Have you read Parts 1 & 2 yet?
Me Too – a tale from 1981 – Part 3 is the final part in my story. Over the last couple of weeks I have published Parts 1 & 2 of a true story from a time when I was 17 years of age. If you haven’t read them yet, it’s probably best if you go and read those first before reading this post. Part 1 sets the scene and provides some background. Part 2 outlines some memories and evidence of what happened to me in my very first ‘proper job’. Here’s links to those posts below:
As I said in Part 2 – the reason I am telling this story is not for attention or sympathy or revenge but purely because I want to get this out from under the carpet where too often these things are conveniently parked. I want it out there in the world – joining the voices speaking up about sexual harassment and showing it for what it is (in its various forms). Girls and women have endured this kind of treatment for far too long. I hope that by telling this story from my past it will contribute to the campaign to make Australian workplaces (& those across the world) safer and hopefully one day free of sexual harassment. I hope that one day there is ZERO tolerance for this kind of behaviour in the workplace or anywhere, and that the consequences of such actions are severe enough to be a deterrent to anyone ever even contemplating it.
Assuming you’ve read Parts 1 & 2, I’ll move on now to when I took some action to seek some help and try and put an end to a situation that was very wrong. You’ll also find out in this post what the outcome was for me, and for him.
A complaint was lodged and action was swift
The sequence of events from back then are a bit sketchy in my mind. It was after all 37-38 years ago and at 17 years of age, so much stuff went over my head. Thankfully though, the documents I have uncovered provide a good guide of what took place and when.
I know that I gathered the courage to speak with my parents and filled them in on all that had been going on. I took home a whole heap of letters and notes (some of which you saw in last week’s ‘Part 2’ post) that he had written me to show them.
Looking back through all the paperwork in the large envelope that I recently came across, it seems that a decision was made to first lodge a complaint to Administration internally within the Department in which I was working. This complaint was lodged approximately 6 months after I had started working in this position, so sometime in April 1982. Action thereafter was very swift.
What happened to me
I was promptly moved from my stenographer position as Personal Secretary to a Senior Officer (he wasn’t just a senior officer – he was the boss/manager of an entire branch/unit), to a typing pool within the Department, and I had my probation extended by 6 months. I was treated like I had done something wrong and was being penalised and punished.
What happened to him
Nothing really. Apparently (or at least it is assumed) he got a ‘rap over the knuckles’ and was then issued a new girl. One a little older than I was I think. And yes, she sat at that desk in his office, the same desk I had sat at. That did not change. I still saw his head dart out from around corners when I was out at lunchtime. He was still following and watching me. I’m sure he was very angry at me.
HIS REPUTATION WAS PROTECTED. MINE WAS DESTROYED!
Typing Pools of the 1980’s
I hated it in the typing pool. I don’t know what the other girls had been told about me but they were not pleasant to me. I was treated like I had been ‘naughty/bad’ and needed to be disciplined and brought into line. The ‘head girl’ was quite nasty to me. I did, however, find a couple of good friends there eventually.
Girls today probably would have no idea what a typing pool was, so here’s a bit of a 101 on ‘Typing Pools’.
They are a room full of girls at their typewriters. We used manual typewriters in the very early 80’s. Later electric typewriters came in and then electronic and before we knew it we had computers and typists were then called ‘word processor operators’.
When I was in the typing pool it was still manual typewriters, though towards the end of my time there we were supplied electric ones (with golf balls) which was pretty exciting! Here’s a video that shows you the magic of the electric typewriters with golf balls. The video is from the 1960’s but we didn’t get them till the 1980’s (so I’m not as old as this video might make you think!):
You would have to type everything with multiple layers of paper, all different colours for different purposes. White for main copy, pink for file copy, yellow for something else etc. You would have carbon paper between each sheet of paper. If you made a mistake you used various colours of ‘Tippex‘ to correct on each different coloured sheet of paper.
Nearby there was a very large room full of men at their big desks. I think they were called ‘clerks’. They would be responsible for responding to all the mail that came in. They would call in a girl from the typing pool and we would go in with a pad and pencil and they would dictate their letter responses to us. We would note it all down in shorthand. They would do a whole bunch. We could have 20 or so letters dictated to us. We would then go back to our desks and begin typing up the letters from our notes.
We were also personal tea and coffee makers. Ugh!
Letters written seeking assistance
My parents and I were were understandably not happy about the unfairness of my treatment. Not only had I been moved to a less appealing position, but I was being penalised by having my probation extended, and being treated by staff in my new position as if I had done something wrong. So, we wrote to the Ombudsman (this is the organisation suggested to me by my work colleagues) appealing for their assistance and investigation into the matter. My parents wrote to him, and I wrote to him (with my parents help). Two separate letters. With my letter I sent samples (evidence such as you’ve seen in Part 2) of the notes and letters he sent me and gave examples within my letter of what I endured while working with him. I also advised within the letter that I had the full support of other staff members in the workplace and that they were happy to be contacted and answer any questions.
