Women Of The Channel: Sharing Their Own Experiences With Harassment, Executives Look Back But Vow To Build A Better Future For The Next Generation

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When Michelle Ragusa-McBain was fresh out of college, she entered Cisco’s Global Academy as the first step of her 13-year career stint at Cisco.

In the first session, said Ragusa-McBain, a woman who was teaching the global salespeople separated the men and the women, taking women into a room where she told them: “Girls, I want you to know that there will be married men at the bar, and they will take their rings off and hit on you. Don’t do anything -- it can impact your career.”

“I still think about that to this day. This woman is no longer with this company, but I think, ‘Why were we the ones that heard it? Why didn’t anyone talk to the gentlemen?’ said Ragusa-McBain, who now works as senior director of technology, sales and services at OfficeDepot and OfficeMax.

Sexual harassment was the focus at this year’s Women of the Channel East conference, hosted by The Channel Company, as executives came forward with their own stories of physical and verbal harassment and bullying in the workplace.

[Related: Women Of The Channel Panelists Discuss Workplace Harassment: We All Have 'An Integrity Chip ... You Have To Leave It In']

Driving the conversation was the #MeToo social media campaign, which women have been using as a hashtag over the past few months to denounce sexual assault, as well as reveal their own experiences with harassment.

The #MeToo movement became widespread as several technology companies came under fire for high-profile harassment cases in recent months – including Google and Uber – shedding more light on the problems women are still facing in the workplace.

Women in the channel are also running up against these issues. A recent survey by The Channel Company found that out of approximately 220 female respondents, 39 percent said they have been a victim of harassment.

One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, experienced this type of sexual harassment first-hand when she was in her 20s and working with federal systems integrators.

She said was the only woman at meeting with at least 20 men, who she described as “older men from the ‘Mad Men’ generation.” She was having a conversation when one of the systems integrator employees touched her inappropriately.

“I was shocked -- it just happened in the middle of the conversation,” said the woman. “Today, I look back and I think, I would handle this interaction with intolerance, and saying ‘absolutely not.’ But do you know what I did? I froze. I didn’t say anything because I was shocked it happened.”

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