Women Suffer Lifelong Impacts from Harassment in Food Service

Restaurant Opportunities Center published a report recently highlighting the impact of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.

It’s not always pretty how the sausage, salad and salmon get made. Low-pay and difficult working conditions are commonplace in the restaurant industry. Many workers are part-timers, and few have benefits. Moreover, workers’ tips are sometimes stolen by management, and wages can go unpaid. These problems are particularly acute for immigrants, who are over-represented in the restaurant industry, and often have little recourse. Women, who comprise over half of industry workers, must further contend with sexual harassment, which is rampant in food-service businesses.

The Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United has been active since 2001 in addressing the challenges facing restaurant industry workers. Recently, it highlighted the long-term costs of sexual harassment in a study it conducted in collaboration with UC Berkeley. On May 8, it held a national press call with actor Sarah Jessica Parker, ROC United co-founder Saru Jayaraman, Oregon House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, and current and former restaurant workers, to publicize the study’s initial findings.

The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) was founded in New York in the wake of the 9-11 attacks to help restaurant workers displaced from their jobs. In 2008, it became a national organization advocating for restaurant workers wages and rights. ROC United now has nearly 30,000 worker-members, more than 500 restaurant employer members, and several thousand consumer members nationwide. It has won 15 worker-led campaigns, and recovered $10 million in stolen tips and wages. Co-founder Jayaram is the author of the 2016 book Forked: A New Standard for American Dining, which rates restaurants not on the quality of their beef, but on the wages, working conditions and opportunities they provide workers.

That sexual harassment is prevalent in the restaurant industry is no surprise, but the ROC United/UC Berkeley study goes beyond this fact to address how the experience of being harassed affects young women’s lifelong tolerance for harassment, even in other industries. The study combines qualitative data and quantitative analysis of surveys of several hundred women who worked in the restaurant industry when they were young. Current food-service workers, as well as women in different sectors—including Hollywood, media, politics, and philanthropy—were interviewed for this initial portion of a longer study.

According to ROC United, one in two Americans will work in the restaurant industry in their lifetime. The organization’s research reveals that almost 90 percent of women in the industry experience harassment from customers, managers, and coworkers. ROC United states, “For many women who work in restaurants as their first job, these experiences of sexual harassment shape the rest of their working lives. They learn early that sexual harassment is an unfortunate condition of work that must be tolerated, and even encouraged, in order to earn enough wages through tips.”

The ROC United effort against sexual harassment is linked to the “One Fair Wage” campaign, which would eliminate the lower wage for tipped workers. One Fair Wage represents a concrete policy solution to blunt the prevalence of restaurant-industry harassment. According to ROC United, “Women workers who rely on tips to make ends meet are forced to tolerate inappropriate customer behavior to ensure they take home enough income to feed their families. One Fair Wage ensures that women workers no longer have to solely rely on customer tips to make a living wage.”

In addition to the sexual harassment study and its accompanying press call, in February, ROC United held #NotOntheMenu rallies in Washington D.C., New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, the Bay Area, Detroit and New Orleans to demand an end to sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.

ROC United has received support from a number of granting bodies, including the San Francisco-based, James Irvine Foundation. As part of its Fair Work initiative designed to boost the fortunes of California’s lowest income workers (those making less than $12.50 hourly), in 2016 Irvine provided ROC United a three-year $1.4 million grant. The funds are being used, “… to support low-wage restaurant workers in California by enhancing the occupational skills, leadership development, and civic participation opportunities of workers while engaging employers, policymakers, and consumers to raise industry standards.”

Other funders have included Foundation for a Just Society, which provided $100,000 to ROC of New Orleans, “to support ROC-NOLA’s work to build power and voice for women and LGBTQI restaurant workers in New Orleans’ restaurant industry.” Other prominent supporters of ROC United include the Ford Foundation, which hosted a 2016 event in support of ROC United founder Saru Jayaraman’s book Forked. The event featured a slew of famous chefs and restauranteurs, many of whom have come around to the idea that treating restaurant workers fairly is not just the right thing to do, but it can be good for business as well.

