Early in her career, Schenectady City Council member Carmel Patrick found herself working for an organization run by a man she says “did not behave morally.”
She recalls that both men and women were mistreated by this individual, whose style as an administrator became clear following one particular conversation.
“He said, ‘You don’t have to be nice to be an effective leader,’ and I took it to be the opposite,” Patrick said.
But women in particular, including Patrick, were subjected to out-of-line comments from this individual that she now recognizes as sexual harassment.
“It was totally inappropriate,” Patrick said. “Very explicit, suggestive comments.
“I was not alone in the way this person was treating people and the things this person was saying to people,” she continued. “It was pretty common behavior. I was not the only woman in that particular place that had been harassed.”
At the time, Patrick felt there was no one she could go to in the organization to report the man it was run by, especially given the prevalence of his behavior in the workplace. She instead looked for another job.
“I needed a paycheck to pay my rent,” Patrick said. “But I made the decision that this was not the place that I wanted to be, and I certainly didn’t want to work for him.”
That decision helped propel her into the next phase of her career. Patrick, throughout her professional career, worked in education and for nonprofits. It was after leaving that organization that she moved up to become a senior staffer in managerial roles in subsequent positions.
Moving forward, it was important to Patrick that she cultivated environments in which the behavior she experienced would not take place or be tolerated, where staff members would feel comfortable reporting a situation if something transpired.
“One of the lessons that I brought away from that particular job was that I never wanted to treat anyone like that,” Patrick said. “If there were people who saw things happening, I think I would have been the kind of person people would have come to. I hope that I always established myself in that way.”
That experience took place roughly 30 years ago and Patrick has seen progress since then. Sexual harassment training is now required in all workplaces in the state and the term is well-known.
Looking back, Patrick said, “I don’t know that we had that language.”
She also knows that she would handle the situation differently if it happened now, regardless of the circumstances.
“If it happened to me today I would very much not just sit there and listen,” Patrick said. “I would go to somebody and report the behavior immediately.”
Yet she acknowledges that it wasn’t until recently that she told anyone what she experienced. While having dinner with her husband and another couple, the conversation turned to the allegations of sexual harassment and assault leveled at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Patrick felt safe sharing her own story that she had previously held back because of feelings of shame.
“I’m a pretty confident, well-established professional, and even though I never talked about it because I felt bad about it,” Patrick said, “I understand that I didn’t do anything wrong, that this person was very, very wrong in his treatment of myself and other women, and that it’s OK for me to talk about.”
Patrick remembers how the rise of the #MeToo movement around 2017 raised the public awareness of how common these experiences are, even locally.
“I remember how myself and so many of my friends on social media were hashtagging MeToo,” she said. “I felt a lot of people were surprised that it seemed so universal.”
She pointed to the importance of the ongoing public dialogue to demonstrate to women that they can speak out if they have similar experiences and to prevent such situations in the future.
“I think we have to keep talking,” Patrick said.
Today’s stories – All too familiar:
- All too familiar: Local women share their stories of sexual harassment
- Yasmine Syed, Niskayuna: ‘It’s … a tactic to delegitimize and diminish a person’
- Nikita Hardy, Schenectady County: ‘People roll their eyes’
- Ali Schaeffing, Albany: ‘I know I didn’t invite that’
- Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, Schenectady: ‘We need to make sure that people are speaking up’
- Madelyn Thorne, Schenectady County: ‘This should have stopped a long time ago’
- Carmel Patrick, Schenectady: ‘It seemed so universal’
- Elizabeth Canavan, Niskayuna: ‘I had no idea what to say or how to respond’
- Amanda Gonzalez-Barone, Glenville: ‘It gets patronizing very quickly’
- What to do if you think you’re being sexually harassed at the office