I’m on day 29 now. Yesterday my body felt like the weather. Warm. Swelling. Waiting for the big release everyone was talking about. Hurricane Ophelia had her grip on us. All day I was aware of her back home in Ireland. I was aware of autumn – outside and in my body.
I thought my period would come this morning. It didn’t. Instead, an article has been floating around above me asking to be written. Maybe I’ll get my period later so for now I’ll write.
I was reluctant to type “me too” into my Facebook page yesterday when I saw so many women I know all around the world share that they had in some way been victim of sexual abuse or harassment. Why would I write that about such a serious topic only to be lost into the ether of social media? Why should I be the one to put up my hand when I did nothing wrong? I’m not a fan of following social media campaigns and, more importantly, I couldn’t find the place of connect. That place of connect – the space where I find meaning is important to me.
I was a fresh business graduate at the young age of 21. It was still the height of the financial crisis around the world but I was lucky to have a secure job working for a consulting firm from Newry in Northern Ireland that specialised in IT and finance. I trained in Newry for a couple of weeks before being placed in a team in a bank in London where I worked in IT supporting front office and middle office traders. I worked long hours and to be honest, didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I knew how to talk the talk and fit in but eventually, six months in, I realised the job wasn’t for me. I wasn’t happy.
In addition to our daily work, our company back in Ireland expected us to take a host of in-house financial exams in the evenings and on weekends but I rebelled and didn’t do them. Not one. At that point, I knew I had to leave. This wasn’t a good relationship – neither for me, nor the company. But, I was afraid as I’d heard rumours of the company making it difficult for employees on the graduate programme to leave – I thought this was nonsense.
After a few secret phone interviews in my apartment while “the internet was getting serviced,” I received an offer for a job back home in Dublin in a company and position that was a lot more me. Still in IT but that involved languages, which is what I studied at university. The start date was towards the end of January so in mid December I handed in my notice to my current HR team.
They didn’t let me go that easily unfortunately. Naively, I had signed a contract (for a graduate programme) where the notice period was six months’ long. I guess I signed it because I thought that clause was so ridiculous thinking they’d never actually follow up on it. I was wrong.
During the process of me leaving my job, the HR team called me in work and threatened me with legal action. They said I was “lucky to have a job considering the state of the crisis.” My argument was that I was in a role that didn’t reflect the job description in the contract.
It wasn’t just the job I wasn’t happy with. It was the company. They operated from a fear-based system instilled from the top down. There was age discrimination, racism, sexism and intimidation all over the place. The CEO was known to come over to London for business trips and take the young male graduates out to strip clubs, and HR were rumoured to jeopardise new job opportunities for graduates brave enough to leave. I didn’t tell them the name of the company I was going to. I told no one. I just wanted to get out of there, safely, without a trace.
I’m sitting at my new desk in my sunny new office with my friendly team in Dublin without much work to do yet and an email comes through from my friend, Craig who is still in London and working on his great escape.
“Rumour mill has it you’re being sued,” it reads.
I roll my eyes and email him back saying that’s ridiculous and tell him that it’s all part of their fear-mongering to stop other graduates from our intake leaving. I’m enraged by them, again.
I go home to my family that weekend in County Wicklow to greet my parents at the door with worried looks on their faces. My father hands me a letter. I open it to see that Craig was right. I received a summons and was being sued £173,000.
Let me just repeat that:
I was being sued £173,000 at the age of 22 for leaving my graduate programme job for not giving six months’ notice.
My salary there had been £19,000 a year plus some expenses.
(And yes, I found out later their solicitor who issued the summons was a family member of the CEO.)
I’d given them one month's notice and had even offered that month’s salary back to them as a gesture and to get them off my back. They took my month’s wages back and said nothing.
I laughed as I read the letter but it was serious. Very serious.
We found a solicitor, only my parents could afford (gratitude to them!) in Belfast. I had to take days off work to travel up and down on the train and was told not to tell anyone for risk of being sued again for slander.
I felt utterly powerless and voiceless and fell into a pit of anxiety that affected me for years after.
On the sly though, I shared the story with Craig back in London. He nearly fell over with shock. But thankfully, he gifted me with something incredible that saved me but, that something had a dark side.
Craig told me that he’d been in the pub on St. Patrick’s Day with the other men in the office who also worked for the same company from Newry. One of them, let’s call him Brian, told Craig that during my training in Newry before I was placed in London, that HR had emailed the team in London telling them about the appearance of a list of women and that their looks should be a reason for us to be hired in The City.
I emailed Brian and asked him to forward me that horrid email from HR, informing him of my situation. He responded sympathetically but refused to send it to me for fear of getting in trouble himself – understandably. But, he did however tell me exactly what happened and what HR (a woman) had written to the hiring manager in London about me and the other women with regards to our looks.
His email about the story was proof enough for my solicitor and we sued them back for sexual harassment. They dropped their case and even paid me back my month’s wages. They didn’t cover our legal costs. I was never asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement but my parents and solicitor told me not to speak of this story to the media.
To this day, I sit in huge conflict that the incident of sexual harassment saved me but that it even happened in the first place. It’s a sickening feeling. Remember the PWC story? It happened around the same time.
This story is not my only story. Since that time, I experienced other “small” incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace where there was always a subtle but disturbing undertone of sexism.
“How can a woman learn to speak up if she is instructed to silence the most basic biological function of her body?”
I had always been a vocal kid and rightly so. I loved opportunities to speak my truth, to be assertive and to speak up for what I believed to be right and just for individuals and the world. I lost a lot of that at menarche (my first period). It was probably the first time shame crept its eerie self into my life in relation to my body.
I lost a lot of my voice after my experience with that company. I lost a lot of confidence and struggled with my identity in relation to work and where I belonged professionally. I struggled to cope with other ‘normal’ stressful situations and eventually needed a lot of help.
I turned inwards and turned towards my body as a way of healing. I turned towards what was shouting the loudest – my menstrual cycle.
I’ve learned to heal my relationship with my own cycle and it has shown me the way to the strong and powerful Feminine. Not only have I found my voice and my confidence again, I have found the voice of the Feminine and have glimmers of her self-assurance. Like the storm, she is strong and we can’t mess with her. We must respect her.
My vision for the future is to have workplaces where the Feminine principles are understood, respected and honoured. A world where men and women understand the menstrual cycle and it is not something shamed and dismissed. Rather, it is worked with because we know it has gifts to bear.
Imagine a world where women were connected to their menstrual cycle, could speak up from it and feel rooted in their bodies? They could speak up with confidence if they ever felt discriminated against or harassed. There would be no fear of shame, ridicule or diminishment around speaking our truths. I would love a world where women could speak their truths, stand up for themselves, feel connected in their bodies at home, in work, in conflict, in politics. They would be in healthy relationship with their cycles.
Now that’s a dream I’m willing to work towards.