Sexual Harassment and Emerging Professionals

Lupita Nyong'o

Lupita Nyong’o speaks out about Weinstein

Sexual harassment in the workplace is real and emerging professionals and new graduates are sometimes the target.  Workplace predators are counting on the naive responses, fearful attempts to push back and lack of knowledge about sexual harassment policies. Often, these emerging professionals, who are new to the workplace, don’t even fully know what is acceptable behavior or expected of them and of co-workers just yet.

When you read the op-ed by Lupita Nyong’o in the New York Times, about her encounters with Harvey Weinstein, you really get some insight into her thinking about how to interpret the actions that she sees coming from him.  Keep in mind that she is an emerging talent who wants to succeed as an actor.  She recounts Weinstein rattling off the names of other actors who had “dated” him and the success he was able to bestow on them as a result.  That can be a very seductive proposition for someone who is trying to break into a career.  Fortunately, Nyong’o appears to have kept her wits about her and left that “relationship” with her values intact.

As Nyong’o describes her own responses, she is giving insight into some of the actions that new professionals could take if they face similar sexual harassment situations.  Make no mistake about it, Weinstein’s behavior is not just limited to the entertainment industry.  The well-publicized cases of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly at Fox News or Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein stories, might lead some people to think this only happens in the world of entertainment or media.  That is not the case.

Some advice and tips for emerging professionals to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace:

  • Listen to your gut and pay attention to your instincts. You are probably right about what you think is happening. 
  • Inform the harasser that the his or her behavior is unwelcome and must stop.
  • Tell someone outside of work. A mentor, a mature friend, a parent are all good options.
  • Keep notes and document activity and dates especially if you find yourself being left out of things or included in things when others are not.
  • Try to avoid being alone with a person if you feel uncomfortable.
  • Plan an exit strategy if you find yourself alone with a person. I remember having to lie about being somewhere else in order to get out of an uncomfortable situation several years ago.
  • Report the uncomfortable behavior to human resources. This one is tricky because you might not be guaranteed anonymity if this is something that needs to be dealt with.  If it ever becomes a legal issue, you will need to have evidence of reporting the matter within the company.
  • Watch for and document retaliatory behavior if you do decide to speak up. Retaliation is equally bad.
  • Read the company’s sexual harassment policy. Follow the policy on reporting.
  • Look for somewhere else to work.

Learn more about sexual harassment:

In a 2015 survey by Cosmopolitan Magazine, a third of the women responding said they had been sexually harassed in the workplace. Thirty-eight percent said the harassment came from a male boss and 70% of them said they had not reported the activity.


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