Women still face harassment in GovCon market

Photo illustration from Gettyimages.com/ SrdjanPav

A culture of sexual harassment still exists at many companies where problems are often ignored and women have little to no recourse to fight back.

On the surface, the government contracting space appears to be a congenial market. But just below the surface in many companies there is a culture of misogyny, patriarchy, sexual harassment and the “bro culture.”

While this issue is not my usual stomping ground, the more I hear about this the more compelled I am to bring it to light and start an open, public discussion about it.

There is a culture of sexual harassment in many companies that is readily apparent to most women and is either exacerbated or ignored by most men, including those in executive positions. This is a culture of abuse, of preying on those with little or no power to retaliate, the exercise of power over those with little or no recourse.

I have interviewed several of my women friends once this came to my attention, and the culture of sexist behavior is both widespread and ignored. I am writing this because any woman who dared expose this would be black-listed and deemed a trouble maker, and probably called a number of derogatory names.

Here are just a few of the many stories I’ve been told.

  • A woman is approached in a garage by a COO of a large integrator. He approaches with a “business question” and immediately attempts to kiss the woman. Rebuffed, he turns and walks away quickly. Two weeks later the woman is let go because of a re-org. Less than a month later, her former position, with the exact same job description, is available.
  • A woman at a company sales event is pursued back to her hotel room by a senior sales exec. She barely gets into her room before he reaches her. After reporting this incident to HR, she is told that there will be no investigation, as this is a “he said/she said” situation. The HR person was a woman.
  • The married owner of a profitable defense contractor where a woman worked asked her to have his babies because the mix of their genes would be super humans.
  • A young woman manager attended multiple exclusive GovCon events and started noticing young women her age were there "for hire" to "entertain" the male attendees.
  • A mid-career manager was invited to lunch under the guise of mentorship but then treated like a date and was discouraged from talking business.
  • A successful female director is told the only reason they had any success in the market is because of the way they looked.
  • A young woman left her phone on the table at a business lunch. Later that evening she started getting inappropriate texts from someone at that lunch.
  • A director at a mid-size company is told by an executive that there is “too much estrogen” in the company.

Women regularly get job offers well below what is offered men for the same position. Strong women are often passed over in the hiring process in favor of “nice” women, who may let men walk all over them. Strong women are often referred to in denigrating terms just for being strong, intelligent women.

Does this happen to men?

Men are regularly promoted before women. Case in point: well over 75% of GovCon marketing professionals are women, yet only 7% are chief marketing officers. Really?!?!

Employees in many companies are required to sign NDAs which require them not to discuss “internal issues” outside the company, and these internal issues include instances of sexual harassment and similar or worse misconduct. It is a gag order for women and restricts or eliminates their ability to redress a serious infraction by male predators. Most of the time the predator escapes any punishment.

This egregious conduct impacts the lives of many of the women we work with, driving some talented people out of the market and others into therapy. The majority of women I spoke with had similar stories, and some more egregious.

Why any man would think this conduct is acceptable is beyond me, unless they are seeking control over those they perceive as weaker, and whom they believe will not retaliate.

There are very few safeguards for the women brave enough to report these issues, so I humbly suggest we establish those safeguards so that our industry starts cleaning up its act and ridding itself of this abysmal behavior and ridding itself of those who perpetuate it.

Both men and women need to step up on this, men especially, calling out the behavior they know is wrong.

If each person takes responsibility for changing their own behavior, the culture in their companies/agencies and the industry itself will begin to change.

Not that I have an opinion.


It's Not You, It's the Workplace and Breaking Through Bias. Both are by Andrea Kramer and Alton Harris and they are on Amazon.

50 Ways to Fight Bias

Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn. Find Mark on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/markamtower.