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Encircling Our World’s Gender Pain: Reflections of a Donor Activist

Donor Activist Emily Nielsen Jones, right, holds hands with Michele Breene, Philbert Karisa, and Mangesh Pol of her home group, during the Gender Equity and Reconciliation International retreat held in May of 2018 at the Warren Conference Center and Inn in Framingham, MA.

While #MeToo revelations continue to roil the globe, what can we all do in our own sandboxes to say #TimesUp? How can we do work in our own lives that gets at not only the more egregious forms of relational abuse, but also at all the layers of harmful gender dynamics—psychological, social, relational, institutional, and yes spiritual—which create the conditions where abuse happens?

These are questions that gripped my mind and heart, and led me to help organize and participate in two “gender reconciliation” retreats, one in Seattle and one in Boston. The retreats were led by an incredible set of facilitators who are part of a global movement called Gender Equity and Reconciliation International (GERI) that aims to heal the deeper roots of our world’s gender wounds, one circle at a time.

I don’t know how many #MeToo stories you have read, but it is in the heartbreaking details that we find evidence of the “damaging relational dynamic” (to quote speaker Beth Moore in A Letter To My Brothers) of patriarchy. The details of #MeToo stories often reveal more subtle psychological, social, and even spiritual layers of male presumption which create a harmful consolidation of power and honor around a few “great men.”  These men are granted excessive sexual and social latitude, making it hard for women to be equally honored and valued.

My gender story is not one that contains abuse, so I went into these gender equity retreats thinking I was there mostly to listen and hold other people’s stories. But just as happened in the Seattle retreat, at the Framingham retreat, I was again able to see how my own gender journey resonated with and became part of a larger tapestry of gender wound stories. 

There were tears shed over the course of the three days, but there was much laughter too, like when I shared a story in my home group that involved a ski boat, and which captured vividly one of my early life gender wounds. After I shared my ski boat story, my Rwandan brother shared about some of the gender issues he encountered growing up for 18 years in a refugee camp in Burundi.  Then my Indian brother shared about growing up as an untouchable.  We all let out a howl of laughter after they shared, noticing that if I had not gone first, I probably would not have shared a story about a ski boat! 

So how do we deal with all of the gender pain that exists in the many layers that created all the heartbreaking #MeToo stories? And how do we move forward and become better humans together?

There are many answers to this question, but one very basic way forward is to do what our human ancestors used to do when they didn’t have so many diversions: sit together in a circle. It’s almost like we have to go back to “rug time” where we sat in circles in kindergarten and nursery school. In these circles, we learned the basics of the give and take of how to be in social settings together. Sitting in a circle gives a social gathering a sacred quality that connotes we are all interconnected; we are part of a larger whole.

Sitting in a circle at the Gender Equity and Reconciliation International retreat.

When we first gathered at the beginning of the three-day retreat in Framingham, the circle of 48 felt a bit stilted and formal since it was so big. What an interesting variety we had around this circle—a potpourri of evangelical pastors from the Boston area, some earthy crunchy types from Western MA, a few Buddhists, a Muslim, a few non-religious, lots of gender equality activists, men and women of all ages and stages, two openly gay men, one openly gay woman, two people from India, and one man from Rwanda who is leading a post-genocide reconciliation ministry there. All of this human diversity in one large circle gathered to hear and feel and in some way heal one another’s gender wounds — a tall task, but one we took on with open hearts. Over the course of three days as we broke into smaller circles and shared our stories, it felt like my own heart opened as I watched other hearts opening, forming a collective heart.

