Are your male employees harassing your women customers?

Apr 15, 2017

I'm jumping online to write this post because of an experience I had at a local garden center today. One I wish I never had to tell you about, because it never should have happened, but it's one that needs to be publicly addressed.

As a professional horticulturist, previous garden center GM, and green industry consultant, I often write about garden center business oportunities and customer relations. I'm often asked my opinion on how garden centers can evolve and I do a fair bit of paid consulting on such matters. As an avid gardener, I may also drop into a local garden center from time to time, but I'll admit my in-person visits have become far less frequent. Mostly, this is due to two issues: poor inventory selection and poor customer service. Now, I'm an IGC advocate; so of course, I want to buy all of my plants and supplies from local businesses. But, sometimes, they just make it a bit too hard for me to do, especially as a woman.

A woman? Why would it be harder for you to shop at a garden center as a woman? Well, because male employees don't always seem to understand the boundaries of appropriate behavior with women and sexist treatment is still in full effect. If you're a woman, can you recall a time where a male employee made you feel uncomfortable? Talked down to you? Ignored you? Commented too aggressively about your appearance? Asked you too-personal questions? Full on solicited you or even touched you? I can: it just happened again today.

Disgusted.

That's how I feel.

Flabbergasted.

That too.

Like I want to get back in my car, walk back into that garden center, grab that young "man" by the ear and drag him across the sales floor to have a public conversation about what he said and did to me in front of all the other customers.

That, or perhaps swing an appendage in the direction of his more tender nether regions...

Those things too.

But I didn't...and I did what women always seem to have to do in these situations...grin, bear it, not make a scene, and get the hell out of there as fast as you can. Let me break this experience down for you and give you a verbatum accounting of what this garden center employee said and did to me.

Employee: Can I help you find something.... (then mutters "beautiful" under his breath)

Me:(Ignoring his initial comment) How much are these Fatsia? There are no price tags on any of the pots.

Employee: (shouts across the floor) Hey "....", how much are these?

Me: Ok, thanks - I'm just going to look around.

Employee: (walking much too far into my personal space...3-4inches) Well, I'm just going to follow you around...you're so sexy and beautiful....I'm just going to bask in your scent while I follow you...

Me: (Having turned around to walk away, thinking WHAT THE HELL DID HE JUST SAY???!)

Employee: (Pressing up against me from behind) You're so beautiful...what are your plans this weekend?

Me: (taking a big step away) I'm married. You don't need to know about my plans.

Employee: Ok ok that's fine - what are you doing for Easter? Are you having family over? Do you have kids?

Me: (another big step) I'm just going to go look around now.

Employee: Ok, what's your name?

Me: Gotta go.

The employee finally walked away, and I turned heel and left without looking any further, empty handed and pissed as hell. I thought about talking to the "manager", the quotes are there for a reason, but there were several customers at the register.

If you run a garden center (or any retail business for that matter) please do not operate under the delusion that women are not still subjected to sexual harrassment by male employees and/or co-workers, managers, etc. They are. Today. It's happened to me many times as an employee (and customer), and any time I tried to complain my complaints were completely dismissed. I was always told I "must have misinterpreted his actions". Look, when a guy forceably grabs you, no interpretation is required. This is why many women clearly still feel compelled to "grin and bear it" to keep their job or not lose out on key raises and promotions; as well as be labled "difficult", "needy", "insecure", or most often "a bitch". 

Now, if you know me, you know this is not the sort of guff I take from anyone. But it happened so immediately after I walked into the store, even I did not feel comfortable making a scene on the spot and felt compelled to diffuse the situation and leave. Even I was caught off guard by the blatant aggression of the approach. If this happens to your customers in your store, many will most likely simply walk out of your store, never to reurn. Even if you never receive a formal complaint.

Perhaps if garden center had bothered to put PRICE TAGS on the plants, I might have been able to avoid this violation of my person altogether. However, I doubt that would stop many other women from having to suffer the same employee. But beyond that obvious customer service miss, this garden center needs to get a serious handle on it's staff and how they treat women. Or, at least this one employee. I will make no excuses for this person due to age or ignorance. His sense of entitlement to this behavior was practically dripping off of him and I was clearly not his first customer conquest. I don't care if anyone else things he's a "good guy"...or was just "brought up that way". Nope, not good enough.

Women like me...customers like me...have had enough of this behavior and treatment. And we're going to start making scenes in your stores when it happens. At least I will, the very next time it happens. Hopefully it won't, but I can't say I have a lot of faith it won't. If you're not training your male staff what is and isn't appropriate with women co-workers and customers, when you hire them, during employee training, and in all of your written documentation, now is the time to start.

There are 2 comments for this entry

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Caleb Melchior
Apr 17, 2017
8:26 pm

I’m so sorry for belonging to the male-identifying side of the species after this happened to you, Leslie. It’s inexcusable. Garden center owners and managers, have a DEEP look at your customers’ experience. If there’s even a remote possibility of such a thing happening, you know it’s not right. Get on it, y’all!

Leslie Halleck
Apr 21, 2017
11:55 am

Thanks for you response Caleb, it’s much appreciated. I agree, a deep look at customer experience is where we need to put our focus these days. The industry can’t keep complaining about losing business to online retailers, when they aren’t going to work harder on the in-person experience all of their customers are going to have in their store.

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