A 28-year-old vice president at a recruiting and staffing firm is speaking up after she caught a group of men chatting about her looks during a work video conference call in a now-viral video on TikTok.
Whitney Sharpe, who is based in Boston, saw the men's allegedly inappropriate chat when one of them accidentally shared it on his screen.
“When a vendor accidentally shares his group Teams chat, and it’s all nasty things about me. It’s 2023 can this stop.” she captioned a post that has already raked in 2 million views.
According to Sharpe, the incident took place on Jan. 24 during a work video call with potential clients. Speaking to TODAY.com, Sharpe says as a vice president of her company, part of her role involves assessing different vendors that can enhance her business development teams.
For this meeting, Sharpe was on a call with three other men who were employees of the potential client. She declined to name the company the men work for.
Everyone on the call had consented to being recorded before the meeting began, she notes, underlining that in her home state of Massachusetts, the law prohibits the recording of any conversation without agreement.
“I was on a call about to do a demo, and that software vendor accidentally shared their group chat with me instead of sharing the demo that they were supposed to share,” she explains, adding, “The group chat said some pretty unkind things about me and it just kind of went on from there.”
Beyond sharing that one of the messages had described her as an “effing bombshell,” Sharpe declined to detail the other comments citing concern for her family.
“They realized (what happened), I would say, maybe 30 seconds to a minute into the conversation,” she explains. “Certainly enough time for me to be able to see it go back and forth.”
“The man on the call who was sending the worst messages, when he realized (what happened) he went off camera,” she recalls. “I am assuming that he needed to collect himself and figure out a game plan for himself. And the game plan that they had moving forward was, let’s just ignore this and not address it. And if I didn’t say anything, they weren’t going to address it with me.”
Once the screen share was removed, the conversation continued.
All the while, Sharpe says her hands were shaking.
“My mind was going, ‘Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry, just get the words out,’” she explains. “I just was focusing on breathing in, getting the words out clearly and calmly. I think as a woman in the workplace, we’re often labeled emotional. I really didn’t want them to be able to say that I was emotional in my response. I definitely could have went a lot harder on them. But if I did that, they would have been able to say that I was ‘too emotional’ and I was going to play into that, and I didn’t want that to be an excuse.”
Despite how their harassment made her feel, Sharpe says she kept it together. For 15 minutes, she waited until the conversation about work had come to an end. Then, she spoke up.
“Okay, well, first of all, if we’re going to continue working together, I want to work with a woman sales representative because I don’t want to have to see locker room talk about myself when you’re sharing screens,” she says in the video addressing the inappropriate exchanges head-on. “So if we’re going to move forward, I would like to work with an account rep that’s maybe a woman in the area so that we can move forward that way. I know that was a mistake, but... I just don’t want to see, like, locker room talk about myself. So if we could, I liked the product. I know it’s good. I know it’s tried and true, but I just want to work with a woman like before if possible.”
In response, one of the men can be heard saying the conversation was “inexcusable” before adding, “so apologies on that.”
Sharpe says that it took 24 hours for the CEO of the potential client to reach out to her and formally apologize.
“I felt that was a big issue, and the CEO was on the line with an attorney and his head of HR,” she explains, noting that as a result, what was said “didn’t feel genuine whatsoever.”
She adds that “just asking ‘if I’m okay’ would have been nice.
“‘How are you doing after all of this?’” she explains “A response coming from empathy, as opposed to being in defense mode. That probably would have been a better PR strategy.”
To this day, Sharpe says that she has yet to receive a personal apology from any of the three men who are on the call.
Still, Sharpe says that despite the experience, she’s able to make out a silver lining: maybe it will help others to know that there are organizations that exist to help men and women who have experienced sexual harassment in its many forms.
“I’m really hoping to partner with some of these organizations like RAINN,” she notes and underlines that it’s not only women who experience sexual harassment. “I really am hoping to speak with someone from RAINN and then the EEOC, which protects employees in the United States, so I can continue educating myself and then use my platform to make sure I’m saying the right things I don’t want to ever be giving the wrong advice.”