CULTURE

Networking Is Courageous For All, But Especially Survivors Of Sexual Assault

Everyone is pressured to network, and no one is pressured to behave appropriately

GREY Journal

Networking is the only effective method of acquiring a job. Employers are far more likely to hire someone who is connected to an employee in the office or whom they are familiar with. The more connections one acquires, the better one’s chance of landing a job opportunity. But to some people in the workforce, networking is used to prey on young professionals trying to enter the field.

A report from The Worker’s Institute shows that 10.9 percent of New York residents—12.2 percent of women and 9.5 percent of men—report having experienced quid pro quo workplace sexual harassment at some point in their careers, which translates to more than 1.7 million people across the state who have a history of sexual assault or harassment. This impacts today’s workforce in a new way because survivors of sexual assault have a different experience of networking.

Technology is not a Screening Process

Man touching his female colleague's hand
Man touching his female colleague’s hand

Graduates are advised to introduce themselves to as many professionals as possible, because you never know when someone is aware of an organization you’ve never considered, or a job that needs to be filled. When I began my job search, I received targeted advertisements for a professional networking app called Shapr. Users build their professional profile, add their work experience, career interests, and what they hope to gain from joining the app. I immediately downloaded it and even matched with the director of an organization I had just applied for and received a rejection letter from; she asked to interview me for the same position I was rejected from by applying the old-fashion way.

Days later, I was excited to match with the Senior Vice President of a notable consulting firm in NYC; I immediately messaged him, asking about his areas of public policy. He asked to meet me the following day.

We met at a coffee shop. I shared my experiences and interests, and that I was looking for mentorship. He shared that someone in his office is leaving, and I would be perfect for the position; he would recommend me to the CEO. When our conversation started to die down, I asked if he would pass on my resume or connect me with an opportunity. He said, “Of course, I would do anything for you. Although I don’t want you to only like me because I got you a job.” I responded, “You’re really cool, we can be friends.” He looked at me. “But I can’t touch you at work,” he said, “and I don’t know if I could work with someone I’m attracted to.” I was startled.

I already secured a job with him, but my instinct was to run away. He followed me as I turned to find asylum in the crowded women’s restroom, and suddenly grabbed me in the doorway and tried to kiss me. He kissed me, and I knew I would never view networking the same again.

Networking from the Context of Trauma

Discouraged businesswoman online networking through trauma
Discouraged businesswoman networking online

In response to inappropriate behavior, survivors of sexual assault are often asked why “you didn’t just tell him” you were uncomfortable. In my experience, proclaiming “you’re making me uncomfortable” has not been an effective tactic in the past. And it can be dangerous to express discomfort in an unpredictable situation. Survivors know that anything they do to protect themselves in the moment can be used against them after the fact. It is a network we’re talking about, and he is connected to other professionals I will likely be sending my resume to.

Networking is emotionally difficult for survivors of sexual assault because professionals learn to seek out helpful connections, not a meaningful exchange. What professionals don’t realize is that the listener perceives this as a more accurate reflection of them than themselves – unless you have a history of being weakened and poached. The veil of openness and genuine curiosity about what our fellow humans are doing is lifted when that same eerie friendliness once indicated you should run.

I’m writing in solidarity with individuals who are trying to climb the career ladder while being weighed down by the fears associated with networking. Courage is facing the same, perceived obstacle again and again in order to better oneself. It’s important to be aware of other’s perceptions, especially in the context of one’s livelihood. Our interactions with others should be intentional, which is forgotten when we meet and spend time with so many people.

Safe Horizon NYC
Safe Horizon NYC

SafeHorizon is a rape and sexual assault organization located in New York City. Their hotline is available 24-Hours a Day, Seven Days a Week at 212-227-3000. Survivors outside of NYC can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

What advice do you have for victims of sexual assault in the workplace? Let our readers know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.

Bernadette DeVito
Bernadette is a writer and MPA student; she has a unique background in public policy and managed care.

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