Queensland’s first ombudsman was appointed in 1974. Known as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administrative Investigations, he was tasked with investigating the administrative actions of government departments and authorities. Here’s where you can see what the ‘role’ of the Queensland Ombudsman (standing for fairness) is. I assume its role was much the same back in 1981/1982.
The outcome from writing to the Ombudsman
- I’m estimating that the letters written to the Ombudsman were written sometime in late May 1982.
- On 31 May 1982 I would have turned 18.
- A letter to my parents dated 8 July 1982 was received from the Parliamentary Commissioner acknowledging receipt of their letter and that “this matter is receiving close consideration and I shall advise you again as soon as possible.”
- A letter to me dated 2 August 1982 was received from the Acting Parliamentary Commissioner advising that “unfortunately my inquiries into the matter are not yet complete. However, I hope to be able to advise you in more detail in the near future.”
- A letter to my parents dated 23 November 1982 was received from the Parliamentary Commissioner advising that “the matter has been examined in detail and advice forwarded to your daughter concerning the outcome of my investigation. As that advice is confidential I trust you will appreciate that I cannot convey it to you. Nevertheless, you may be assured that your submissions were taken into account in my consideration of the matter.”
- A letter to me dated 23 November 1982 was received from the Parliamentary Commissioner. You can read it at the link below. Obviously I have needed to cover some details before scanning.
As you’ll see, they said that “the actions of ‘he the boss’ were foolish” and that they “consider that insufficient evidence exists to take disciplinary action”. They advised that I “put the past behind me and make the most of my present position, notwithstanding that I might find it less rewarding than my previous one.”
They also noted that “it is most unusual for someone of your age to have been appointed as a personal secretary at such an early stage of her career”. So what has that got to do with anything? Is that justification for shuffling me into another position, let alone a less satisfying position? I did not choose the position to which I was appointed. I had assumed I was appointed to it based on my skills and examination results. However, ‘He the Boss’ always said he ‘chose’ me. I’ve always wondered if he truly did have that ability? Had he seen me? Had he seen my examination results? Had he seen my resume? On what basis did he ‘choose’ me?
So it took seven (7) months (from date of writing to the Ombudsman to date of letter above) to find out the following:
- It seems that the welfare and reputation of a 17/18 year old girl is not as important as protecting the reputation of a senior officer in his 50’s.
- There was no mention of my extended probation in the letter. It was conveniently ignored. What reason or justification could there be for extending my probation?
- The ‘mens club’ culture was alive and well then. Is it still? What do you think?
- My situation was not going to change. Justice would not be done.
Someone went to the Media
I found this newspaper clipping amongst the paperwork. It’s referring to my case (though they got my age wrong). I think it was one of the staff from where I worked that was behind this. They were all outraged at what happened to me.
What happened next?
I’m not sure of timeframes, but I continued in the typing pool until there were Machinery of Government (MoG) changes after an election and change of Government. This meant that another Department amalgamated with the Department in which I was working and there were structural changes that saw me moved to a receptionist position. It was a very lonely and boring job. I sat out in an area where there were no other people. I barely spoke to another soul all day, and I did not have enough work to keep me busy or satisfied. I applied for a transfer to another Department.
The Department I moved to was very different to the one I had been in, but I was happy there. I met some wonderful people, some of whom I am still friends with today. In fact, I went back to work in that Department again after having my children.
I never did become a court reporter. I was a young girl and very social back then. I thought the role of ‘court reporter’ would be too boring and not social enough for me. I’d made some wonderful friends at work and was enjoying a healthy and fun social life and enjoyed the companionship of my workmates in the workplace.
My probation was never extended again and I never again experienced harassment at that level again.
It’s disappointing that this happened to me, because it had an effect on my self confidence and belief in myself back then. One moment I was a much sought after future court reporter with excellent skills and reputation with a great future ahead, the next I was left feeling dirty, bad, ashamed and that I was in trouble and being reprimanded and punished, despite always doing my job efficiently.
Thank you for bearing with me as I’ve told this story. It feels good to get it out there. It’s not the usual thing I talk about here on the blog but when I uncovered the documents, I felt very strongly that the story needed to be told, for reasons I have outlined at the start of this post.
What are you thoughts on this experience I had as a 17/18 year old girl? Is the outcome from my complaint what you expected? Do you think I was treated fairly or unfairly? Do you think he was simply ‘foolish’ or that he deserved some disciplinary action?
Ciao for now,