Harassment is pervasive, horrendous, and yet often talked about in hushed voices and behind closed doors. #coffeetoo looks to change that by creating awareness and providing folks a platform to share stories and resources in the coffee industry.
BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Harassment is an issue in every industry, and it has received more attention than ever due to the recent allegations against a number of high-profile celebrities. Potentially more shocking is the number of systems and protective forces that keep predators free from retribution and victims without any actionable recourse to take. Within industries, perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence are often whispered to one another, and knowledge is often shared in these informal whisper networks. While these complex “whisper networks”—a term colloquially used between victims for years and which was recently covered in the The New York Times—bring no justice to the victims nor hold predators accountable, they’re often the only way most victims can feel comfortable sharing their experiences. Laws about harassment are poorly understood and implemented, and victims are often unfairly asked to “prove” allegations instead of being believed.
Seattle-based specialty-coffee veteran Molly Soeder decided that she wasn’t going to allow this to continue, and started the Facebook page #coffeetoo to help clear the cloud that often surrounds sexual harassment. “#coffeetoo was created when I witnessed sexual harassment occurring at a coffee event this fall, and I myself was put in some unwanted situations,” she says. As Molly shared her experiences with others, it became clear that she wasn’t alone. “Several colleagues and I started a discussion on the pervasiveness of discrimination and sexual harassment in the coffee industry, and we shared our stories—and we all had at least one—and we agreed that something had to happen now.” Quickly, the inspiration for the project presented itself. “The next day, I became aware of the #metoo movement, and it solidified for me that this issue will not go away without strong and immediate action.”
When it comes to harassment, information is often hard to come by, and knowing your rights as a victim can be confusing; #coffeetoo hopes to dispel the confusion surrounding harassment. “The mission of #coffeetoo is to gather and share information about 1) our rights, 2) our legal options if our rights are violated, and 3) how to take care of ourselves if we are put through an unwanted or traumatic situation,” Molly says. For many victims of harassment, there’s no clear action plan to follow and no guarantee that anyone will be held accountable for wrongdoing. Even in reporting this article, Molly shared some personal stories that put into question what we as a website could publish—are names off-limits? Can you be sued for outing a predator? Do company non-disclosure agreements mean you can’t talk about the harassment you experienced at work? Could we be threatened if we publish this article?
The first goal of #coffeetoo will be to host an event bringing together professionals that deal directly with sexual harassment in the workplace. “Our focus for enacting this mission is on throwing a large event featuring an HR rep, a union rep, a lawyer, and a mental health professional to discuss the aforementioned topics,” Molly says. The event—date and location still to be determined—will also be livestreamed, and the information collected will be distributed to coffee professionals across the nation. “We have a starting goal of finding at least five coffee businesses in different cities around the U.S. who will host a live screening of the event to further get this information into the hands of people who need it,” says Molly.
After this event, Molly is unsure what the future holds. #coffeetoo is still finding its footing, and will be shaped by the members who join and the folks who choose to participate and share resources and stories. “I have been calling this a grassroots community ‘project’ due to its potential for being short term,” Molly shares. “There is the possibility that we will turn this project into a legally established organization down the road, but that is something that will take a considerable amount of discussion and planning. In the meantime, the terms ‘project’ or ‘movement’ are both good fits.” In the future, the project looks to be a resource bank for legal information, as well as a safe haven for community members to speak candidly about their experiences without fear of judgment or retaliation (although it’s important to note as a disclaimer that #coffeetoo can’t promise anyone’s personal or legal safety).
But one thing Molly says she has been astounded by, and will likely shape the direction of the movement, is how quickly people have noticed. “One surprise these past 24 or so hours of having a #coffeetoo Facebook is that a couple of people have posted with their #metoo stories. That wasn’t the goal of the page, but I think some of us have a need to talk about it, so I’ve just now made space and guidelines for it,” she says. If you’re wondering how you can help during these early stages, Molly is looking for volunteers. “We are now connecting people with projects that match their interests and skill sets, including looking for candidates to become Project Leaders,” she says.
And while the volunteers of #coffeetoo will shape the future of the project, Molly has already dreamed up a number of ideas that this future project can tackle. “[We may be] advocating for policy reform, committee formation, signage, and/or booths at coffee events promoting professional behavior, and behavioral and cultural trainings surrounding coffee events,” she says. Future ideas include a potential website with videos and tutorials, support for satellite events, and periodic live Q&A sessions for baristas and coffee leaders alike looking for guidance on how to make their workplaces more equitable and harassment-free.