EP#5 Victoria Olsina - Facing harassment and bullying

Nearly a third of people are bullied at work, this number is higher for women and it gets worse in male dominated environments such as tech and financial services. Our guest, Victoria Olsina, shares her experience with us. She gives tips and advice - such as journaling - if you face bullying or harassment at your workplace. 

Victoria Olsian is a SEO consultant specialised in FinTech - and a comedian. Originally from Argentina, she is a seasoned SEO consultant and bilingual conference speaker (English and Spanish), with over 10 -years of experience across 3 continents, and has worked for global brands.

It is a podcast I wish I did not have to record. Victoria is impressive, resilient and brilliant. I am sorry that she, and many others, face a similar situation. As you will see, my job as a podcast host was uneasy. Sometimes, I don’t know what to say. However, I don’t want to shy away from important topics only because they make me sad or uncomfortable. It is an essential topic. I hope you will find understanding as a witness and support as human. You are not alone. We will keep talking about important subjects and do what we can so that it stops.

🧡 Many thanks to Victoria for sharing her experience with us.

Did you enjoy this episode? Please, follow, like, rate, share and subscribe to the podcast – everything helps! And if you feel like doing an extra step, send the podcast guest or the podcast host a thank you Tweet or message.

Useful links

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/workinseo

Isaline, podcast host, Twitter page: https://twitter.com/isaline_margot

WorkinSEO Twitter page: https://twitter.com/WorkInSEO

Sign up to “WorkinSEO” newsletter: https://www.getrevue.co/profile/workinseo

Getting in touch with our podcast guest, Victoria Olsina

Follow Victoria on Twitter: https://twitter.com/victoria_olsina 

Follow Victoria on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/victoriaolsina/ 

#WorkinSEOPodcast full transcript with Victoria Olsina

Interview with Victoria Olsina

Isaline: Hey, folks. It's Isaline. I'm thrilled to record this WorkInSEO Podcast, a podcast where we explore the diversity of career path leading to working in SEO. We interview amazing people to learn from them and help you find your way in your SEO career. I am Isaline Muelhauser, SEO nerd and content strategist, founder of the SEO consultancy, Pilea.ch.

Today, I am joined by the wonderful Victoria Olsina. Victoria is the SEO Consultants, specializing in FinTech and Blockchain. She is a seasoned speaker. I recently spotted her in a big-name conference, which is the reason why I invited her today. But we will get back to this later. Hi, Victoria, and welcome. 

Victoria: Hi, Isaline. Thank you so much for inviting me. It's a pleasure for me to be here. 

Isaline: It's my pleasure. Today, I even invited you to discuss a very important subject, and that's bullying and harassment at work. That does not sound really light, but I thought it was really important to discuss this as I expect it might happen to me, or it might happen to all the people, and I might be the witness.

Basically, in this podcast, what I'm hoping we will learn is how to approach bullying and harassment at the workplace and how to recognize it. Because I can expect that sometimes I might silence myself and say, "Oh, it's not happening, and I might not see." Especially, also, how to act if I'm a witness.

This is WorkInSEO podcast with Victoria. Can you first tell us a little bit about you, what you're doing at the moment, and your line of work, where you are? 

Victoria:  Yeah, I was born in Argentina. That's why I speak like this. And, I have been living in London for the last five years. Previously to this, I lived in New Zealand. I have been an online marketing and SEO Consultants since then, for the last 12 years, around 12 years. I specialized in FinTech and Blockchain, which are really male-dominated industries, a little bit like the world. 

I am an independent consultant at the moment, but I worked in throes of international well-known companies, such as Barclays, New Zealand Tourism, Citizen Watches, Kathmandu Consensus, which is a big Blockchain company. Now, I'm a freelance consultant and I'm enjoying myself. 

Isaline: Do you remember when you first heard about SEO? 

