Facing Sexual Harassment at Work

4w_wed_300x300_073113Though professional women still have many obstacles in our way, we do have it easier now than the previous generation did. That is particularly true for women who worked in industries like oil and gas that were traditionally (and still predominantly are) the domain of men.

For Tina Jacobson, those obstacles came in the form of outright sexual harassment. She told us her story in today’s interview.


4word: What got you interested in geology?

Tina: I was trained by my father as a petroleum land man and used those skills to put myself through college, where I earned degrees in business marketing and geology. After college, I moved to Dallas where I worked as a geologist at several different oil and gas exploration companies in the early to mid-80s.

4word: What was it like being one of very few women in the field of oil and gas?

Tina New 06Tina: During that time, I knew of three women geologists in the tri-state area of Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. Challenges were great for women in the field. Not only did we have to gain the respect of those in the corporate office, we also had to gain the respect of the men in the field. College did little to prepare us for either.

However, I was fortunate enough to work with an oil and gas company while I was in school. I gained much-needed field experience during that time. Being a geologist but not going into the field is much like being a trial lawyer who never sees a courtroom or a surgeon who never performs surgeries.

At one of my companies, I was told that because none of the other women on staff had offices (they were all secretaries), they could not discriminate for me. I had to “office in the bullpen” with the women while my contemporary – a man with the same title and degree – was given a nice corner office with a view to match.

At another company, I was one of two women. The other was the administrative assistant to the vice president, and she handled the receptionist’s job. I was asked to fill in for her during her lunch period and breaks, but my male contemporaries were not asked to do the same.

4word: Were those the worst situations that you had to deal with?

Tina: At every job that I held there was some form of sexual harassment. There were no laws against this at the time. At one point, I was the only woman in a firm of four development geologists. The others would put pornographic magazines opened to “certain” pages in my inbox, saying it was because I was one of the boys and they didn’t want to discriminate.

Many times, I was chased to the parking garage and pinned against my car while one of them tried to assault me. The final straw occurred when the owner of the company told me that I was going on a cruise with our investors and that I would do whatever it took to make them happy. I refused and almost lost my job in the process. A few weeks later, I was offered another job and jumped at the chance to leave.

4word: At what point did you decide to leave the petroleum industry?

Tina: The decision was made for me. I was the last person laid off in the company as a result of the economic downturn and downsizing. But this gave me a good opportunity to think about all that I had been through.

I was 26 at the time, and while I hated the way that I had been treated, I didn’t feel like breaking the glass ceiling in the industry. I decided to take some time off, get a part-time job and pray about God’s direction for my life.

4word: For our readers who might be facing some uncomfortable workplace dynamics, what is your advice to them in recognizing when “enough is enough?”

Tina: I think women still have difficulty deciding when to speak out, whether it’s about sexual harassment or any other form of abusive behavior. Sometimes it is difficult to know what to do or you might be afraid to quit because of the financial repercussions.

Being a Christian, I rely heavily on prayer and the wisdom of mentors. Find someone outside of your workplace who can offer sound advice and is willing to pray for you. Get connected with a professional group of women and listen to their stories. Ask for help.

Your human resource department can often be your best solution. In today’s world, we do have legal options that were not available to me at the time, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.



If you or a friend are dealing with sexual harassment in your workplace, we also recommend this article by Amanda Edmondson for The Gospel Coalition.