Is this a marketing event or a singles bar?

I recently came back from my first business trip since I started at Computer Dealer News three months ago. At first, I expected to encounter some sexist behaviour if I chose to participate in the evening functions. Then, I thought, “”It’s 2004, I shouldn’t be so cynical.””

I couldn’t

have been more wrong.

It all started on the second night of the conference, when the event organizers had one of the pubs reserved for those attending from out of town. It’s later on in the evening and I’m sitting at a table talking to a vendor when I feel something hit my arm. I scan the bar and meet the eyes of a 40-something male from the same company of the person with whom I’m speaking.

The culprit is holding a sugar packet in his hand and is wearing a smug look on his face as if to say, “”What? Why are you looking at me?”” “”This is asinine,”” I think. “”Did he just throw a sugar packet at me?””

Then, after a couple of minutes he mouths, “”Do you want to dance?”” I reply, “”No.”” About 10 minutes later, he comes up behind my chair and puts his arms around me. I quickly fling his arms off and tell him not to touch me.

He kneels down and I’m looking him straight in the eye. He asks me a second, a third, a fourth time. “”Just one dance,”” he pleads. I firmly tell him that I don’t want to and I’m happy where I am. After going back and forth for several minutes, he finally gave up.

In hindsight, I should have got up and left, but because I was there with two of my co-workers, I felt obligated to stay.

If that wasn’t enough, another employee with the same company leans over the table and says something to the effect of, “”Can I pick you up?”” I give him a look of disgust and tell him I’m not interested.

He replies, “”I didn’t mean to scare you.”” I think, “”You don’t scare me, but if I told your boss what you just did, you would be scared for your job.””

Up until that point, I had pleasant dealings with this company. Earlier that day I interviewed three other employees, all of whom were professional and knowledgeable when answering my questions.

These events have unfortunately happened many times before to women in my position, with much worse endings. Weren’t these guys thinking about the fact that I’m a journalist and anything they say to me is fuel for me to write about? Aren’t they worried about their reputations? Or upholding their company’s name? Or their jobs?

Before I left for my trip my editor warned me about what kinds of things can happen at these conferences. But nothing prepares you for the sheer shock of when it’s actually happening around you and you’re left to your defences to put a stop to it.

In times when companies have strict policies surrounding sexual harassment or harassment of any type, it’s surprising and disappointing that a select few choose to make business trips an excuse for chauvinistic and lewd behaviour. While most people would never act in this way, that tiny minority who do set the tone for the entire conference.

It’s nice to go out in the evening for a couple of drinks and some downtime after a day filled with appointments, sessions and presentations, but employees should know when to draw the line.

Next time when you’re travelling on your company’s dime, or travelling period, remember: you are the face of your company. Your actions and words speak volumes and what you do and say to the people around you goes far beyond the trip.

slysecki@itbusiness.ca

Sarah Lysecki is a staff writer with Computer Dealer News.

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