Victoria:  Yes, I did. Because I was living in Cordoba, Argentina, my hometown. I went to a talk about search engine marketing. This was ages ago. I must have been 22. I went because I thought it was interesting and I didn't know anything about it until they touched the subjects of paid search and organic search, and that was the first time I heard about it. I studied advertising first, and then multimedia design at uni because I wanted to work on something related to the internet. And at that point in time, the only way was to design websites. That's how you walk the line. There are so many career choices now. I didn't want to immediately sign for that. And then, I did a post title, post-grad in online marketing, where we started seeing SEO.

Isaline: And, what made you go like, "Oh, I like SEO. I want to keep on doing that and not something else." 

Victoria:  I think it sort of life took me there. Within online marketing that you have paid search, so just social email marketing thing that SEO has seen, like the black magic. Like that thing that nobody ever wants to touch and people don't understand.

So, in every job [unintelligible] and many times, they gave me these sorts of assignments, just sorting out something that other people didn't want to do. And, SEO was always that. And then, when I arrived to the UK, Where I was sort of a generalist consultant before. Because in New Zealand, every agency I worked for--well, New Zealand is very small, agencies are small, and you are sort of a generalist. But, when I got here to the UK, I went for an interview at Barclays, and it was a Search and Acquisition Manager role. I felt it would be mostly paid search, but it was mostly SEO. So, I have to really learn things.

First, I had to pretend I know. So, when people say, "Fake it, until you make it," it's like, "Yeah, I passed the interview and suddenly I was managing the SEO, one of the biggest brands in the UK." Was I qualified? Maybe not, but I learned a lot in the process, and I have to get ready.

Isaline: For most of us, it's more of SEO finding us than really us finding SEO and looking for the job. Then we learn by doing and get better step-by-step.

Victoria:  You don't study SEO at the university or anywhere. You do a course if you want a line, but you have to do it on your own. As you say, most of the things you learn on your job because things get broken, websites need to be migrated, algorithm changes happen. So, you learn by doing.

Isaline: Let's dive into the subject. Do you remember when you realized that what was going at your work was not okay? Did it take you a long time?

Victoria:  I think that many times as you said during the intro, "Is this happening to me? Are people being inappropriate, or are treating me in a way that is not the way you should treat people at work, or is this my imagination?"

As I said on the talk that you watched, because bullying and harassment can really happen from somebody that is above you, in hierarchy. It makes it quite hard to deal with. So, [unintelligible] is this boss, is this attitude--first of all, you have to recognize you're feeling uncomfortable. I think that's the main thing. 

If you are feeling uncomfortable, there's something happening. And, you can feel uncomfortable for different reasons. Maybe somebody is behaving like a creep, saying inappropriate comments about you, the way you look, the way you are in terms of race, gender, sexuality, or different--what they, in UK law, we call it "protected characteristic." I mean, the law protects you because it's understood that you are more vulnerable. When we see them, the protected characteristics, which several countries have, not only the UK. I do remember, but I didn't know what to do. It's like, "Oh, why is this happening?" 

First of all, you feel that it's just going to happen once, but it's never that. When a bully finds you, it's like at school. It's not exactly at school, as in high school, where I was bullied as well, because I had the best grades in the class. So, what a great reason to bully someone. "Oh, you have the best grade. You are --" Just being mean to people. But, at work, it's definitely not okay. So, it was hard for me to do something about it. And now, I know, well, I have a better understanding of what you have to do, and I'm happy that I can talk about this here. 

Isaline: Was the language a problem? Because I'm not an English native speaker, as you can hear. And, I also work in a multilingual country. I've experienced a workplace where French was not the main language. Sometimes, I might not trust myself with what was intended in the words because it's not my language. And now, I think, "Oh, maybe it's me because I don't understand, or because I'm not a native speaker." Did you have this kind of issues? Or, did you ask a native speaker what is okay or what is not?

Victoria:  Yes, yes. I talk to other friends. First, outside of work. If they have experienced something similar, and then colleagues inside of work. It's important that you have colleagues inside of work that see this because they could potentially be your witness. They could say, "Yes, this happened; Yes, I saw that this person said this thing to Victoria, behave in a certain way." Yeah, well, I always had, at work, a little group of people that have been became friends. Work colleagues that they became friends that I could trust, and that I could talk to sensitive situations. And yeah, it was happening. It wasn't my imagination. 

