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Terry E. Cohen headshot

Pure Leaf and SeekHer Provide Grants to Women Who Stood Up for Themselves in the Workplace

Pure Leaf

During the following three years, tea brand Pure Leaf will partner with organizations including the SeekHer Foundation and commit $1 million to organizations and initiatives that support women who have had enough of feeling compelled to do mundane work, coming in on a day off or handling someone else’s tasks.

Why would Pure Leaf get involved in distributing “No” grants? Let’s set the context.

Women are still falling behind in the job market

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ February 2022 jobs report delivered good news about progress toward reaching pre-pandemic employment levels, but that goalpost still has 1.14 million jobs to go to be reached. One obvious way to fill that gap is to get the remaining 1.1 million women who lost jobs or continue to leave — including 31,000 Black women last month — to return to work.

The problem is not a lack of work ethic on women’s part; in fact, the opposite holds true.

The pandemic hit mothers in the workplace hard, whether single or married. Childrearing and schooling in the home fell mostly on them as work came home or jobs were lost and as daycares and schools closed down.

A culture of fear over setting limits and saying 'no'

For employed women without children, also both married and single, horror stories abound: 20-hour workdays, juggling the caregiving to parents or ill partners, and demands for being the emotional and work support to others 24/7. “Superwoman syndrome” is real and becomes a vicious cycle of external social and work pressure combined with internal expectations.

The findings of a recent SeekHer study bear out these mental health issues confronting women in the U.S. and globally. Women often put the needs of others first, feel guilty for engaging in self-care, and experience fear or discomfort with their work environments.

To that last point, the study found that only about 32 percent of women felt their workplace was open to discussing personal and professional needs. Not only do companies fail to provide this safe space, according to women’s perceptions, but businesses often exact punishment for women saying “no” to work demands.

To quantify what saying “no” means for women in the workplace, Pure Leaf Iced Tea, which launched its “No Is Beautiful” campaign in 2020, surveyed 1,800 U.S. women in November 2021. Its research found that three-quarters of the women expected negative consequences for saying “no” at work and that nearly 2 out of 3 actually experience that negativity.

Further, the study assessed that saying “no” had actual costs in future earnings. For white women, it translates to $731 per incident. Racial discrimination adds to the toxic work stew, as each incident costs Asian-American women $871, Hispanic women $1,403 and Black women $1,406.

Pure Leaf and SeekHer step up for women

To that end, Pure Leaf and SeekHer recently launched part of the overall initiative, which features Olympic champion Allyson Felix, to provide $2,000 “No Grants” to 100 individual women who have been adversely affected by standing up for themselves at work.

Beyond her athletic accomplishments, Felix gained widespread attention for the split she and Nike had over the issue of women athletes becoming pregnant. Nike later altered its policy. Felix moved to Athleta and then achieved Olympic gold again, running in shoes from her own line, Saysh.

The problem of saying “no” pre-dates the pandemic, of course. One study found that women accept or volunteer for low-promotability tasks more often (76 percent) than men (51 percent). Because women do so — whether out of fear of negative consequences, a desire for social acceptance, altruism or other motivator — both men and women are more likely to ask women to perform a low-status task.

This creates yet another vicious cycle that is disadvantageous to women.

Business leaders can turn such interactions into better outcomes for women in simple but effective ways. For example, assigning low-promotability tasks equitably removes employee discretion in accepting or declining a request.

Alternatively, tasks can be weighted with value, so they lead to promotion or are paired with other incentives, such as bonuses or time off. Even just setting guidelines applicable to everyone on how and when to say “no” improves the cultural environment in support of women’s mental health.

One more “atta-girl” for serving on one more committee isn’t going to draw women back to the workplace or compensate companies for lost productivity due to their absence. To borrow from the immortal words of vaudeville:

No applause — just throw solutions.

Image credit: Naassom Azevedo via Unsplash

Terry E.  Cohen headshotTerry E. Cohen

Terry is a writer based in St. Augustine, Florida. With an extensive background in business, government and media, she writes about economic equity for women, public policy, education and efforts to improve environmental impacts.

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