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You’ll Hear Our Voices Now

As a woman of color in tech sales, I have countless stories of harassment, both from co-workers and prospects alike. But I’ve never risen to a high enough position where I felt empowered to speak up.

Which is why when former coworkers asked me things like…

“Do you think your boobs are big? Do you like them?”
“Do you listen to music while you have sex? What type of music do you think is best?”
“Would you swipe right on me? Can you help me with my Tinder profile? Just pick what you’d like!”
“You’d be such a cheap date. Where were you when I was dating?”
“I just thought you were another hot Asian girl.”
“Filipinas are so crazy, right?”
“So do you like girls now because you had a bad experience with a boy? When did that happen? Would you ever date a guy again? When did you first date a girl? What is it like to kiss a girl?”

…I said just enough to play along. To get the attention off of me and to get them to stop talking.

I didn’t feel important enough to get a microphone, and if I told someone about this, my words wouldn’t even reach their ears. I wasn’t an engineer who could make or break a product. I wasn’t a CEO. I wasn’t a senior-level-anything. I was an SDR. Who was going to care what I had to say? Who would believe me over someone who had seniority? Who was funny, older, and well-liked?

In fact, the one time I tried (read: was told) to do something about it only made everything worse. A coworker, who had hit on my girlfriend after hitting on me for an uncomfortably long time at our holiday party, was making jokes in front of our team about this incident. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and after what felt like hours of squirming in my seat, I asked to speak with him privately, hoping things could be squared away.

But when I told him how it made us feel, how some of his comments were not only inappropriate and creepy but also racist—he got defensive. After hours of back and forth, I knew he didn’t, and wouldn’t, get it.

Everything eventually ended with a report to my manager, who then told me to report this person to HR. I don’t know what happened after I talked to HR, but I did decide to tell my manager that I didn’t feel comfortable being around this coworker moving forward. I didn’t want to work with him, attend any happy hours, or even hang out with the team after work.

The unexpected problem, however, was that when you isolate yourself from a group, you seem like the odd one out. My desperation to be included, to be considered a friend, a cool girl—increased tenfold. I didn’t want to be in self-imposed exile, I didn’t want any of this. Now I was the outcast who wished I could take it all back. 

So what do you do if you find yourself in a similar position?

I don’t know, but I’ve dug around the interwebs to see if anyone has an answer to this question.

The Muse recently detailed a few steps you can take when dealing with harassment from a client. Keeping records of emails, chat histories, etc., stuck out most to me because it’s something I wish I did.

This raises the question of how to keep records when the harassment is verbal. You can’t walk around recording everything all the time, can you?

Not entirely, but a tip taken from the FBI serves as a solution I wish I had known about sooner: write down everything. Just like a lawyer, the more diligent and careful you are in writing down everything that’s said, the more proof you will have. It’s an easy fix that might feel tedious, but will ultimately help your case if you are faced with a scenario where you need some sort of documentation to support your claims.

@adamgoldmanNYT's tweet points out this tip that can prove helpful to us women of color in tech who need proof to back up the words that people often don't want to hear.

All in all, the steps The Muse mentions are actionable and help prepare you for what hopefully won’t come.

What does this all mean for me? For us?

Being a woman of color in tech sales is challenging both mentally and physically. There were too many mornings where I struggled to fight off depression, and too many nights where anxiety kept my eyelids glued open. The emotions were enough to convince me I couldn’t do this and push me off of the sales track for almost a year.

But now that I’m back, I’m not willing to sit here and take their punches anymore.

There are too many people like me who need the bro culture to change, who need to dismantle the boys’ club so as to make room for everyone.

Who need to know what to do when they find themselves in similar or worse situations.

Who need to know they’re not alone in this, that their voices will be heard.

Who need to know that there are men out there fighting for us and alongside us.

Who need to know that they don’t have to give up on their dream or their career because of this.

And that’s exactly what I plan on doing here.

Disclaimers

Disclaimer 1: I realize that I have an immense amount of privilege working in tech in the first place, and that there are many, many people in positions much worse than I. But whenever I’ve gone through something like this, I’ve always wanted to feel less alone, to feel like there are steps I can take to make my situation better since no one was going to do that for me. So I hope that this, and the ensuing articles, are able to do that for someone else out there in a similar position.

Disclaimer 2: This piece is unrelated to my time at Crunchbase. These are scenarios and situations I’ve encountered at other places I’ve worked. And going along that point, this isn’t about the companies themselves. A company can come from the best place, do everything right, and still have stuff like this happen because we are dealing with a systemic cultural problem that pervades teams across almost all industries.