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Workplace Harassment: I Took A Chance For Change By Breaking My NDA

4 Min Read
Culture

We have fought this battle before. We fought, we won, and yet were unable to claim a total victory



This is what ran through my head in 2017 when I was deciding whether to break my non-disclosure agreement with WNYC and talk publicly about the bullying and harassment I'd endured while working there. I wondered, "Are women doomed to fight the same battle over and over, generation after generation?"

As a journalist who had covered the issue of sexual harassment and discrimination for years, I already knew several facts about my situation.

  1. Tens of thousands of women had been in the same or similar situation
  2. Some had fought and won
  3. Some had fought and lost
  4. Neither the wins nor the losses had significantly changed the daily working lives of women

Before I decided what to do, I did even more research in the hopes that I could learn from what other women had gone through. As the novelist George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

One of the first stories I read was about Lisa Mays and the women who sued Wall Street. Mays was sexually assaulted while working at Smith Barney and she filed a class action suit against the firm, along with 22 other women. Almost 2,000 women ended up joining the suit, and Smith Barney paid $150 million dollars to settle the case.

One woman told the Washington Post at the time that "It's like they have a manual in their heads as to how to crush women." The case was nicknamed the "Boom-Boom-Room," after an actual room in the firm's Garden City office where male executives consumed vast amounts of alcohol, made lewd comments, and groped multiple women. Think The Wolf of Wall Street, but real life and no Leonardo DiCaprio.

The women who filed the suit were battling mandatory arbitration, a system that forced them to handle complaints within the company and generally take their sexual harassment and assault accusations to white, male arbitrators. One broker allegedly told his female employee that charges of sexual harassment would be dealt with in the Boom-Boom-Room.

Those brave women won their case and helped establish legal precedent for claims of sexual harassment in the workplace. And yet, here we are decades later and 55% of workers who report harassment are still subject to mandatory arbitration. That's more than double the number in the early 2000s. Despite the court victory in the 1990s, one Wall Street lawyer told the New York Times that about 90% of her clients are blocked from legal relief because of binding arbitration agreements. Furthermore, employers have found other ways to silence their workers, like the non-disclosure agreement that I signed when I took the job at WNYC. I chose to speak up in 2017, breaking the NDA that I signed and risking legal action.

One of the great benefits of hosting the show "Retro Report" on PBS is that our mission is to bring greater understanding of today's events by tracing them back to their roots in history. We talked about the #MeToo movement, for example, by telling the story of Lisa Mays and the other women who sued Smith Barney.

Knowing our history, as George Santayana implied, can give us context and insight to better inform our current experience. Even recent history can help. While mulling over my options in 2017, I called the other women who had preceded me in my position to hear what they'd endured and how they'd handled it.

Despite the lessons of both recent and distant history, I was faced with a decision between remaining silent and safe or speaking up to protect the future but risking retaliation. I may have learned from the past but my employers had not. Or, perhaps we had both just learned very different lessons.

A number of the women who were part of the Boom-Boom-Room suit now say that change has been incremental or non-existent in financial firms. If anything, they say, legal victories have simply made the harassment and discrimination more subtle than in was during the heyday of 1990s bro culture.

To quote another famous philosopher, Georg Hegel once said "We learn from history that we do not learn from history." Time and again, we see that mistakes of the past are made by ensuing generations in a never-ending cycle of bad choices with little retribution.

If we are to truly learn from history, it can only be done by examining our past with a clear and honest eye, not seeking to excuse or justify anyone but, instead, to avoid the errors of our elders. I've learned to never sign away my right to justice. I hope other women will learn the same lesson from my experience and the experience of all the women who have come before me. We have fought this battle before. It's time to claim true victory: an end to the contract clauses that seek to silence us.


This piece was originally published September 30, 2019.

People

How This Twice Bankrupt Founder Built Herself Up To A $240M Net Worth

Nobody knows what it's like to be sh*t out of luck like Suzy Batiz. Maybe that's why her million-dollar idea was a spray to stop your sh*t from stinking.

Yes, this woman is on a mission to keep your bathroom dos (and don'ts) on the DL, and she is doing it all with a hefty dose of personal philosophy and spirituality. It's hard to pick just one place to start with a maverick like Batiz. Though, maverick doesn't quite do her justice.