“You gotta feel it to heal it.” I don’t know who said it first, but it is so true. If we don’t tend to our pain, it doesn’t vanish — it just goes underground. To heal a relational wound, you need to allow yourself to feel it. And you can’t short-circuit this healing process. It happens in its own time and in different ways. There is a role for doing this alone in a therapeutic setting, but the wisdom of the GERI approach is to feel and to heal collectively through a carefully facilitated process involving a liturgy of silence, guided meditations, small group conversations, dance, song, and games.  The retreat is also comprised of rituals choreographed to open the heart bit by bit, not to tell all of the gory details, but simply to be heard and understood. Together, we grow to understand how gender dynamics create emotional wounds, and find ways to turn our own thoughts and behaviors toward healing.

All this is done sitting in circles of deep listening and trust. Throughout our three days, our circle of 48 was subdivided into a mix and match of smaller circles to get everyone talking, moving, sharing and listening together.

Over the course of those three days, it felt like something very sacred happened. In many settings where gender issues come up, conversation quickly turns to debate, but there was not one debate or argument in these circles — only listening to understand one another’s stories. 

Women encircle men during a closing ceremony at the Gender Equity and Reconciliation Initiative retreat in Framingham, MA.

It is not easy to open one’s heart, nor does it happen instantly, but what emerges is well worth the time and trouble to get there. In a way, it felt like we healed an ancient divide, that we got to the deeper root of the problem.  The women talked about feeling heard and understood, having experienced  the kindness and good will of the men who showed up to be allies in the fight for gender equality. The men also spoke of feeling understood as they shared how they too have been harmed by patriarchy. 

As I reflect back on #WeHealTogetherNewEngland, I still carry an embodied feeling of the heart of empathy that emerged like a beautiful weave, story by story, as we sat in sacred circles together. Encircling the pain with love and understanding somehow makes the the bad stuff feel lighter and our mutual longings for a “gender healed world” more in reach.  

Below is one more glimpse of a creation from the retreat — a poem that was written and shared by the men in a closing ceremony honoring the women.

From the Men, Honoring the Women 

Before we were formed in the womb, O God,

You knew us. You knitted us 

together in our mother’s womb.


We honor you as our teachers, 

as our wives, as our daughters,

as our friends … as our mothers.


May we be re-formed together 

in love, knitted together in the strength 

of tenderness, in the power 

of self-giving, in the hope of re-birth.


You have shown us what it means

to be brave and bold, and truthful,

and righteously angry.

We thank you.
Group photo of participants in the Gender Equity and Reconciliation International retreat at the Warren Conference Center in Framingham, MA.

 

For more on how you can participate in a gender reconciliation circle to do something about the deeper roots that lead to all these #MeToo stories, check out the work of Gender Reconciliation International.

Emily Nielsen Jones is Co-Founder Imago Dei Fund. For reflections about the circle which met in Seattle, gathering 33 leaders of the men’s and women’s movements, read Deep Listening Across the Gender Line.

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New Infusion: $13 Million to Address Gender and Race Health Gaps

While the Affordable Health Care Act helped to reduce health disparities, there are still significant gaps in funding for women of color. The California Wellness Foundation is finding ways to address these gaps.

Research has now identified a significant health care gender gap, showing how much less we know about the health of women compared to men. Even more underfunded than women, however, are the specific health concerns of women of color. While Black and Latina women together represent less than a quarter of all U.S. women, they make up the large majority of those currently living with HIV. To fight this disparity, the California Wellness Foundation (Cal Wellness) recently announced $13 million in new grantmaking specifically aimed at helping address the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on women of color, as well as the health needs of recently incarcerated women reentering society.

Cal Wellness is a Los Angeles-based private, independent foundation dedicated to protecting and improving Californians’ health and wellness by increasing access to health care, quality education, good jobs, healthy environments and safe neighborhoods. Since its founding in 1992, it has awarded over 9,000 grants totaling more than one billion dollars.

Millions of uninsured Californians obtained health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, but with the ACA under strain, those gains are being eroded. Moreover, social services and reproductive rights are also being undermined. “Communities of color are bearing the brunt of these attacks,” says Judy Belk, President and CEO of Cal Wellness. “But there is hope. Philanthropy can play a critical role in advancing wellness for all by fighting the injustices affecting the most vulnerable among us.” Crystal Crawford, Program Director of Cal Wellness, adds that the AIDS/HIV/STIs and prisoner health reentry initiatives represent the “next phase of the Foundation’s long history of boldly confronting injustices based on race and gender.”

