he put that photo up and asked me in front of everyone, "Is this you? Nice!"

It wasn't, but even if it was... why did he think that was okay? Why was he Googling me in his spare time? And why did he share those results with my classmates who were like WTF?

Before the projector incident, I thought he had a crush on me, but I tried to ignore the feeling. He was strangely nice to me but rude to almost everyone else, and he'd private message me personal questions. Not sexual, but still weird.

After the projector incident, I reported him to the school and stopped going to class. He found me on social media and asked me why I hadn't said goodbye. I was terrified. 

Years later, I decided to study computers again by enrolling in a coding bootcamp at a prestigious university. The first few weeks were great, but then a new student advisor was hired and he decided to start sending me flirty private messages. I was grossed out again.

But what bothered me the most about the second guy was that his behavior emerged after the #MeToo movement exploded. Numerous inappropriate men were ousted or reprimanded for harassing women, but this guy still thought he could creep on me and I'd be cool with it. And obviously, I wasn't.

I reported the second guy too, and I am happy to say that the prestigious university actually took action. I didn't think they were perfect with their process, but they removed this guy from my classroom and made efforts to stop him from making me uncomfortable. The community college, on the other hand, told me that the projector professor was the only person who taught the class, so I couldn't be transferred, and they refused to give me a refund. They also told me that he wasn't guilty of sexual harassment, and they sent me a formal letter with this conclusion.

My two contrasting experiences made me realize that toxic behaviors can happen anywhere, but how management treats them can greatly affect a person's experience. This is in line with a new study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. This study said that it wasn't enough for companies and schools to fire individual offenders. The study said that instead, culture is what curbs sexual harassment, meaning if people know that bad behavior isn't tolerated they are less likely to do it in the first place.

“It’s not about rooting out the bad apples; we need to focus on the whole barrel,” Lilia Cortina, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, told The Huffington Post. “When organizations really cultivate a climate that makes clear it will not tolerate sex harassment, employees are much less likely to engage in sexual harassment."

The organization said that companies that take sexual harassment seriously and hand down consequences to offenders create atmospheres that scare offenders from misconduct. On the flip side, companies that look the other way send a message to everyone that sexual harassment is okay. 

For the report, over 20 academics reviewed research from the past two decades and they commissioned a study to interview women in the sciences about their work experiences. And as a part-time student in the computer field, I was two for two when it came to gross men bothering me while trying to learn in that environment, so I was not surprised that the study concluded that the sciences had a major sexual harassment problem.

The #MeToo movement which exploded last year after the fall of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein really resonated with me because I knew that I wasn't alone when it came to feeling preyed upon at work or school. However, it still saddened me to know that the problem was so pervasive. And while terrible men may always exist, knowing that they are a problem and not tolerating their misconduct is a major step in making professional spaces a safer place.