Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece is by Jaime-Alexis Fowler, Founder & Executive Director of Empower Work, discussing how women, and anyone who needs outside support for a critical issue at work, can access this service, which is generously supported by Craig Newmark Philanthropies.
Jobs are at the center of opportunity. They affect everything from earning potential and career mobility to financial security and emotional well-being. Access to career opportunities, and support along the way, can play a critical role in gender equity and inclusion—in the workplace and beyond.
Two years ago, just after Susan Fowler’s headline-making Uber memo, a friend of a friend connected with me about a challenge she was facing at work. Just out of college, first in her family to join her industry, she’d experienced a terrible situation that left her confused and unsure of what to do. As I hung up the phone, I was left wondering: how can we better support and empower people at critical work moments?
After conducting extensive research to answer this question, we launched Empower Work, a nonprofit that provides confidential, immediate support via SMS for work-related issues. We found that while challenges at work are nearly universal, the resources to navigate them are not. Without an accessible, trusted place to turn to, those with less social capital are more likely to take pay cuts, leave industries all together, or leave jobs without the next role lined up.
By providing a sounding board and resources, Empower Work can help change that trajectory.
Over the past year, we’ve moved from concept to national reach, thanks to a community of champions who believe in our mission and who took a leap with us—including Omidyar Network, The Pineapple Fund, Fast Forward, Microsoft, and over 100 individual donors.
Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies, was one of our initial supporters. On Equal Pay Day this year, he generously tripled his gift—an inspiring commitment to improving opportunity and making workplaces more equitable, inclusive, and respectful, particularly for women in technology.
“Our country aspires to fairness, opportunity, and respect for all,” said Newmark. “Empower Work embodies those values and is making a difference for women in tech by valuing them and listening to them. It’s a big honor to support this organization as they scale this work across the nation.”
With Craig’s catalytic contribution, we’ll leverage our learnings from the past year to reach tens of thousands of additional workers, including those who have historically been excluded, silenced, and marginalized. This is especially critical in industries like tech, which has gender imbalances across its workforce and leadership.
Women, and particularly women of color, across all industries are more likely to experience harassment and discrimination, and are also disproportionately more likely to experience what social psychologists call negative “pathway behaviors.” New York University Professor Dolly Chugh describes these as, “non-formalized, seemingly minor ways in which an individual’s chances for success are improved or worsened.” They include microaggressions, double standards, and unconscious bias.
To make significant progress towards equitable opportunities and economies, we need to dramatically shift cultural norms and expectations within workplaces. And we need to radically transform how we support people at critical, opportunity-altering moments.
We’ve seen that one way to do this is to meet people where they are at the moment a challenge happens. Over 91% of people who text with us say they feel better after a conversation and, a few weeks later, have taken an action that results in an outcome they want. They’ve negotiated a severance agreement to get financial coverage while changing jobs, provided feedback to a manager, or asked for a pay raise and gotten it. And over 90% of our trained peer counselors, all volunteers, say they learn new skills that they bring back to their workplaces.
“Wow, thank you so much. This was incredibly helpful,” one texter shared, “I can’t thank you and this service enough. Just talking validated it as a concern and shake off some of the anxiety surrounding the issue. I feel much better about taking this on.”
Another texter wrote, “You are doing such important work. I have spent years looking for actionable advice for my work woes. Have a wonderful evening and know that you have made my journey a little bit easier.”
Another texter simply stated, “I could never repay you.”
Craig’s generosity is an inspiring commitment to helping everyone reach their fullest potential. I’m humbled and grateful for Craig and for our community of partners, who believe, like we do, that when people thrive at work, communities, companies, and the economy thrive. Together, we’re creating healthier, more equitable workplaces where everyone is heard, valued, and empowered.