On November 13, sf.citi hosted the final One City Forum event of 2018, Rebalancing Power: Disrupting Sexism, Assault, and Harassment in the Workplace and Beyond. Hosted at Okta, sf.citi partnered with Airbnb, Callisto, and the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign to facilitate this timely conversation on combating sexual assault and harassment, and highlighting how technology can be part of the solution.
Organized just over a week after the November 6th Midterm Elections, Rebalancing Power followed the largest surge of women—114 in counting—elected into the United States Congress….ever. On top of this, more than 100 of the 138 elected officials accused of sexual harassment have left office, thanks in large part to the rise of #MeToo. Finally, many San Francisco tech companies recently demonstrated their commitment to change by adjusting forced arbitration agreements for employees who come forward about sexual misconduct.
Set against this context of powerful political and cultural reform, sf.citi hopes that Rebalancing Power signals a new era, centered on empowerment, for all employees and the world at large. To carry the conversation, sf.citi Executive Director Jennifer Stojkovic spoke with Jess Ladd, Founder and CEO of Callisto, and Peter Urias, Lead Employment Counsel, at sf.citi member Airbnb.
SETTING THE SCENE
Okta for Good Executive Director Erin Baudo Felter opened the evening, addressing a packed room of attendees from various backgrounds and industries. Noting that this was Okta’s first time hosting a One City Forum event, she dove briefly into the history of sf.citi’s One City Forum, formed two and a half years ago “at a time when there wasn’t a lot of conversation happening between tech and the broader community.” In line with the Forum’s mission, Felter highlighted how Rebalancing Power bridges tech-driven solutions, this time around sexual assault, with the broader community.
Before you rebalance power, you have to examine power . . . I’m excited to take a step back and examine power dynamics with all of you tonight, and move forward together.
– Erin Baudo Felter, Executive Director, Okta for Good
Jess Ladd, then gave a quick presentation of Callisto, a Y-Combinator backed nonprofit organization and tool to support survivors of sexual assault. Ladd underscored that sexual assaults are overwhelmingly (90-95%) committed by repeat offenders.
Watch the full Rebalancing Power discussion.
“If we were able to identify and stop serial perpetrators, if we were able to give survivors the information they need of whether to come forward, we could prevent the majority of harm that happens in our communities,” said Ladd. And that’s where Callisto comes in.
In her presentation, Ladd showed how Callisto allows survivors to timestamp what happened to them and report the perpetrator. They can then be matched with other survivors who report the same offender. Furthermore, each victim is connected with an options counselor, who informs her/him/them about all of their reporting options.
Ultimately what we want to create is one website for any victim of sexual assault or professional sexual coercion, and that can detect any serial sexual predator.
-Jess Ladd, Founder & CEO, Callisto
KEY REBALANCING POWER TAKEAWAYS WITH JESS LADD & PETER URIAS
What are tech companies, like Airbnb, doing to address sexual assault in the workplace?
Urias: I think the idea of reporting in the employment context is critical. It’s very difficult to create a safe environment where folks feel like they can come forward, they will come forward, they won’t be retaliated against. One of the things we’re doing at Airbnb is this “Integrity Belongs Here” campaign. It’s a comprehensive effort to make sure that, in every aspect of the culture, and the structure, and who reports to whom, having an unbiased investigation body, making sure there’s accountability—that we can increasingly show everyone at work that if you come forward, you’ll be protected, we’ll take action, and we’ll do things in the right way.
What kind of impact do companies’ legal mechanisms, like arbitration agreements, have on creating a safe workplace and culture?
Urias: I don’t think that the legal remedies are really the driver of a good workplace and a culture where folks feel like they can come forward. Obviously, you have to have legal access. It’s like a prerequisite, maybe it’s like a necessary condition. But when it gets to that point, so many things have likely already gone wrong . . . Whatever changes you make to your arbitration agreement has to be part of a broader effort that’s comprehensive.
Ladd: What I think about what needs to actually shift to get companies to focus on the right thing— which is preventing this from happening rather than preventing it coming out that it happens—we really need to be paying attention to what are those things, like forced arbitration agreements, that maybe enable that or skew incentives. I think that allowing survivors and employees to have more options to figure out how to come forward, not being forced into any one option, does potentially start to shift incentives in a way that will get employers to focus on actually investing in preventing and responding appropriately to these issues.
What role does government and policy play in stopping sexual assault?
Urias: Certainly, I do think that legislation does make a difference and set the incentives. I don’t know if, at the end of the day, the legal consequences drive the up-the-stream changes. Probably they will as consequences continue to mount. I think it’s maybe only part of the solution.
Ladd: I think there’s a lot of really well-intentioned policies. I mentioned earlier wanting everyone to publicly disclose their number of reports that they’ve gotten, is very well-intentioned but often backfires. Similarly, mandated reporting—that really makes it hard for a survivor to find people who they can talk to who feel like a safe resource for them. I think being really careful to always center survivor and survivor agency within any given policy, and getting feedback from the people you’re impacting the most, is a good blanket rule.
Who is your favorite female icon?
Ladd: Beyonce, because she’s awesome. Outside that, the great RBG.
Urias: I’d probably say Jennifer Lopez. She just had this article that came out. She was talking about how she was going from being the talent to being the owner of everything that she does, and a producer. She had this quote that was like, “I’m in the ground-breaking business. I’m in the glass-breaking business. If you don’t understand that, I can’t work with you.”
PHOTO HIGHLIGHTS FROM REBALANCING POWER
All photos courtesy of Daniel Bahmani. And many thanks to Goatlandia for serving us delicious eats all night long!