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E7: 5 Ways Documenting Harassment is Life Changing! – Resilient in STEM
I didn’t realize what I was missing out on for all those years I didn’t document harassment.
I’m not sure why I didn’t write down each instance. Perhaps it was because I was socialized to take punches while playing nice, or because I thought writing it down would make me feel even more ashamed that I was a target.
Either way, I conquered my social upbringing as well as my fears and started writing down every instance when I was in graduate school. By that time I was knee deep in trying to figure out whether the harassment was substantial enough to pursue legal action or just argue my case for why I should be permitted to stay and complete my PhD against my advisors’ wishes.
I started documenting harassment out of necessity after some quick google searches revealed that I should have been documenting harassment if I had any hope of justice. I’m not proud of this, but I suppose we all start documenting it for some reason or another.
Ever since that rude awakening back in 2016, I have kept up the habit of documenting every instance of harassment, and even taking the time to recall previous instances that date back to when I was an undergraduate physics student.
Documenting every instance did much more than just inspire me to found The STEM Thrive Guides, where I teach others how to navigate harassment at work and school. It transformed the way I approach life and my career in ways that completely surprised me. The advice I tend to give those who ask me for help with navigating harassment begins with “document harassment”, and this is why.
- Documenting harassment helped me grow awareness of how often I was harassed.
Documenting each and every instance when someone made feel uncomfortable or unsafe in my work or school environment resulted a long list of incidents with detailed descriptions of things including how it affected my work and how I resolved the issue.
Before I had this record, I felt like my strong feelings of self-doubt and imposters syndrome were mostly my own fault, and I was hard on myself for not feeling more confident in my technical skills. However, once I had a visible, tangible record of everything I had a HUGE “Aha!” moment where I realized that the root of my self-doubt was likely more due to the repeat instances where others disrespected me.
I, then, expanded my documentation to instances that happened outside of my workplace or university, and that further underscored that the harassment I faced in my life, from everywhere, added up to mental and physical health issues.
2. Documenting harassment inspires how I self-care.
After I started documenting harassment and growing awareness about how often I was harassed, naturally it helped me realize why I suffered certain mental and physical health symptoms. In 2015, it helped me realize that my advisor triggered me to the point where I’d experience strong stomach pains after every meeting with him. In subsequent years, I was able to identify the connection between harassment and panic attacks, anxiety, and self doubt.
While documenting harassment did not necessarily help relieve my health issues, it gave me confidence that it was indeed the harassment that was causing my symptoms. I, then, could make better decisions for my self care. Depending on the situation, I can then remove myself from the harasser by leaving the workplace or setting stricter boundaries, and/or ramp up my mindfulness and meditation practice, for example.
In fact, I’m an engineer, so I developed my own process I call the “Resilience Mindset” and “Reporting Framework” that I use to self-care and, then, work to resolve the issue while minimizing the overwhelming emotions I feel when I am harassed. This is what I teach in The STEM Thrive Guides courses.
Documenting harassment helped me develop tools that I use to self-care.
3. Documenting harassment validates my experiences and empowers me to continually advocate for myself.
When I documented each incident and every detail, saw the long list, breathed a sigh of relief that my feelings of self doubt were not my fault, and then started sharing my experiences with trusted friends and colleagues, something beautiful happened. I validated my experiences.
Many of my own experiences with harassment and bias have included gaslighting, where someone would invalidate my perspective or experience by telling me that how I perceived an experience was wrong or not that big of a deal. Seeing the long list of incidents, sharing my story with others, and hearing that I was not alone counteracted the effects of gaslighting.
I grew confidence that my perspective of my own experiences is valid, and that it is important and necessary for me to continually advocate for myself. I deserve to and have a right to feel safe and comfortable in my workplace or university, and reporting instances of harassment is my legal right.
Every time I took action to resolve an incident when I was harassed since documenting harassment, I have successfully resolved the issue, which only continually adds to my own confidence and empowerment.
4. Documenting harassment has given me a record of my growth and progress.
As I write down and review each instance of harassment I experience, I see this story of resilience and strength. For countless instances of harassment early in my education, my record reflects that I “did nothing” and tried to brush it off; however, nowadays, my record reflects different actions in the face of similar instances of harassment.
These different actions to resolve issues reflect my own personal and professional growth. While I could have taken better actions in my past to resolve harassment and self-care, I was doing the best I could. I had no resources like The STEM Thrive Guides. I was on my own. When I look back on how I used to navigate harassment, I practice compassion for my younger self. I see how hard she was trying and I’m proud of her for her growth and who she grew into. I’m proud of myself for how I am able to navigate inappropriate and difficult situations today.
5. Documenting harassment has grown my emotional intelligence and empathy, making me a better scientist, businessperson, leader, friend, and person.
Documenting harassment, validating my experience, tracking my growth, all came together in a surprising and beautiful way to me.
I wasn’t expecting documenting harassment to erase the shame and replace it with empowerment and confidence.
I wasn’t expecting sharing my story to grow and strengthen my relationships with colleagues, friends, and family.
I wasn’t expecting these relationships to inspire me to start The STEM Thrive Guides, starting a ripple effect of helping others learn to navigate harassment with ease and a lot less suffering than the “traditional way”.
I know as I move forward in my career and life, I will continue speaking my truth with confidence so that I can repel those opportunities and relationships not meant for me, and attract those that are.
Documenting harassment was the first step toward a very bright present for me. My life isn’t perfect, but my relationships are loving, and I have a healthy amount of confidence in my ability to overcome obstacles, whether they are from harassment or otherwise.
If you’d like to learn more about how to document harassment, I’ve made it easy for you! Check out The STEM Thrive Guides mini-course How to Document Harassment. This includes a special checklist designed so that even when you face overwhelming emotions you can easily document an incident of harassment including all the details necessary in case you wish to pursue legal action.
Best wishes on your journey! Remember, The STEM Thrive Guides is here for any support you need as you navigate difficult situations and inappropriate behavior at work or school. For more information about The STEM Thrive Guides, you can visit www.stemthriveguides.com.
If you want to continue this discussion, join the Resilient in STEM Facebook community, which is a private community there to support you on your career journey! Everyone is welcome!
Remember, you deserve to and have the right to feel safe and comfortable at work and school, and don’t forget to document EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE OF HARASSMENT! 🙂