If you knew only her childhood background, it would be hard to imagine that Debbie Frazier could have built a corporation responsible for more than $100 million in sales annually. But that’s exactly what she’s done.
An Unlikely Industry
Frazier's beginnings were humble to say the least. She grew up in the transient mobile home community, but harbored a deep desire to rise above her situation to see success during her lifetime. Her work ethic was honed at a very early age. At 14, she told employers she was 16 to get a job working at a local hamburger restaurant. She received a scholarship to college, but due to an accident that had landed her father on disability, her family needed her income and she was forced to decline the scholarship. Her family moved to Texas, where Frazier got a job as an office clerk working for a company in the lumber industry.
The male-dominated construction industry was a rocky place for a young woman and Frazier was the only female in the office. She spent several years as a clerk before taking a big risk by asking that they consider her for an open salesperson position with the company. The CEO, bemused by the request, told her she needed to train on the front lines of the business for two full weeks before they would even consider her for the role. She traveled to their wood processing plant in Greeley, Colorado, where she worked in the mill for 12-hour days, sawing 30-pound, 2’X10’ pieces of wood in half with a rip saw. She cleaned the plant at night and was tasked with shoveling snow from the driveway each morning. When she needed a break, there wasn’t even a woman’s restroom to be found in the plant. Eventually Frazier earned the position as the company’s first female sales representative, making exactly half of what her male counterparts did. But she didn’t let that stop her. Her first year in role, she outsold all her (male) peers.
After leaving the construction industry, Frazier went to work for a travel agency whose ethics and business practices didn’t sit well with her. Frustrated with her company, she set out on her own, founding etc group in 1993 (then known as Executive Travel Consultants). Turns out, a business that began with less than $1 million in sales and three employees has today morphed into a $100 million business with 27 full-time employees. Through Frazier's remarkable leadership, the etc group has withstood the test time, continually reinventing itself to remain relevant in today’s crowded marketplace.
Despite the uphill battle of a woman in a then man-lead industry, nothing could detour Debbie’s tenacity to launch and maintain etc group as an industry leader in every facet of the company. What Debbie lacked in formal education, she made up for with heart, spirit and chutzpah.
Frazier is a testament to the fact that old fashioned values still thrive in today’s Millennial world. The tradition of doing business with people still matters today – she’s incredibly passionate about serving and being true to her word. With this old school attention to detail, equality and fairness, Frazier sits on the Advisory Board for the Dallas Stars—alongside twelve male CEOs.
Frazier's business now brings in more than $100 million in revenue and is ranked in the top 50 woman-owned businesses in the U.S., etc group is a private, minority-owned company built on her personal beliefs of service, integrity, persistence and creativity.
After bearing witness to unpleasant business practices at her former travel management company Frazier knew she could put a team together to do better on behalf of and for the corporate traveler. While eight weeks pregnant with her second child, and determined to turn her passion into reality, no obstacle was going to stop her.
By staying nimble in the ever-evolving travel industry, Frazier has continued to grow the business. After their first year, the company grew revenue and profits by 10% and has continued to enjoy both revenue and profit growth in every year following, with an average of 20% year-over-year growth. This year, the company will post an unprecedented 30% growth rate.
Initially the company was singularly focused on providing travel services for clients. It has since evolved into a multi-tiered corporation with several unique lines of business.
Even as recent as the last year, Frazier knew there was still the opportunity to evolve her business – with the ever increasing emphasis placed on conservation and sustainable resources. So she expanded the Branding Solutions division to include “every thing conscious" – focused on regenerated apparel created using recycled water and excess cotton remnants that would otherwise be taking up space in landfills both in the U.S. and overseas. Because, as Frazier says, “sustainability is not someone else’s problem.”
Bringing the apparel line “every thing conscious" to life was no small undertaking. Frazier partnered with the only company in the industry with the patent pending to provide the material, sourcing and shipping of the product.
This new venture grew the Branding division of the company by 50% in the last year and these products are used as uniforms for a several national retail chains. Etc group serves clients such as 7-11, Pier 1 Imports, Cash America, D.R. Horton Homes, and Dean Foods.
Under Frazier's leadership, etc group established a charity and foundation team committed making a difference within the DFW community – supporting a new cause or event each quarter.
The travel agent role is one typically held by females and many of Fraizer's first employees were single working mothers. As a working mother of two, she understood firsthand the delicate balancing act required to do a 24/7 job. To this day, Debbie answers her phone at any hour of the night, in order to "protect the sacred client relationship." Because her staff was completely female, Debbie took advice from the words of makeup maven, Mary Kay Ash, and offered jewelry as a gift for milestone service anniversaries. Diamonds, to be exact. Much like the legendary pink Cadillacs, these precious stones are displayed with pride and serve as daily reminders of how precious each of her employees is to her.
During her tenure as CEO, Frazier has encouraged growth and promotion from within. By helping employees find their true passion in serving their clients, she creates a true win-win for all involved. She is also working with Ernst & Young to get more women on the panel that selects the winners of the contest each year. She never stops.
Frazier doesn’t tell her story very often, but what a remarkable one it is.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.