I don’t know what women--we are trying to believe that it's our imagination. When a load of shit happens all the time, and to us, just for being woman. And, this is just one layer of complexity, we are both women. The degree of otherness is what makes you vulnerable. You are a woman, in my case, I'm an immigrant. Many times, I might not look white, or I don't look White-British, let's say. There is what's called "ethnical component." It's not that I'm Brown-Brown either, so it's just I think that if I was Brown, I would have a worst time. Then, I'm a lesbian and I don't feel that I have to hide this. That's another degree of otherness that separates you from the hetero-norm, the White--in this industry that I am, that is mostly dominated by White heterosexual men that are above the age of 50, you are different from them. You come from another place. 

Isaline: The first step would be related to, see the situation for what it is and trusts with your guts, or my guts, and say, "Oh, yeah, this is definitely not okay." If you like your job, you might go, "Oh, I want to change the situation because I don't want to leave my job. I like what I'm doing." Or, do you think there's no chance to actually change the situation? Or, is it better to go? I wonder what is the second step when you realize that it's not okay? What is the safe, what are the options that I can take? 

Victoria:  I think that it is very good that you start the journal. Because as I said before, this is not a one-off situation. This will be a recurring situation. This journal is your main evidence. You document what is happening. What you do in this journal, you'd say the date, what happened, and what made you feel.

Let's say that there is a colleague or your boss makes a misogynist comment. How you're dressed, or you do this because you're a woman. "Give me a coffee because you're a woman." Let's say the basic example, didn't say it could get subtler than that. People know that you cannot burn yourself in that way.

In some industries, I think that in cryptocurrency and Blockchain, where all of the males from investment banking emigrated. The moment that banking had to have an HR department that actually comply, all of them migrated to a newer industry where there were no HR departments. Why do you think that is?

What you do is you, you document what is happening. Particularly how it makes you feel because people can object. Nobody can object that you felt like in a certain way. That's the truth, I felt like this. This person told me, "Fetch me a coffee because you are the only woman," or, "Victoria, take notes because you're the only woman in the room." 

And I felt that I was treated differently because I was a woman, and I had to assist men. That would be a record in this journal. When you have several entries in the journal, it's very easy for you to make a complaint to the HR department. Then if you feel that they haven't done enough, there are different--in the UK, you can call for a grievance procedure, which is when you--it's a legal state before you go into court where you tell your employer that you are not happy with the response they have given you.

Isaline: It sounds like to do this, one needs lots of courage. Because I can imagine doing the journaling, I can imagine going to HR. Well, most of the time, I would expect HR would tell me something like, "Yes, I will do some sort of reports and some sort of survey," But then, taking the next step to go further is actually a very strong move. 

Victoria:  What the HR will do, they will call an internal investigation. They should call an internal investigation. For example, if I say in my journal--because it would be important that you have a witness, "This happened in this meeting. And then, after I left the meeting, I told Isaline about it." Go. 

It would probably be the HR would call you and say, "Okay, this is the situation: Did you see these? Have you noticed anything? Any inappropriate conduct, any misogynist conduct within the workplace?" Ideally, you support me because you have seen this. You're not making it up, you actually saw this, and you corroborate that this is happening. 

Many times, I understand the people will not want to do this because well, so many things. Nobody wants to be involved in work drama. I feel that people feel they're going to be burned, and they will never find a job again. And that has never happened to me. Actually, the people who know I have done this, who are women, continue hiring me. Yeah. 

One of the companies that I worked for, there was like a dramatic--this turned up dramatic. Now, obviously, I thought, "Well, maybe I will never get hired again because I told HR that this guy was harassing me, a big boss was harassing me." And, my friends who were my witnesses think that this is the right thing to do, that I shouldn't stand this. I continue working in this industry, and it's a very small industry, Blockchain and cryptocurrencies. I haven't been burned. 

