This is not my usual post.
It isn’t so much about fundraising as about my experience while a fundraiser and what has surfaced with the #YesAllWomen campaign that became viral after the recent murder spree in Isla Vista, California.
When I read the tweets and the experiences that were familiar and not unusual, I was moved to share.
I shared my age because sexism is an issue for young and old. I thought by the time I was a 33-year-old professional woman who wouldn’t have to still encounter this type of violence.
I shared where it happened – in my office because it wasn’t the bar/ park/ college dorm/ crowded subway/ party/ concert/ beach /on a date … any place where it might or could be excused. By the way, there IS no place where forcing yourself on a woman is allowed, even the marital bedroom.
I shared this experience because I thought it might surprise many women and men. I’m pretty ordinary. I try to be very professional (some might call me old-fashioned). In fact, writing this in my blog seems a bit of a betrayal – too personal and way outside my professional persona. But these are real things that happen to ordinary people and they are, sadly, un-remarkable.
When I released my tweet, John immediately responded “Whoa…”
Sheena replied, “WTF?” and we had a longer exchange.
Ephraim tweeted, “Please tell me you got his ass fired…” We took our discussion over to direct message on twitter, where we talked more and he shared his own fears for his daughter, who is 14.
Rory said, “It is so brave for you to share that Beth.” I guess it is brave. Because now it is out there as a “thing about Beth” that people can know (in reality, it has been a thing about Beth that a very few people know, and something I can never un-know about myself).
I’m sharing this because it is also part of the story of having several short-tenured jobs. This causes hand-wringing in our profession, by experts such as Penelope Burk or documented as negative in the report Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising. And of course these reasons were not something I would want to share in any part of the job interview process no matter how the issue was cloaked. Although I guess I’m mentioning it now.
I was a single parent at the time and I really couldn’t afford to not be working – even for the luxury of not wanting to work with him.
This is someone I had reported to. In fact I changed reporting between two men (the President and this Vice President) 8 times in two years. The constant change left me feeling unsettled, betrayed and objectified – like a possession to be tussled over. My time there became deeply unhappy, even before the incident.
The “telling” – which was so difficult my whole body and limbs were fitfully shaking, not like sobs but also like nothing I have felt since and I could barely form the words – ended up being not a relief but a new wave of shocks.
The Human Resources department (or at least the woman who handled it) sought to protect the hospital. She arranged a 7 am meeting for all three of us with a lecture about appropriate workplace behavior. She instructed the VP to take three days off without pay. His abrupt and unexpected “vacation” simply raised lots of questions in the office.
And he came back, of course, and I had to work with him (though I now only reported to the President). It was a very rocky patch while I hunted up and down the Atlantic seaboard for a new job. The VP was eventually terminated months later – not for what he did to me, but because he contacted board members privately to complain about the President. He was escorted out late one Friday. I eventually found another job in another state and moved to a new community with my young daughter.
Some of you are reading this experiencing shock; you’ve never heard of such a thing happening.
Some of you are reading this recalling your own stories of betrayal, fear, molestation, unwanted attention, malicious comments or even unwanted sex.
Some of you are reading this thinking, “She obviously made some seriously wrong choices, led him on or was too friendly.” (I’m often accused of being “too friendly”). (Gosh! I described that as an accusation! That takes some more introspection…)
Whether this experience resonates with you or not, here are my take-aways:
- If the fit isn’t right, even if you are already into the job, GO. Now in my career, I look at the skill fit, but dive into the personality fit. Until you’ve hated every day you turn up at work, you won’t understand the value of a “good workplace.” I acknowledge that is harder when you just starting out or are switching careers. And since that experience, I have been more bold in how I handle “bad fits.” I left a job after 3 months once there was no fit. At another, I sat down with the President for a difficult conversation, “I cannot work in a nonprofit where I’m not valued. You hired me with full confidence to do the job, but your actions, your temper and your erratic behavior toward the rest of the staff is not something I can work with.” It was scary, but she was shocked and it launched a new phase of our working relationship. This is something you can do too, to take control of your career (and your sanity).
- Ask trusted friends and colleagues about open positions and listen carefully. Have they worked there or know anyone who has? At the time I didn’t have a big network, being recently transplanted from Seattle, but did sound out one trusted colleague. He said of that team, “They’re pretty young.” I heard “young” and equated energy and boldness (I was all about being bold in my fundraising). What he may have been trying to tell me is: they have not been a team long, they have not managed other people before, be careful.
- Be precise in your negotiation and get everything in writing before the final commitment. I’m OK at negotiating for myself, but in this case of the new out-of-state job the final negotiation was by phone. But I hadn’t gotten everything we talked about in writing. The salary and job title were correct, but other crucial points I negotiated didn’t happen. (Mika Brzezinski wrote a great book called Knowing Your Value which every woman should read but here is a summary.)
- You are a valuable person. Always. I don’t care who is reading this, you are. You deserve respect. Male or female or if you don’t identify with either gender or identify with both.
- I am very happy in my current position where I am respected, valued and treated as an equal by my teammates and boss. That is what we all deserve.
This post started out about with #YesAllWomen because I want you to know that even an “office” may not feel like a safe place for some.
And yes, I’ve worked with wonderful men, I’ve become friends with wonderful men and I’ve married wonderful men.
But as fundraisers we must continue to strive not only to not harm or act disrespectfully toward men or women but to actively speak up against anything we see, everything we hear. Sitting silent is complicity.
I have enough on my plate fighting for the elimination of poverty and malnutrition, raising money for better education and to empower women and promoting pluralism.
I shouldn’t have to fight for my dignity and safety as well.
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