We could talk about her early life, growing up poor in Arkansas with two parents struggling with addiction and mental health problems. Or we could discuss her two bankruptcies and a lifelong history of failed hustles and side-hustles. Then there's her personal life; she's been divorced twice, has three kids, and is a survivor of abuse. You could say she's been through some sh*t. (Okay, the poop jokes end here, I swear.) If this all sounds too crazy to believe already then you better stop reading now because it gets wilder. This woman is all that and then some.

But, there's no time like the present, so I guess we'll start there.

Suzy Batiz is one of the richest self-made women in America with a net worth of $240 million. She's currently working on uplifting other business owners and creative-thinkers with her personal and professional philosophy of "alive ideas" as well as running her own companies, Supernatural, a 100% natural cleaning product company, and Poo~Pourri, the famous odor-eliminating toilet spray line that started it all with a bang (or a plop). (Okay, now the poop jokes are really done.)

Poo-Pourri's first commercial, which has now garnered almost 50 million views since its release in 2013, absolutely blew away viewers with its hilariously crass yet poetic verbiage surrounding this lovely woman's "cavernous bowels." Even I remember first seeing it almost seven years ago. Though I wasn't even sure if it was a real product at first. I was so busy laughing that I almost missed the line: "Yes, it is a real product. And yes, it really works." No one but Batiz could have thought up an idea so new, so wild, and at the same time so deeply necessary for people everywhere. It seems that poop is the market's natural equalizer.

(Seriously though, how good is this commercial?)

She's reached some of the highest peaks of success when it comes to consumer goods, but Batiz's newest venture asks people to turn inward and evaluate their thoughts and personal processes to support a culture of deeply conscious creation. Alive Ideas represents all of the lessons in both entrepreneurship and spirituality that Batiz has learned firsthand. Because, for her, the entrepreneurial and the spiritual are often one and the same. In her own words:

"Your external reality is just a reflection of your internal reality, so you have to do your personal work to shift from the inside out."

She takes this marriage of philosophies very seriously and infuses it into every level of her business, offering her employees training in transcendental meditation (a non-negotiable daily activity for Batiz) and Headspace app subscriptions. Batiz knows that good work has to start from the inside out, and that's why she's so keen to share this philosophy with the world and help other people realize that, too. That's what this new enterprise is all about.

Alive ideas are those twinges of inspiration that you can feel in every inch of your being — the ones that are just bursting to take shape in the world. Take Poo-Pourri as a perfect example, it was something that no one could have expected. A product that needed to exist, but a need that had never before been conceptualized (let alone actualized) by anybody. Until Batiz, that is.

Suzy Batiz

She's always been a "natural creator," so it's only natural that her current state of being revolves around bringing to life new ideas and products. But even that could only have come about through what she describes as the "luxury of losing everything."

It took 38 years and a lifetime of both personal and professional hardships before Batiz was ready to call it quits. After all the hustles, there was just no hustle left in her.

So she took a four-year spiritual sabbatical, during which she realized that she'd spent her entire life thus far "selling out" and "making deals" for all the wrong reasons. "Basically, I'd lost it all and didn't even have a good time doing it!" That was what really set her off. "It was only when I changed my mindset to only follow ideas that lit me up that the real success started flowing." There's those alive idea's she's talking about!

Suzy Batiz is the antithesis of your stereotypical entrepreneur. She wears flowing skirts, makes poop jokes, and has the vibe of a fun-loving guru. She basically spent her entire life trying (and failing) to find success through financial means, only to lose everything and then some. It took hitting rock bottom to realize that she needed to start fresh. It was only once she'd chucked all of the typical toxic motivators out the window that her real genius could shine through all the bullsh*t.

Full Interview Transcript

1. How would you describe your climb from growing up, to bankruptcy, to millionaire? And how does it feel to have come so far?

I grew up in Arkansas very poor, with a mother that was depressed on pain pills and a father that was a bipolar alcoholic. From an early age, I had the impression that money was my way out. If I could just make money, I would be somebody and I would mean something in the world.

