Gender inequality remains baked into the American ways of work and life. As of this year, an all-time high of 41 Fortune 500 CEOs were women—8.1 percent. You’ll find similarly abysmal men-to-women ratios among senior managers in lucrative sectors such as private equity, hedge funds, venture capital, and cryptocurrencies. Silicon Valley fares a bit better, with 14 percent to 20 percent women executives nowadays—but still. Such lopsided ratios result in gender cluelessness at best, and at worst, a toxic or predatory workplace. The following tale comes from a woman working in Silicon Valley circa the mid-1990s, when women were ruthlessly outnumbered and #MeToo had yet to come into being.
We were on a conference off-site, a bunch of us, and it was after the big dinner, and we were all in the bar playing pool. My boss came up behind me and stuck his hand down the back of my pants. Just out of the blue! I was just sitting on a chair and suddenly, here he is behind me and he just stuck his hand down the back of my pants.
I immediately jumped up and said, “What are you doing?” And he was drunk, but to cut to the chase, he eventually sort of backed away, and I was able to get out of there. When I got back to the office on Monday, I mentioned this to my officemate, a woman, and said this is just bizarre that this had happened. She said, “Oh, well, he’s been harassing half the women in the department. It’s been going on for a long time.”
I said, “Well, we’ve got to stop this. This is bad, and this is bad for him, too, because he’s got a wife and a baby. When he gets drunk, apparently he gets out of control—and maybe not even when he’s drunk.” So I convinced her and several other people to go to HR. We didn’t want to get him fired, but we wanted him to get help.
We also didn’t want to get exposed as the whistleblowers. Well, they promised not to expose us but they did immediately, and very quickly my boss realized I was the one who blew the whistle. He got a talking to of some kind by HR, but he wasn’t fired. Suddenly I was on a blacklist. He would not look at me. I was persona non grata. I clearly did not have a future in that group anymore. And so I had to leave immediately. I had to go find another job.
Now, these days, these kinds of stories—we’ve heard a lot more about them. But at the time I felt powerless. There was nothing I could do. The company wasn’t going to protect me or my job.
This story is part of our Bad Bosses project, a reported collection of accounts from workers about their terrible bosses and the system that creates them. You can read more about the entire project and find every story here. Annotations—highlighted throughout—can be clicked for further context and comment from other parties. Got your own bad boss story? Send us an email.