I was paralysed with fear and sat through the meeting with my lab manager, looking down at the floor, saying nothing, until there was a long silence and we left the room.
I wanted to talk to someone about the stress I was enduring but also was afraid they couldn’t keep it secret, sparking uncontrollable rumours in the office.
I ended up keeping everything to myself.
The manager suggested that I’d be better off having a mentor as my supervisor had notified him that I’d twice complained about the unfriendly behaviour of a crucial contractor during high-pressured periods.
Thoughts were spinning in my mind: ‘So the mentoring is not for technical but for inter-staff liaison skills! My gut feeling is he’s the preferred mentor for me. I’m scared to upset him but I don’t want to have a relationship with a manager! I don’t want rumours in the office!
Why did he mention that even our company executives needed mentors such as when they had problems with their spouses and it affected their work? If I had problems with my husband, I wouldn’t feel comfortable to discuss it with him!’
Afterwards, the manager didn’t look happy when he saw me. A few weeks later, he asked if I wanted to move to another lab. I agreed to move on and learn new skills, but found the work in the new lab was too much and I was often burnt out.
I contacted a retired colleague who once was my confidante. She advised me to consult my ex-manager on how to solve the problem.
After the coffee-meeting with the ex-manager, my mind was burning with disturbing thoughts: ‘Why he pointed at a furniture store’s bed and say it’d be comfortable to sleep in it? I didn’t want to hear about his wife! The conversation was steering towards an embarrassingly familiar path!’
I usually didn’t know what to do with sexual harassment at work but just avoided the harasser and then was haunted by them for a long time.
Married men often complained about their wives and took my friendly personality as a sexual come-on.
There was the arm draped on my shoulder, sexual jokes, a pleading for a kiss.
Once I was too distressed with a proposal for a sexual relationship but didn’t report it as he’d begged me not to.
Later when asked, the manager told me he meant nothing when he pointed at the bed, yet I found out he told another manager that I was seeing a psychiatrist!
That was a total lie!
Devastated at the made-up fiction, I realised that although vulnerable, I needed to rise to the challenge of asserting myself to look after my best interests in the presence of a person in a position of power, in particular a male who I looked up to, trusted to be the ideal keeper of the truth.
I became an advocate for the introduction of a mentoring guidelines at work. After two and a half years, the company published its first ever general mentoring protocol, even so it was not perfect or detailed.
Why had I been chosen?
Why had heartbreak fallen on me?
I could not let things be,
I went to make a plea for change.
P.S. The above poem was written in Vietnamese ‘luc bat’ poetry style. For more information about that poetry style read this article on Wikipedia.
by Valeria C★Preisler.