I recently found this old blog entry from seven years ago, when I was a newly-single mother, new home owner, and working a temp-to-hire admin position at a “beltway bandit” government contractor. That office was an awfully oppressive environment, in which the boss would spend hours berating his staff, and public shaming was one of his key operating procedures. Thankfully, I found a better position in less than six months, because this episode illustrates that, had I been there longer, things might have gone very badly.
Yesterday’s HR lunch seminar was about personal safety and home security, hosted by a guy who wanted to scare the employees into buying his pepper spray and other “safety” products. Early in the session the presenter asked questions about particular behaviors and told us why they were unsafe. One of the questions was, “Does anyone here take the stairs when coming to work in the morning?” I was the only person who raised a hand.
“Stairwells are dangerous!,” the presenter admonished. “Doors that are built to stop fire will also stop your screams if you are attacked,” he warned. “You need some of my pepper spray!” My response did not please him.
“I understand that pepper spray can be taken away and used against the victim,” I replied. Clearly annoyed by my response, the salesman tried to intimidate me with his next question, which came across almost as accusatory.
“Do you have a plan for what you would do in case you are attacked in the stairwell?” My instant reply rang with confidence.
“Yes!,” I answered, “I’ll kick his ASS!”
The room erupted into laughter, the speaker said, “THAT’S the attitude!” and held up his hand for a high-five. He continued to address me during the talk, often asking questions like, “What is your most immediate protective equipment?” and I answered nearly all with ease, so much so that he ended up telling me to refrain from answering later in the session, and began calling me “Toughie.”
Back in the admin area after lunch, the boss had assembled some of his staff in chairs in a semi-circle in front of my desk. Seated before me were two of the three engineers, the other administrative assistant, a guy from the lab, and a guy from IT. Our boss proceeded to explain that I had said the word “ass” in the corporate board room, and it was A Very Bad Thing. In front of everyone, our boss made a veiled threat when he implied that, because of this behavior, my direct hire papers may not go through. When he went on to harangue the lab guy about the lab’s invoice system, he brought up my behavior again, asking, “what happens when they don’t pay their invoice? Do you send Shay after them?” This was my first sample of the boss’ attempt to humiliate me into compliance. But he doesn’t know that “ugly don’t scare me.”
When talking about it later with one of the engineers–who had been there 13 years–the engineer said that “It won’t go away, and I don’t think it’s such an awful thing to be branded as ‘Kick Ass Woman.'” I suppose I can live with it.
PS- The next day, one of the engineers gave me a certificate he had made up, using “Batman Forever” font and purple and black letters. “Shay Seaborne, Kick Ass Woman” it stated in large type, and in tiny letters beneath, “I’ll kick his ass!” To date, is my most valuable certificate of achievement.