By the time I was 22, I'd already been married, bankrupt (for the first time), divorced and attempted suicide. Shortly after that, I met and married a wealthy man who turned out to be abusive. I clawed my way out of that terrible situation to find myself divorced again and homeless with two boys under the age of 2. I continued to work multiple jobs and soon met my ex-husband of 26 years. He was a drummer who didn't have much to offer aside from his love at the time, which sounded like a dream after the last situation I was in. I constantly hustled and side hustled, but all my business ventures typically ended in failure. At 38 years old, I lost funding for a dot com recruiting platform that I'd invested our life savings into, leading to my second bankruptcy and what I call "the luxury of losing everything".

I vowed to leave business behind entirely and went on a four-year spiritual sabbatical. I looked back and realized that I'd spent my whole life husting, selling out and making deals that felt wrong in order to get something I thought I wanted. Basically, I'd lost it all and didn't even have a good time doing it! This is when everything changed for me. It was only when I changed my mindset to only follow ideas that lit me up that the real success started flowing. I was no longer living for external validation, but rather from the inside out. Ironically, it was once I'd sworn off business and chasing money that my success and wealth came.

2. You seem to be innately entrepreneurial person, was there any moment or experience in your life that made you really think: "This is what I have to do."

I've always been a natural creator. Growing up we had very little, so if I wanted a new outfit for my Barbie, I'd sew it myself. I've always had that spirit in me — but at one point I actually believed I was the worst entrepreneur in the world. I had more than a dozen failed businesses and two bankruptcies by the time I was 38, so I swore off business altogether. It wasn't until I realized chasing money and success wasn't making me happy and I did my internal work that Poo~Pourri was born.

A few years later, a friend of mine was interviewing and asked how I knew which ideas to follow — how could I tell which ones would turn out to be successful? The question piqued my interest. I realized it had nothing to do with the analytical or rational reasons a business should succeed. Rather, I remembered the feeling in my body when I first got the idea for Poo~Pourri. I felt a zing up my left arm, I got chill bumps, it felt like everything went into hi-def and I had so much energy to research and create because the idea wouldn't leave me alone. My curiosity continued and I had a conversation with Dr. Bruce Lipton to ask him a burning question: Can ideas be alive? His answer, in short, was: absolutely! He said that everything, including thoughts and ideas, has energy, and "every living thing is seeking more life-force energy." This was my aha moment. When I focused on ideas that gave me energy, that felt ALIVE, they turned out to be more resilient and successful. I followed the breadcrumbs of what made me feel alive and it's led me to here — what a wild ride!

3. What drives you to keep moving forward in life and in business after all the success you've attained thus far?

My ultimate goal is to reach my highest evolution in this lifetime. I strive to be lit up daily in my personal and business life and follow only things that resonate (though it's a practice and I misstep all the time). I love bringing alive ideas into physical form, and my businesses are those manifestations. I truly believe that I was lucky enough to have the luxury of losing everything. I know that at any time I can lose it all, and if that happens, I want to make sure I can look back and know I had a damn good time.

4. A lot of people feel that there is a big disconnect between capitalism and spiritually, but you seem to have found a sweet spot for both yourself and your business ventures. How closely intertwined is your spirituality with your entrepreneurial ventures? And why?

I don't think of things as being a part of my work life or a part of my personal spiritual life. It's all the same for me. Your external reality is just a reflection of your internal reality, so you have to do your personal work to shift from the inside out. Daily transcendental meditation is my number-one non-negotiable. Starting my day with space to clear out the noise of the outside world has been just as essential for my business as it has for my personal wellness. I share this gift with Poo~Pourri employees as well by offering TM training and Headspace app subscriptions and providing only healthy fuel and snacks in the office so we are all operating at optimal levels.

I also believe that there's nothing wrong with wanting money and success. Who wouldn't? But where I've found the most impact is in my actions. If I'm doing something or chasing an idea only to get money, it doesn't come. When I do my internal work and follow what's resonant because it feels good within my being, wouldn't you know that's when the money flows.

5. If you could go back in time and tell your younger self that you'd one day be one of America's richest self-made women by way of selling poop products, how do you think you'd react?

I'd lose my shit and probably laugh in your face because it would be so far beyond what I could have imagined. When I was little, I had the dream of working in a factory or at the post office because those were steady and consistent jobs. I wouldn't have ever even known to dream of being the one to finally break a pattern of generational poverty.

Breaking these types of patterns, the ones that are outdated and no longer serve us, is a huge passion of mine. I've got the world comfortable talking about shit, now what else can we get people to talk about?