Survivor of Sexual Discrimination, Harassment & Retaliation

Guest article by Judy Foley

“Trust in the lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways submit to me and he will make your path straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

Have you ever walked into a situation where a person is being belittled or bullied in the workplace? What have you witnessed in the workplace that was uncomfortable, reproachable, or just unacceptable? Have you stepped in, or has fear of losing your job stopped you? Did the workplace also promote a common vision and set of values with the goal of enhancing respect and collaboration in the workplace?

I was a part of an organization that had both aspects above. The company promoted the need for a respectful work culture while tolerating disrespectful and hurtful behavior that undermined the published common vision and values. I loved my job and collaborated well with the people I worked with. I was a top performer and was included in a high-performance mentor program where a senior vice president was assigned to mentor me. I was recognized with the “Gold FOCUS Award” for my results in creating a Supplier Management Organization and promoted three times at this company. I received a top rating on performance review in February – April 2009. I had experienced growth, development, opportunities, and numerous promotions throughout my career based on my honesty, work ethic, knowledge, and teamwork at other large corporations. 

When I faced some uncomfortable situations with a particular executive, I set some boundaries in a one-on-one discussion, believing I could continue working with this individual. I never expected the outcome that would come from this discussion and how my world would be turned upside down. Intuitively, I started to see changes that did not feel right. My own leader whom I had come to trust was now retreating from his prior comment to me stating, “You are going nowhere but up from here.” I was guided by my integrity and belief that the right thing would occur. However, my new world was one where I was ostracized, excluded, and marginalized my professional respect in an organization where I had dedicated so much of my energy. The legal term was “retaliation,” but my life suffered more than I would have ever imagined.

My husband, an executive at a Fortune 500 firm, never believed this would happen at the company he was part of. He stated, “the behavior and tactics shown to me would have resulted in termination had they occurred within his organization, where he worked.” Yet one executive I turned to for his insight shared this occurs in most corporations because they want to protect executives that are key to the organization. He shared this was never about you, it was about protecting the executive. Yet I suffered and felt the long-term effects of these actions taken for almost 10 years while addressing it. What happened next for me was not about money, restitution, or finding justice. I learned that many who experience humiliation, bullying, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace have very few places to go even to understand what happened to them. The legal system provides very little help if you simply want to put your life back together. Retaliation can and does lead to profound personal and professional consequences.

Before this experience, I had never been exposed to such evil in the world and predatory practices. It’s interesting this experience allowed the people who initiated these actions to keep their jobs, while I suffered for “speaking the truth.” I know if I turn my head and do not attempt to change this from happening to others, it will continue. The only way to change this and make a difference is by nurturing a new culture of trust and not allowing these circumstances to be accepted by leadership, CEO’s, boards of directors and leaders in human resources. This is the change we need to see to stop these deeds from reoccurring.

On my journey of healing, I have been exposed to very powerful leaders and professionals who have shared personal stories of their trials in their career or personal life. These people showed me other expertise or skills that I did not see in myself. It was a gift to me to meet these people, hear their stories, and see my skill sets from others’ views and expertise. I appreciated their stories, as they made me realize that they too had had experiences that were not what they expected –and learned from them.

I also met other individuals with different outlooks. Some were all about themselves, their accomplishments, and doing whatever it took to get ahead. Some were men and women who cheated on their spouses and chased temporary happiness. But I’ve also met very accomplished people who are making a difference in the world, not just for themselves but for others. I have seen those who need to find their way on their own path. Others have given up on their dreams. Yet I believe we all make a difference in the world through our experiences. 

What I know from all of this is that no one’s life is perfect, and when someone makes it appear so, know there have been obstacles along the way that have helped create who they are. The key is to establish our priorities annually and never lose focus, even when those obstacles appear. We must take accountability for our lives, achieve happiness, follow through on daily appreciation, and never give up on ourselves or the people we love. For me, believing in a higher power was key. I could not have made it without my faith in God and the support of my family and friends!

Life is about transformation and change. Every experience helps us grow and develop psychologically which helps us become stronger to overcome obstacles and meet challenges. They are about the process of effectively transitioning from one set of conditions or circumstances to another — enabling us to learn, grow and consequently reap the rewards that life eventually brings our way. Being authentic and being thyself for me now means being open and sharing my experiences so other can learn from it and not allow this to occur for others. My future holds so much promise. All blessings passed my way are appreciated.

God uses each experience we have to refine us, and uses our adversities and skills to help define who we are to be and how we will serve God with our lives. I am moving forward with the plan of focusing on culture, diversity and inclusion as a priority as Gods work: My expertise is in culture change, leadership initiatives and transformational strategy. I will focus on building diverse, inclusive, and exceptional work cultures through coaching, consulting, training, and speaking. I will need to keep my eyes and ears open to where God wants me to move forward and make a difference in this world.

For women or men in America who have historically come forward with stories of harassment, abuse, and sexual assault, there has not been a level playing field. But with stories now publicly shared and a growing sense for the need of equality and proper treatment in the workplace, the opportunity to create change is now more possible than ever before due to the courageous actions of a few who have brought this issue front and center to boardrooms, schools, hospitals, churches and politics. However, sustaining the conversation and maintaining its relevance is incumbent on all of us in whatever role we play with our society. Each of us is a leader of someone – whether a child, associates at work, or the head of a large corporation leading thousands of employees. And this change must continue to occur and be nurtured at each level of society if we are to be ultimately measured on our success in changing the status quo.

This can no longer be the #metoo movement but rather the #wetoo movement. All of us need to actively engage in the day to day struggles that come with this type of change. Without helping each other on this path we risk backsliding towards uncertainty and an environment where this behavior remains unchecked. I invite you to read my book, RETALIATION AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL: Why CEOs, Boards of Directors, and HR need to Change the Culture, available on Amazon. The book includes my personal story, 3 experts, EEOC Study of Harassment, lessons learned, best practices, and call to action.

“Lord, thank You for reminding me that you can use anyone and everyone. I willingly offer You all that I am and all that I have—choosing to believe that who I am is enough to be used by You. In Jesus Name Amen.”

Lysa TerKuerst 

Judy Foley is an author, speaker, executive/holistic coach, and founder of The Culture of Trust, a company focused on culture, diversity and inclusion. She is author of the book called RETALIATION AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL: Why CEOs, Boards of Directors and HR need to change the culture. She is also a contributing author of the new book Total Woman. She is certified in Women’s Issues, Diversity and Inclusion through the Professional Women’s Network, and is a member of the PWN International Speakers Bureau. Judy is also CEO and founder of Navigate Transformation, a company focused on accelerating growth and achieving competitive advantage through transformational change in supply chain and operations.

Active in the community, serves on a number of boards and committees including LaunchX at Northwestern University, a program that taps into the potential of ambitious high school students, supporting them through the process of launching startups. She finds it exciting to help others achieve their dreams and make our world a better place, as the youth are our future!

Judy resides in the Chicago suburbs. She is blessed to have 2 sons, 1 daughter and ex-husband who supported her through tough experiences and challenges.

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