By Rachel Bird • April 11, 2017•Issues, Sexism, Sexual Harassment, and Other Forms of Discrimination
I’m Rachel Bird, the founder of Working Women Advocates. After Susan Fowler’s groundbreaking article about her year at Uber went viral, it seemed like there was a paradigm societal shift. People are now, more than ever, willing to admit and discuss at length the hardships women face in the workplace. I not only want to join that discussion, I want to change it.
Like Susan Fowler, my experiences in the workplace inspired me to reflect on the hardships I faced as a professional woman. As a software developer, my reflections have taken a different form – a web app called Working Women Advocates. The app is intended to connect working women with advocates who provide support and guidance as they navigate situations like harassment, sexism, exclusion, discrimination, and assault.
When I faced hardships in the workplace, I was always thrown by what was happening. I struggled to accept the reality that people could treat each other so poorly, because I always wanted to see the good in people. At the same time I also felt a paralyzing fear, drowning in uncertainty. How would I take care of myself if I left my job? How could I know I wouldn’t have to face this at the next job?
Much advice on the Internet for these types of situations is built in a vacuum, “do A, B, C, D.” It doesn’t take into account the emotional strain someone is under when these things happen, or the nuances of each particular situation. The last time I faced harassment and exclusion in the workplace, I suffered severe emotional setbacks. I was even prescribed Xanax so I could sleep at night. Making sound decisions under these conditions was quite difficult; I needed an advocate to keep me on track at work.
In the end, an entire team of advocates came forward, and they proved invaluable to my personal and professional recovery. My friend who worked in HR helped me understand my options if I wanted to go on disability. The PayUp community, a network of professional women, directed me to a legal aid clinic in my area so I could ask legal questions. A local employment attorney gave me a free consultation. My doctor reminded me that self-care was of utmost importance. I kept eating healthy and exercising because of her guidance. Finally, a fellow co-worker, a male software developer, chose to quit a few weeks after me and corroborated my complaints. He was truly my ally, and supported me through it all. Much like Ms. JD’s T.I.M. initiative, my male co-worker proved to be a vital advocate that provided professional and emotional validation when I needed it the most.
I thought about my team as I built the Working Women Advocates app. I believe that every woman experiencing the types of issues I faced should have access to a similar team of advocates. To my surprise, my web development school and classmates agreed! I won an award for the app, and two of my classmates offered to assist in building the app for production.
I put together a landing page, wrote a blog post explaining what we were up to, and volunteers started to roll in. Two months later, Working Women Advocates is now comprised of a beautiful, diverse community of volunteers who are passionate about equality and social justice.
We work together remotely, and span the hemisphere. Teams include: Fundraising, Social Media, Legal, UI/UX, and Software Development. We have filed for 501(c)(3) status, and have established ourselves on social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, AngelList, and Medium. We have an impactful logo and Google Drive full of working documents. We’re also putting together our board, and hard at work building our app.
There’s no way I could have done this by myself. I am continually inspired by the enthusiasm of the Working Women Advocates team, and the seemingly ever-growing support for the platform.
Of course, there have been obstacles. Most are due to the inherent challenging nature of starting a nonprofit, and building a vision out from scratch. I’ve had conversations with team members where I was expecting to hear, “Well, that’s not going to happen, Rachel.” There must be a point where I ask too much, right?
No. Every response has been positive and uplifting, determined to make this platform a reality. The volunteers are the reason working women will soon have free access to advocacy. And let’s be clear: the volunteers are not all women. Working Women Advocates team members come in all types of genders, sexual orientations, ages, and ethnicities. Because the main missions of Working Women Advocates — equality and compassion — concern everybody.
Both Working Women Advocates and Ms. JD fill a need in our communities, a need for advocacy for working women. Ms. JD raises awareness in the professional and educational settings about the inequality of the sexes in the legal profession, providing resources specifically tailored to women pursuing law. Working Women Advocates has the same approach to those issues, but on a broader scale. The Working Women Advocates app will go further by providing personalized, free, real-time solutions that address all hardships a woman can face in the workplace, not just legal. Hopefully through this all-encompassing and affordable approach, increased advocacy will assist working women everywhere in their efforts to obtain equality.