Breaking Through The Barrier Of Sexual Harassment

How speaking up at work changed my career for the better

by Shareen Luze

Early in my career, like most of us in our first jobs, the learning curve was steep. Working in a professional environment was new and it took time to hone the skills that served me well in my role. In addition to job responsibilities, there was one important aspect that I wish I would’ve learned sooner – how to speak up and find my voice.

In those early days, many, many years ago, I was sexually harassed. Every day my manager would make comments filled with sexual innuendo and would touch me inappropriately. I didn’t say anything. Instead of reporting it, I left the organization (not listed on my LinkedIn profile). It’s an experience I look back on often and wish I could change. Because I realize today that if I had reported it, I could have helped other women who may have experienced the same.

But I’m speaking up now and re-opening this painful moment in my history in hopes that it gives women the courage to speak up not just in situations of sexual harassment, but in every situation where their voice needs to be heard – in daily meetings, collaborative projects and conversations with leadership.

Too Easy To Keep Quiet

I know firsthand how easy it is to keep quiet. I battled the feeling we’ve come to know as “imposter syndrome” – a nagging, inner voice saying I wasn’t capable of making meaningful contributions in my role at the time. Like many women, that feeling of self-doubt impacted my behavior at work. I’d sit in a conference room and wouldn’t offer up my ideas because I thought what I had to say wasn’t worthwhile because I felt I didn’t belong in that room in the first place. I was afraid what I said would be interpreted as meaningless or worse yet – stupid.

Since then, I’ve learned I’m not alone. A lot of women feel the way I felt and the pandemic hasn’t helped. A 2020 survey from Catalyst, a nonprofit group supporting women in the workplace, found that 45% of women business leaders say it’s difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings. Additionally, one in five women say they’ve felt ignored or overlooked by colleagues during video calls.

What I’ve realized now in my career is the more often I speak up and the louder my voice, the more opportunity and responsibility I’ve gained. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I gravitated to a role where I can champion positive employee experience and wellbeing. As Head of Culture and Field Experience at RBC Wealth Management-U.S., I’ve been able to take what I’ve learned and use those life lessons to support employees.

We Are All People…

And as a woman in an industry where women make up less than 20% of financial advisors, I think it’s even more critical to use my voice, especially during challenging times such as these.

I battled the feeling we’ve come to know as “imposter syndrome” – a nagging, inner voice saying I wasn’t capable of making meaningful contributions in my role at the time...

We know that supporting women starts with an understanding that we are all people with responsibilities and a life outside of work. We’re not just employees – we’re mothers, sisters and daughters, too.

I’m proud that during the pandemic, RBC enhanced our already robust employee wellness program to meet the immediate and changing needs of our colleagues and their families. We added mental health services and tele-health options so employees can receive care without leaving their homes, as well as back-up childcare and elder care.

Our employee resource groups ensure there’s internal support and mentoring opportunities in place so women can find balance while advancing in their careers. Over the past two years, we’ve seen enrollment and participation in these groups increase by up to 60%.

These are major improvements to how we support female employees, but we can’t just say it’s enough. We need to continue to listen, learn and advocate for more support.

Removing these barriers to help women succeed is at the core of our culture at RBC. It’s important to the organization and to me, that we all have a voice. Because the louder our voices are, the more impact we’ll have.




RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, registered investment adviser and Member FINRA/NYSE/SIPC.