How Can We Shift the Workplace for Women?

This is the second installment of a series on employee PTSD and how it impacts your recruiting efforts.

The first step is admitting you have a problem.

Hi, my name is Leah, and I have Employee PTSD.

I got my first job when I was 11. I was a ‘volunteer’ at a horse farm. By 12, I could carry two 50lb bales of hay, one in each hand. I mucked stalls and pushed heavy wheelbarrows up a ramp into a truck to be hauled away. I was strong, I knew how to work hard and I kept working at a horse farm until I went away to college.

But when I was 16, I also got a ‘real’ job at the local grocery store. I was a bagger.

I like to think I was excellent at it. Three whole weeks into my tenure the assistant manager of the produce department asked if I would switch to produce and I enthusiastically agreed (promotion!).

Bright-eyed, I arrived at 5am on Saturday for my first shift and met the big manager of the produce department whose first words to me were, “You’re a girl, girls don’t make it in produce.”

He wasn’t being cute. He wasn’t being funny. He was seriously telling me I didn’t belong.

Somewhat taken aback I said something like, “I think I’ll be okay.” His response was, “If you want to work in this department you need to put away the entire delivery into the fridge, including rotating stock, and do it within the next two hours. If you can’t do that you’ll transfer back.”

First, nothing in produce is more work than unloading and stacking 2,000 bails of hay from a delivery, something I had been doing for years. Second, I finished in 90 minutes.

F that guy.

I didn’t say a word about this to anyone. But someone did because three weeks later we had a new manager. Someone heard that exchange and said something. And a woman (gasp, a girl) was now in charge of produce.

Someone said something.

In my professional career, I have been the only woman on the leadership team. I’ve been the only woman in the department and I’ve been the only woman in the whole company. In the last 20+ plus years I have never been downline to a female leader. But, I have been downline to and colleagues with and professional associates to ‘that guy’. He’s taken different names and had different jobs, but that guy has been a consistent companion. And he’s had some friends (similar thinkers) and some of them have come in the form of other women – competing for that one spot on the executive team, team lead or whatever it may be.

In my professional career and in a professional setting I have been sexually harassed, physically assaulted, demeaned, and been the victim of so many microaggressions I never bothered to start counting.

I have worked with some of the most wonderful people (as co-workers and as humans) and I have worked with some of the most awful (I’m looking at you, person who on my 3rd day at my new company came in and threatened me because you were worried about how my experience overlapped in your area).

I have been fortunate enough to work for some of the best men out there. Men who invested in me and taught me about how to lead. Men who were respectful and built me up; who gave me words to live and lead by, words that I use daily.

I have also worked for men who have asked me to cook for them, book their travel (I’ve never held an admin role), be the note taker in the meeting, and set them up with my friends for a date.

The list goes on.

I’ve been told that I can’t have the extension cord that allowed me to pump after I came back from maternity leave because, “There is a meeting that needs it.” I have been introduced by colleagues who despite knowing my title, refused to use it and minimized my role at the company. I’ve been told that the behaviors of colleagues and clients need to be viewed not through their actions, but by guessing what their intentions might have been. Not once, but repeatedly.

I have been screamed at in a company meeting for asking which project I could postpone or transfer when more projects were added to my list with no additional resources to support that additional large-scale project. That same day, I watched “the screamer” apologize to the leader of that meeting (a man) for his inappropriate behavior and yet neglect to apologize to me, the person he screamed at.

I had a potential partner aggressively pin me against a wall at a conference and demand that I change the rules on how we accepted people into the partner program.

I have been apologized to innumerable times by being told, “I am sorry you feel that way.”


I have been interrupted, talked over, ignored, dismissed, told to smile more, be nicer, had my ideas repackaged as their ideas, and asked how the company is doing on diversity initiatives while sitting at a table with all white, male colleagues.

I have been reminded countless times that having daughters is equivalent to understanding the experience of female employees.

I have had female employees come to me after they have been sexually harassed and watched an all-male team decide that it wasn’t sexual harassment.

I have had to report physical and sexual assault to my leaders to have those concerns brushed aside (it was the CEO of a big prospect after all).

I have tried all the ways to manage this over the last twenty years. I’ve tried being “one of the guys”. I’ve been helpful and nice. I’ve accepted the leadership’s view on the situation. I’ve trusted HR.

And now I am saying something.

“How are we doing with diversity?”

“Well, leader, I don’t know – I’m the only woman sitting at a table of all white men. How do you think we are doing?”

I’m done with having to have “experience” when the person across from me is rewarded for their “potential”. I’m done with the unwritten rules for women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community.

I stopped choosing leaders who want to keep things as they are – the leaders who want female employees and leaders, but only a few. I started choosing companies that already have female leaders, preferably at least two. I don’t believe any woman alone can change the beliefs and dynamics of an all-male executive team. In fact, I don’t just not believe it, I’ve lived it. Years aren’t enough time to change this dynamic.

I want companies that want change. More than that, I want companies that have already embraced change. I want companies that want to hear when what they are doing isn’t good enough – companies that will put the work in that is necessary to keep changing. I won’t stay where the walk doesn’t match the talk. I won’t stay where “good enough” is good enough.

I’m not an angry person but this makes me angry. Those guys with daughters who they want the world to treat better than women of my generation have been treated, they are a big part of the problem.

I recognize my privilege. I’m a white woman and I am well educated. I found my voice and I’m not afraid of being fired.

I am privileged enough to say something.

It’s Time to Speak Up in the Workplace

I speak up because there are people who are not privileged and who can’t afford to have a voice. People who smile through harassment and unfair expectations. I speak up for those who have to prove that the harassment occurred (notwithstanding the fact that this is the 12th complaint about the same harasser). I speak up for the employees who will quietly move on because they have no other choice.

Your employees are leaving in droves. Your female employees are leaving even faster. According to McKinsey & Company, “In the past year, one in three women has considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their career.” In August 2021, per CNBC, 5.5% of women left their positions, compared to 4.4% of men.

Women are underpaid for their work, harassed, demeaned, and are held to a different set of standards. Women don’t deserve this. Our daughters don’t deserve this. Your daughters don’t deserve to inherit this mess. Girls deserve to make it in technology, in leadership, and even in the produce department.

How Can We Shift the Workplace for Women?

Transparency. Stop hiding the data.

Publish this on your website:

  • Percent of women in your workforce

  • Percent of women leaders in your workforce

  • Difference between your male and female average salary

Now do all of that for BIPOC and your LGBTQ+ employees.

If you want to increase acceptance and belonging, increase transparency and then share how you handle situations where there is harassment or unfair practices. Follow through. The mentality of “innocent until proven guilty” ensures that problematic employees stay put, and great employees leave.

With transparency, an interesting thing will happen – you will fix the problems. And then you will retain more of your employees. That will put less pressure on your recruiters, which will improve your candidate experience. It’s all connected.

A great employee experience leads to a great recruiter experience which delivers a great candidate experience. And it all starts with a great human experience.

Your employees have PTSD. Fix the way your people treat your other people. Fix the way you treat your people. Lead.