According to the National Institutes of Health’s report, Women of Color Health Information Collection: HIV Infection and AIDS, “Compared with females of other races/ethnicities, African Americans and Latinas are disproportionately affected at all stages of infection with HIV and by all reported measures: new cases of HIV infection, annual diagnoses of HIV infection, annual diagnoses of AIDS, and prevalence of HIV infection and AIDS.” In addition, women of color have high rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and are at high risk of acquiring HIV and STIs due to social and economic conditions such as high rates of poverty, ongoing trauma, income inequality and unemployment that make it difficult for them to protect their sexual health.

A key part of the HIV/AIDS/STIs initiative is “Upspoken,” a public awareness campaign, coordinated by the issue-driven communications firm RALLY. “Upspoken,” will engage multi-generational Black women and contribute to new ways of thinking about HIV, AIDS and STIs among direct service providers, advocacy organizations, individual and institutional funders, and policymakers. The campaign also seeks to increase understanding and raise awareness about the disproportionate impact of HIV, AIDS and STIs on women of color, and encourage increased funding and improved public policies in this area.

The initiative is funding two demonstration projects—one in Los Angeles County and one in Alameda County (whose county seat is Oakland) to document and disseminate best practices in prevention and early intervention for women of color at risk for HIV, AIDS and STIs, and to develop innovations in this area. The L.A. County project is being led by Gail Wyatt, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Culture, Trauma and Mental Health Disparities at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. In Alameda County, Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases (WORLD) is partnering with the East Bay Community Foundation on the project.

Cal Wellness is not the only organization supporting the health of women of color. The Oakland, California-based Catalyst Fund/Groundswell Fund is a major funder of initiatives and research surrounding reproductive justice and health, including birth justice with an emphasis on women of color. Catalyst Fund/Groundswell Fund has supported projects in 39 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, including initiatives of Black Women for Wellness (Los Angeles), and COLOR, a Denver-based Latina-led and Latina-serving grassroots nonprofit, among many. Catalyst/Groundswell also partners with other foundations including the Ms. Foundation for Women, the Chicago Foundation for Women, the New York Women’s Foundation, and Third Wave Fund that provide grants to organizations addressing the health needs of women of color.

The health of former prisoners, particularly women of color, is precarious. As is the case with men, women of color are overrepresented among the incarcerated. When they return to their communities, formerly incarcerated women face significant barriers to building stable and healthy lives including unemployment and lack of access to education, permanent housing, health care and support in being reunited with their families. For women of color, these barriers are exacerbated by racial discrimination.

Cal Wellness’ Re-entry and Employment Initiative will enable formerly incarcerated women of color, especially African American and Latina women, to improve their health through financial well-being by increasing their participation in the workforce and building financial assets. The Foundation awarded grants to four organizations (A New Way of Life, Justice Now, Time for Change Foundation and The Praxis Project) to promote local and statewide policies with a gender lens that impact the specific challenges facing re-entry women. One such policy is effective implementation of Proposition 47, which was passed by California voters in 2014 and reclassified sentences for a number of drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. The four grantees have established the Women Organizing Re-entry Communities of Color for Prop 47 (WORCC) Collaborative to target Prop 47 resources to benefit women of color as they seek employment and financial well-being upon re-entry.

As part of the initiative, Cal Wellness also approved grants to support three demonstration projects (Root & Rebound in Fresno County, A New Way of Life in Los Angeles County and Time for Change Foundation in San Bernardino County). The grantees will engage formerly incarcerated women of color, especially Black and Latina women, in comprehensive workforce development services including job training, career advancement and asset-building. The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), which has offices in six states and focuses exclusively on employment for those with criminal records, also received funding and will provide technical assistance.

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