In a season when simply gazing at the news or scrolling through Facebook feeds can elevate one's heart rate, finding an impactful way to give back and make a difference can be tricky. In an era with a renewed thirst for checking the accuracy of sources, if one isn't a billionaire, what is the most effective way to help others and ignite change?
Samantha Pleet, the founder of the independent fashion brand, Samantha Pleet, was faced with this very task and wanted to feel involved. So she and her husband (and co-creator) came up with small opportunities to let their voice ring loud and clear by using their 10-year-old homegrown brand. Not only did they donate 100 percent of their proceeds to Planned Parenthood the weekend of the history-making Women’s March, they also gave 10 percent of their proceeds on Black Friday. After the appalling and unwarranted immigration ban, they donated 10 percent of a week’s worth of sales to the ACLU.
Here, Pleet shares why this move was important not only for her, but for women everywhere.
What inspired you to branch out on your own?
“While in school I did internships with the likes of 3 As Four, Harper's Bazaar and a lingerie designer. I started my line with the minimal knowledge I gained from these experiences. I wanted to design clothes that I was looking for but could not find, and I was young and had the energy. I never considered anything else.
We have grown from just a few small boutiques carrying the line, to working with about 30 select retailers and our own online store. We are still entirely independent and work with small boutiques and, on occasion, we have collaborated with larger companies like Urban Outfitters and Wolverine.
What made you decide to give 100 percent of your proceeds to Planned Parenthood?
We were so inspired by the Women’s March and the energy that it brought that during the event and the weekend that followed we wanted to give all our sales proceeds to PP.
While PP has not personally affected my life, it has impacted that of so many of my friends. I just gave birth to a daughter and I want Planned Parenthood to be there for her if she needs it.
I want to do what I can to help the world around me, in the ways that I can make a difference. I think that if I can give money when I'm having a sale, that can make a very big difference to the organizations that I want to support.
Why is giving back an important part of business?
Giving back with donations is something we can do to directly benefit the world we live in. When we have a sale it is a great time to generate enough sales so we can make a contribution that will actually make a difference. Not only are you giving to a cause you care about, but you are also able to promote your cause and bring awareness to the issues.
What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs who want to make charitable giving part of their business plan?
We should be taking a stand on issues all the time, but especially now we cannot be silent. In this age, we have channels through social media to speak out, so we should use it. It's a balance to communicate with your customer without preaching to them, but speaking out and donations from sales are a great way to bring awareness and make a difference.
What advice do you give for figuring out what your 'cause' is?
We have been giving to organizations like Planned Parenthood, Earthjustice, The Southern Poverty Law Center, but there are also many more. Following activists and artists who are doing amazing things like Sarah Sophie Flicker, ShiShi Rose, Jenna Gribbon, and Tennessee Thomas have been a great inspiration as well. There are many organizations to donate and bring awareness to, so do your research on the causes you feel most passionate about.
Do you think it’s an important time for a company to support women's causes?
Right now, so much funding is being pulled by the U.S. that it's up to businesses and individuals to make up the difference. Issues like the environment, Women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, LGBT rights, and immigration are all in jeopardy, and it is beyond troubling. I want my daughter to have the right to choose her own destiny whatever it may be and I'm sure that is the view of our customers as well. Our clothes are made with love and we want to give some of that back.
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What’s next for the line?
Children's wear and shoes are in the near future. I think it's more important now than ever as a young women to run a successful company and inspire others.
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.