On November 8, 2021, the Wellesley Centers for Women hosted “Sounding the Alarm: Speaking Up Against Workplace Harassment, Discrimination, and Labor Abuse,” a virtual social change dialogue. During the panel discussion, three Wellesley College alumnae talked about their personal and professional experiences speaking out against labor abuse and their hopes for a more equitable workplace for women.
Panelists included Shelly Anand ’08, J.D., executive director and co-founder of Sur Legal Collaborative, an immigrant and worker rights non-profit organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, and a member of the WCW Council of Advisors; Lindsey Boylan ’06, MBA, a career urban planner who previously served as the deputy secretary for economic development and housing for the State of New York; and Charlotte Newman ’04, MBA, a global business development leader in technology and an advocate for workplace equity. The conversation was moderated by Linda Wertheimer ’65, a senior national correspondent for National Public Radio, a member of the WCW Council of Advisors, a former Wellesley College Alumnae Trustee, and an Alumnae Achievement Award recipient.
The panelists began by sharing their experiences: Boylan’s decision to share her story of workplace harassment triggered a chain of events that led to the resignation of the governor of New York in August 2021. Newman filed suit against her employer in March 2021 for racial discrimination and sexual harassment. And Anand recently represented a group of immigrant poultry workers who survived a toxic nitrogen leak at a poultry facility in Gainesville, Georgia.
“I'm lucky that I was saved by almost a dozen other women who said, ‘me too,’” said Boylan, referring to the other women who came forward with similar reports of harassment. “It’s been a very difficult road, but it’s one that I wouldn’t change.”
Since the 1970s and 1980s, women have pursued high-profile legal cases and leveraged public pressure to call out sexual and racial harassment in the workplace. In the wake of the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements, Anand, Boylan, and Newman are part of a new generation that is coming forward to bring an end to sexual, racial, and other forms of harassment and hold perpetrators accountable, whether individual or corporate.
“In a lot of ways, Black women have been at the forefront of pointing to and asking for a greater awareness around sexual violence and the ways in which sexual violence has been racialized, even beginning in the 1860s,” said Newman. “If I were to connect this current moment to the past, that's how I think about it: that it's a continuation of many sacrifices over many generations by many different women.”
Society-wide, there is a growing consensus that workplace harassment is often intersectional. That is, discrimination, harassment, and intimidation based on factors such as sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender expression, ability status, immigration status, religion, and the like are often co-occurring. Uniquely vulnerable are those in low-wage jobs and industries.
“I’m here to speak truth to power about the experiences of low-income, often undocumented women, who are speaking up and fighting—just not in a way that we can publicly see,” said Anand.
The panelists concluded by sharing their advice for young women starting out in their careers, including ways they can educate themselves on their rights in the workplace. Newman wrote a blog post on dealing with harassment and discrimination at work and offered links to other resources on pay equity and seeking justice in the workplace.
“It really is extraordinary to believe that we had, back in the day, so many of the same issues,” noted Wertheimer. “We’ve come a long way, but we haven’t come all the way yet.”
November 8, 2021