Probably, the person involved will never recommend me or will never employ me. But I don't want to be--I don’t want to work where he works. And, actually, none of my colleagues want to work in a company where this person works. So, for companies, this is also important that if you are protecting a bully, or you're protecting somebody because it has power, it can backfire. Because some people that know--again, in a small industry, you know, women talk. It's like if something is a creep, that's the first thing that you hear that in the workplace. Now, if you protect a creep, if you employ a creep, there might be other people that don't want to work for you. There are consequences. 

Isaline: As a witness writes in the situation, I mean, when the bully says the comments, "Can I do something to help just to make the person bullied feeling less alone or to, to give some sort of support?" As a colleague, I don't wish that's my colleague. So, what would be the right move?

Victoria:  I think that if you're in the moment, evidently, the right thing to do would be, "Can you not do this? Can you respect it? Can you respect this person? Can you refer to her in this way?" But, how many people actually do that? How many people said it this way, "Sorry, I don't think this is appropriate. You are treating Victoria in a misogynistic way." Count many people, not many. I think that you could try to come for this person after the situation, if you're not going to just stand up, "I understand that if your job is also in danger, you choose and not to stand up." Yeah, that would be like the most common thing. I would be surprised if people reacted the other way. But, considering we are moving, or I would hope that the world is moving to in other direction with the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, and many other social issues that people are more and more aware of now, I would like us to stand for each other.

I have to stand for my team and I don't regret it. But, at this stage, again, I don't want to say I don't care. It's just that I don't want to work for companies that treat people that way. And that's why I also am a consultant. I feel that when you're a permanent employee, you have to be in the politics, you have to be in the power struggle. "Do I get my bonus or not?" It's like, "I just want to do SEO. I don't care if I manage one person, or nobody, or 20 people. It's just, I cannot do the politics games." Most companies are about that.

Isaline: I'm hoping that if someone hears us and is experiencing something like this, I'm hoping we can give that person a couple of pieces of advice to take care of themselves and just get better because it's incredibly difficult. What kind of advice, what can we say to that person to keep up, you know, and not give up on the job and not accept the situation? And, I suppose that would be the worst. Just stay there.

Victoria:  Yeah. Well, that's high school. That's high school bullying, right? You have to stay there with those people for five years, six years. But, we are adults. And here, the law is supposed to be here to protect you. So, do the journal. Now, you go, you talk to HR. HR should do something about it. If they don't, as I said in the UK, you can present that grievance. Afterwards, you could go to court. You could just take your employer to court, which nobody wants to do. But, ideally, if you have this documentation and what you have done is true, say is true, it's very likely that they tried to settle with you. 

Nobody wants to go to court. Before going to court, your employer will try to say, "Okay, we will give you this money and you will never--and we will never speak about this again. You do quick and over whatever it is, and we split ways. That's how it's generally done. I don't feel it's not easy. I'm just telling you how the process is. It's not easy. I think that it's a very stressful situation. To look for support within your peers and your friends, your family, is the key. Because nobody wants to let the bad guys--they are always guys, the bad guys win. But, at some point, you have to see, we think that stress-- 

For example, in my particular case, I have a medical condition that whenever I get very stressed, I start experiencing a pain in the back and neck, and it can cause paralysis in the arm, in the right arm. How long, how many days, weeks, months, do you think you can stand in a level of stress where you cannot move half of your body? Not much. There is a level. You have to train what is mental health, what is good for you, and what is the need of justice or revenge, depending on how you take this. I would say justice. But, sometimes, if you want to do something like, "No, they're not going to get away with this thing." It's a balancing act. Ideally, first, you don't quit. The other person that is causing you harm, will be forced to leave but that will depend on the person's hierarchy. If this is the CEO or CMO, I don't think that's going to happen unless it's something incredibly shameful and obvious. If it's the owner of the company, that's not going to happen. So, what is the best outcome? Probably, money. That's the only outcome here so that you can be without working for the time that you need to find a new job. Three months, six months, whatever it is. That is what I can suggest. Define the outcome, what you want out of this situation. 

