Nikita Hardy was early into her career, working at a public defender's office in Brooklyn — where she was one of just a few women and Black people in the office — when a coworker sexually harassed her during a holiday party.
"I actually had an attorney who came up to me and said, 'Hey, I'm so glad you came to our office. You know, me and the guys when you came in, we were like, yo look at the jugs on her,'" Hardy said. "I was like, 'You got to be kidding me.' I felt violated. I felt naked. I just felt wrong."
Hardy said the example is only one of many sexual harassment experiences she has endured over the years.
She didn't speak out about the incident because the lack of diversity in the office already made her feel ostracized.
Instead, she said, she told off her co-worker and walked away. But the following days in the office were uncomfortable.
"I still had to interact with the attorney but I pushed forward," she said. "I didn't speak up for fear of retaliation."
Hardy, now the Affirmative Action officer for Schenectady County, said that if an incident like that took place today she would report it because she is older and more experienced.
But Hardy said it's difficult for women to come forward because they don't have a safe space to talk about what's happened.
"People roll their eyes," she said. "They'll say she was put up to it or she's trying to get money or that didn't happen to her, he's a good guy."
Hardy said that no matter what people say all complaints should be heard. However, she said investigations of complaints should be handled by a third party, not a human resources department.
"Fear shouldn't be an issue here," she said. "If someone comes to make a complaint, everyone shouldn't be in a tizzy. They should want to find out what happened instead of running from it."
But employers also need to be proactive instead of reactive, and policies need to be stronger in workplaces, Hardy said.
"The reason why we're still having these issues is because people don't want to change," she said. "The issue is employers don't take a stand. When somebody is violating policies, when somebody is submitting complaints, people need to be pulled out of their seats, period. They need to be suspended. They need to be terminated. If you are not making an example, then how is it you expect people to come out and put themselves in that vulnerable space, and speak out about something that has happened to them?"
Hardy, who previously worked with Lindsey Boylan at Empire State Development, commended Boylan for coming forward with her allegations regarding Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"Anyone who comes out and tells their story, I commend them for it," she said. "It takes bravery. It takes such bravery to do so."
However, she doesn't think Cuomo should resign. Rather, she supports the investigation overseen by state Attorney General Letitia James.
"That's why we have these processes in place," Hardy said. "You have to allow for the processes to work without interference. The truth will just come out."
Today's stories — All too familiar:
— All too familiar: Local women share their stories of sexual harassment
— Yasmine Syed, Niskayuna: 'It's ... a tactic to delegitimize and diminish a person'
— Nikita Hardy, Schenectady County: 'People roll their eyes'
— Ali Schaeffing, Albany: 'I know I didn't invite that'
— Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, Schenectady: 'We need to make sure that people are speaking up'
— Madelyn Thorne, Schenectady County: 'This should have stopped a long time ago'
— Carmel Patrick, Schenectady: 'It seemed so universal'
— Elizabeth Canavan, Niskayuna: 'I had no idea what to say or how to respond'
— Amanda Gonzalez-Barone, Glenville: 'It gets patronizing very quickly'
— What to do if you think you're being sexually harassed at the office