Time to Stop Tolerating Inappropriate Behavior
By: Rajia Abdelaziz, Co-founder and CEO
***PSA: Just because you’re not affected by a problem, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist ***
My co-founder, Ray, and I were recently asked to participate in a shark tank style pitch competition from a local organization. To our surprise some of the judges in the male dominated panel (*eye-roll*) unfortunately made comments that were so ignorant and inappropriate that we felt the need to share it to help raise awareness that this type of behavior should no longer be tolerated.
If you’re not familiar with our story, Ray and I started invisaWear while we were in college after a scary situation; I was followed by a car full of men and one of them got out and came after me. Although my phone was right in my hand there wasn’t enough time to call for help (Ray who was a block away or even 9-1-1). I ran to my car as quickly as I could and was very lucky to be unharmed, but unfortunately MILLIONS of other women can’t say the same. According to statistics, 1 in every 5 women will be sexually assaulted at some point in her lifetime. This is highly unacceptable and needs to change.
After finishing our presentation, we were immediately commended from the only female judge who said our presentation was beautiful and the timing for our product is perfect in the post #MeToo era we live in. Shortly after receiving such wonderful feedback, another judge had a very different opinion. He said that he didn’t see a need for our product because his wife never complains about feeling unsafe (Yes… This is right after I just finished stating that 1 in 5 women in the US will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime). I immediately interrupted the judge and I politely said that with all due respect every woman in the audience as well as the female judge sitting next to him all look appalled by his comment, and that most women have to take safety precautions for themselves every single day. That’s when everyone in the audience started clapping.
As if it wasn’t bad enough, the next judge’s comments were on another level of inappropriate. In front of an audience of 500 people, the next judge decided to ask me if Ray and I were a couple. At first I was in complete shock and told myself, “well this is wildly inappropriate and has nothing to do with our presentation,” but then I told myself that I was overreacting and replied to him, “no we are not a couple.”
After the pitch, woman after woman kept coming up to me saying how horrified they were listening to the last judge. They made comments such as, “If you were a man then he never would’ve asked you that, but because you’re a woman then you must only be an object for someone to be sleeping with.” It was in that moment that I realized I wasn’t overreacting, and many of these women said they felt personally disrespected by his behavior.
Our company was founded on the value of empowering women, and all people, to protect themselves from the sad world we live in because it needs to change. Because of that, Ray and I decided to reach out to the organization that hosted the event to let them know how disappointed we were by some of the judges’ behavior and ask that next year they make sure to have a more gender balanced judging panel. The organization was very understanding and not only promised to take steps to make sure next year’s panel will be more diverse, but they also sent an email to every attendee apologizing to every woman in the audience who felt disrespected. The CEO of the organization even went out of his way to call the judges who made the disrespectful comments and to express his disappointment.
In the past, I’ve faced inappropriate behavior like this and did nothing about it because I was worried that nothing would be done. I’m so glad that this time I decided to do something about it, and I’m so glad that the organization took it seriously! I hope that by sharing this story that if someone reading faces similar behavior in the future they too will decide to take action because this behavior is intolerable and needs to change.