Isaline: I heard it's a long way. And, well, I'm a consultant too, so I'm really happy to be able to choose my clients and choose to work with people that I enjoy working with. I think that's one of the main advantages of being a consultant. But, working in a company, as you said, it's a lot of politics and a lot of relationships. 

Victoria:  And, way less money, also. I don't understand what's the equation. A lot of people want security, and this is the way that the system has told us. We are a good citizen, we have security, we get money for a mortgage, for a loan and, we get a piece of identity. For the people that lack some identity, [unintelligible] you are an SEO consultant. I am many things. I do SEO, and this is what I do for a living, but I'm not defined by it. But, I understand that a lot of people are, I don't know what people work permanently. 

Isaline: Maybe that's a question for our next podcast, and the next guest. 

Victoria:  Yes.

Isaline: I see that we've already talked a long time and covered many, many interesting things in our talk. I can struggle to find something clever to go for a while and close because I don't really want to close, I want to keep on the conversation and think that we can maybe probably, hopefully, help people in this situation. Maybe to close, do you have a last word of advice or resources to share?

Victoria:  I think that for this particular circumstance, I am at the moment of my life where I want to--I don't want to say, "change the world." But where if things are not done in a way that are up to my expectations. Because as a woman at the workplace, I feel that I shouldn't be bullied or harassed. And, if I am, I'm going to do something about it. I do this outside of work. As well, I am part of a collective that puts queer events here in London theme, mostly focus on women. Because we don't feel there are enough events, we don't feel they're enough clubs. We don't feel we have to meet each other in clubs. So, we did something about it.

If I don't do something with the things in the world, they say, "London is lacking lesbian entertainment or queer-female entertainment." Well, I have to do something about it. And, I cannot expect other people to do it for me. There are only two queer-female comedy nights in London. I run one of them. Because if we don't set the example here in London, do you think that it will happen in Cordova, the city I am from? No, it won't.

I don't want to say the silly phrase, "Be the change you want to be in the world," but it's a little bit like that. It's like, if things are not up to the standard and nobody else will do something, I cannot sleep if I don’t do something. I don't know, if you are not happy with it, just do something.

Isaline: I'm very impressed with your resilience. Because I read your slides of that big conference. I'm happy I got the chance to talk to you, and yeah, I think you're very impressive. I'm very impressed. I really like that you want to close with the idea of taking some actions, even if it's something small because I do think that we feel better when we do something, not just in the situation, but we take some sort of actions for ourselves and maybe for others.

Victoria:  For different reasons, I have been through the situation. Enough times that I know what to do. What can I do with this? Can I do something useful that will help other people or not? I hope it's helpful, and that it helps other people. That's the only thing I can do. But if we're all doing the little thing we can do, well, we change the world eventually. 

Isaline: If someone wants to reach out to continue the conversation, or invite you to another podcast, conference, or whatever, where can they find you?

Victoria:  I'm an SEO consultant, so it's quite easy to find me. I'm on Twitter. I am @victoria_olsina. I'm also on LinkedIn, Victoria Olsina. And, I have a website, which is victoriaolsinal.com. Olsina is spelled O-L-S-I-N-A. 

Isaline: I would make sure to add all of these links to the transcripts and the description of the podcasts. That brings our podcast to the end. I'm really happy you accepted my invitation. So, thank you for your time and your energy, and for sharing genuinely all of this with us. 

Victoria:  Now, thank you for inviting me, Isaline. And, it's also very important that you are doing something, too. You come for your podcast to talk about this. So, we are creating something better. Thank you so much for giving me the time to talk about this important topic with you.

Isaline: That was my pleasure. If you have any feedback for me, you who are listening to us right now, you can find me on Twitter at WorkInSEO. Please reach out if you have any comments, or if you want to share the next subject you want to listen to, or if you want to do anything to support Victoria or us, or have any idea to do a little thing extra to make the world a better place. We are eager to hear, share. Thank you for listening and I'm looking forward to being with you again in another episode. Thank you.