Madelyn Thorne broke ground during the 1970s, becoming one of the first woman sales representatives in the print industry in upstate New York.
That came at a cost, one she’s reconsidered in recent years because of the #MeToo movement.
“When I first started interviewing for jobs, printed job applications included requesting your religion, your age, your height, your weight … nothing was off-limits as far as personal information, and it was normal to be asked if you had a boyfriend and if you’re in a serious relationship, because the assumption was that if you had a boyfriend then you would probably get married, which would mean you would get pregnant. So why should they hire you?” said Thorne, who is currently executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County.
“So there was an acceptance that you were going to make less money, and there was also an acceptance that comments would be made. … But it was just the way it was. We knew that we were fighting for something better. We knew that we were in a room that even 10 years ago, we would never have been in. … So I don’t want to say you accepted bad behavior, but you couldn’t be too vocal and fight about it because your hold in that room was so tenuous.”
Throughout her career, Thorne said that women helped her along the way, and it was a man who initially opened the door to get her into sales.
“I was lucky to have good folks around,” Thorne said.
Whenever any sexual or inappropriate remarks were made, Thorne said, she learned to deflect or to turn the conversation in another direction. She also learned to avoid certain people, and when her male co-workers would go out to bars after work or after a trade show, she hung back.
“I knew that deals were going to be made, work’s going to be discussed, alliances were going to happen, but I knew that I can’t be at that bar with those people because that would’ve just been stupid. I knew [that it was] also going to cost me … but it would have been insane for me to put myself in that position,” Thorne said.
Most of the harassment, however, came not from co-workers but from clients, some of whom refused to even work with her because she was a woman, according to Thorne. Yet she said the very idea that an employee would report any of those experiences to human resources was unheard of.
“There was no channel for that,” Thorne said.
Since the #MeToo movement began making headlines a few years ago, Thorne said it’s helped employers think differently about sexual harassment and has led to “men reconsidering [their] behavior, reconsidering how they address women.”
In the past few years, Thorne said, she’s also reconsidered her responsibility when it comes to curbing the inappropriate behavior of her colleagues.
“That’s one of the reasons I look back on the way I reacted to certain remarks and I feel a responsibility, because this should have stopped a long time ago. And if people in my generation stepped out maybe more forcefully, maybe the women of this current generation wouldn’t still be going through this,” Thorne said.
Through the years she’s seen things progress in the professional world.
“I have seen a tremendous change in our work environments straight across the board. But we still have such a long way to go until everybody is treated with respect, feels safe, people aren’t making foolish remarks, or hurtful remarks, or making people feel vulnerable,” Thorne 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