Breaking the silence around workplace discrimination
September 10, 2018 by Abby Breckenridge
(The following is a letter we submitted to the Seattle City Council urging councilmembers to help put an end to workplace discrimination.)
Hearing about Seattle Silence Breakers was like a slap in the face. In the wave of #metoo, I thought for a moment our progressive, liberal community might be immune to the rampant harassment that still plagues women. Turns out I was wrong. Not only did upsetting examples of sexual harassment surface, but the Silence Breakers showed that our own city government was not the safe haven I had expected.
Upholding the rights of everyone in our city is something I believe in and was assured that the City of Seattle believed in it too. After all, the City of Seattle is the body that recognizes my business as women and minority owned. When I took on the role of partner in our growing marketing firm, I was thrilled to join the ranks of hundreds of other driven women business owners who are actively strengthening our economy. The WMBE certification meant our company was changing the face of leadership and fostering an environment for women in business, with the city’s full support behind us. That certification feels tarnished now, and the commitment from the City of Seattle to endorse women as leaders in business, hypocritical.
Why we need to take harassment seriously
Women make up half the population of Seattle, yet our region has one of the largest wage gaps in the U.S. Women in King County make 78.6 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. Sadly, the glass ceiling is a reality in our city, and women are struggling to compete against men in the workforce. When you add sexual harassment into the mix, the gains women have made, are quickly lost. Nearly half the women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace leave their jobs or change careers. This can lead to stagnating careers and setbacks in earning potential. If you want to continue the prosperity our region has seen over the past decade, we need to take harassment seriously and put an end to workplace discrimination.
Why we need to foster women in the workplace
While women are still woefully underrepresented in leadership positions, companies like ours that put women in positions of power often change for the better. One study showed just by having women in C-suite positions (CEO, COO, CFO, for example) they added a 6% net profit margin. When a company’s leadership is uniform, valuable perspectives—and markets—are overlooked. Beyond profits, teams with a balance of men and women show greater psychological safety, team confidence, group experimentation, and team efficiency. It’s time we valued the women on our team—for the sake of our economy, community and sanity.
Why I believe in WMBE distinctions and want to keep it that way
Seattle has made huge progress in growing the number of women-owned businesses, but there’s still more work ahead. Based on the most recent federal data, Seattle had 83,000 companies, of which 30,000 were women-owned. Our city was ranked as a top place for women entrepreneurs in part because of the number of certified women-owned businesses that have already paved the way. The city’s backing of WMBE certification is working—it ensures an equitable playing field for women and it’s making a difference in our community. But we need the city’s full support to continue to realize these benefits. When the city is embroiled in sexual harassment events like those in Seattle City Light, it steals from programs like WBME and puts women back on the losing side.
So to the City of Seattle, please take workplace discrimination against women seriously. It affects us all.