Chapter 4: "That's Sexual Harassment."
I continue working on my life's purpose, the Y concept, for several months and then I had to go down to LA for an end of year sales meeting with the entire west coast team.
Some people had heard what I was working on with the Y – of particular interest, this woman who was a big-time manager down there, who I thought was a pretty cool lady. She seemed genuine, smart, and creative. She asked me to go out to dinner with her and a few other colleagues and told me I HAD to sit next to her.
Finally! It seems like someone gets my idea?
This was a nice change from getting laughed at in Oregon.
I find out at the dinner that one of the sales reps from her office (and from my own team) started pursuing the Y on her own after she learned about my concept. It took only weeks for her to start converting multiple Ys into our uniforms and her sales were growing quickly because of this.
A few success stories already hit her numbers because she took my idea and ran with it – but it was jeopardizing the larger picture and I felt a little betrayed.
I could have had new sales already too if I was just focused on my own territory, but...
I was trying to help everyone.
In some odd way though, it felt kind of good – when I was getting laughed at by headquarters, LA was running with the idea and converting business…this bothered me, but it was an exciting discovery.
So, sitting right next to this woman who I really like over dinner (and she was treating me like the guest of honor!) – she orders her wine and the waiter poured it into her glass. All of this sediment poured into her drink and fell to the bottom of her glass.
Everyone was in disgust and the waiter was a little embarrassed. I told the woman, “well, maybe even though it’s not so classy looking – you could take a straw and sip from it and those particles won’t come up because they’re heavy and they’d stay at the bottom and you wouldn't have to throw out your drink?”
She looked at me and said, “that’s why I’m interested in you - you come up with solutions!”
I felt like when I was getting laughed at by others,
Someone finally understood me.
Over the next few days everything was going better than expected in LA, but then something weird happened.
I’m sitting at a conference table in the morning while we’re all working on our laptops and all the sudden my manager looks up and asks me, “What’s wrong Jess, haven’t gotten any in a while?”
I just acted like my laptop became unplugged and ducked my head under the table, fumbled with the cords, buried my head down there, then resettled back up in my chair and didn’t say anything back to him.
Then he says louder…
“Did you hear me? Do you like guys my age? Is that your thing? I’ve got some buddies up in Portland I can hook you up with.”
I’m not sure where this was coming from – was he picking on me? Or maybe he sincerely thought that he wanted to set me up with someone? Or maybe he knew I was uncomfortable being there and was trying to start a conversation?
I have no freaking idea. It was just really, really odd and came out of left field.
None of my friends talk with me that way though…
One of the reps – the same rep who had stolen my idea – told him to knock it off.
She was also the same rep who would giggle with another 35-year-old female rep at the table when one of our female colleagues would get up to go to the bathroom and joke about her hair or her outfit, or some other stupid thing.
It was like I was in middle school all over again, but it was a lot more dangerous this time around - because these people literally have the power to either make or break you.
I had already seen it happen to others.
I just didn’t feel comfortable there - at all.
I didn’t think too much of it, but I was happy to be going home back to Woodstock, Georgia soon for Christmas break.
I went home and things felt so much better. I wasn’t getting laughed at, wasn’t getting questioned about my sex life, I could sit at a table and know what people were thinking about me, and my family and friends were having babies!
I was home.
I flew back to Portland after the short break and a few weeks later the guy that hired me, my mentor, Mark, called me into his office.
I was working at a desk at headquarters and writing up an entire outline of the Y deal, so I quickly popped into his office.
He asked about my Christmas break and how business was going.
I told him that I was a little homesick and that if something in another office opened closer to Atlanta, to please let me know.
He became a little concerned.
He knew me after all.
His wife was the one who found me on the tour and introduced me to him and that’s how I got into this place. I had also hung out one weekend watching a soccer game together with him and his wife, and they had even cooked me lunch at their house.
It was actually at that lunch when he told me he hangs out with some really good friends from work a lot – one in particular he plays music with on the weekends and she runs the XXXXXXXXX.com team uniform sales; this knowledge would become extremely important later on.
Anyways – he asked me what was up, and I just asked him to please keep his eyes and ears open for me for another position closer to Atlanta.
He asked why and I said I was homesick.
He asked why again and I said my friends were starting to have babies at home and I didn’t realize how much I had missed them.
He kept asking why and why and why - and then I finally said, “Well, I don’t feel like I really fit in and it’s just weird.”
“Well, when I was down in LA, my manager asked me when the last time I got any was and I didn’t really know how to answer that - it’s just a really weird vibe.”
Then without a minute’s hesitation Mark replies,
“That’s sexual harassment and I’m reporting that!”
“That’s sexual harassment and I’ve got to report that.”
I was still a rookie, but I knew this was really dumb. This was a terrible idea. I didn’t even know it was sexual harassment!
I also knew at XXXXXXXXX very quickly that your reputation is everything and I knew this would ruin me AND my life’s purpose.
“Mark, I don’t want you to say anything - I didn’t even know that was sexual harassment!”
“I have to – this is not right.”
“Mark, pleeeeeease don’t say anything!”
“I have to.”
“Mark, I’m begging you – don’t say anything!”
“This isn’t right. I’ll report it, but do it in a small way.”
“This will be a good thing. I’ll do it discreetly, so it won’t be a big deal.”
I called him that night and left a voicemail.
And again the next morning and left another voicemail - asking him NOT to say anything after only 3 hours of sleep.
But he did - and he wasn’t discreet AT ALL.
- - -
And my life became a living hell.