Come for free coffee, stay for social justice

On Oct.15, the Office of Sustainability held a discussion on Women in the Workplace fueled by free coffee and led by panelists with real life experience working in “a man’s world.”

The goal of Social Justice Coffee Hour is to foster "engaging and meaningful dialogue," says Nicole Fernandez.

The goal of Social Justice Coffee Hour is to foster “engaging and meaningful dialogue,” says Nicole Fernandez. (Photo by Carson Schafer)

The three panelists each brought something different to the table. Tonya Mitchell is Campus Executive Chef at Aramark and is famed for her appearance on the Food Network’s Chopped. “You have to carry your own set of cajunas,” was her advice to attendees.

Amanda Baldwin serves as Development and Program Manager for the Center for Women, a nonprofit focused on empowering women and promoting equality across gender, race and sexual identity.

Jen Jones came from right here on campus, as Facilities Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability. She spoke about having to prove herself as willing to “get dirty and get the job done” to the men around her at work.

After brief introductions, panelists split up to lead round table discussions where, coffee mugs in hand, participants shared personal experience and insights about equality and discrimination based on race, gender or sexuality.

“I wanted to create a safe space for people to just talk, share, and learn about the issue and each other.” said event organizer Nicole Fernandez. “Often times I find that conversations about social justice are either tinged with despair and frustration, or are screaming matches/Facebook comment wars where each person involved tries to ‘out-debate’ the other.”

“This serves as a way to not only approach the conversation/dialogue on the same footing, but also connect and collaborate.”

From gaps in income and education, to chauvinistic or white-dominated workplace culture, everyone has seen inequality in some form, whether it is conscious or not. Panelists showed how important it is for women to have representation in the workplace.

Encouraged to bring their own mugs, attendees enjoyed free coffee and tea with the discussion. Photo courtesy of Carson Schafer

Encouraged to bring their own mugs, attendees enjoyed free coffee and tea with the discussion. (Photo by Carson Schafer)

“A lot of times there are things we consider female traits, for example communication and collaboration, those things aren’t seen with as much value as sales or getting a certain number of accounts,” Baldwin said. “We’re helping corporations to see that you’re going to create a more well-rounded product when you have the values of both different traits.”

The event was timed perfectly with the release of a Report on the Status of Women in S.C. by the Center for Women.

“We’re not only looking to educate women, but we’re also looking to advocate on behalf of them,” said Baldwin.

The report showed the progress, or lack thereof, that women and minorities in South Carolina have made. Not surprisingly, we still have a long way to go.

Equality in the workplace doesn’t end with payroll and hiring practices, though. The report covers inequity in health, safety and education, all of which affect the ability of women and minorities to work and ensure economic security.

Baldwin highlighted the fact that out of the 43 publicly traded companies in South Carolina, only Blackbaud has at least 30 percent female representation on their board – the percentage deemed necessary for sufficient participation in decision making. The national average for female board representation is currently at 16.6 percent.

The report showed that for every dollar a white man makes, a white woman only makes $0.77. It doesn’t end there. An Asian woman will only make $0.68, an African American woman makes $0.58 and a Hispanic woman makes $0.52, nearly half of what a white man would make.

Gaps in industry and education show that there is still a disparity between men and women in Computer Science, Engineering and Marketing, even though women control 80 percent of consumer spending.

The report is available online through the Center for Women.

There’s more to social justice than workplace equality. The next Social Justice Coffee Hour is on Nov.19, and will focus on Veterans Experiencing Homelessness as a part of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week on campus.

“I would want to see Social Justice Coffee Hour become an established part of campus culture,” said Fernandez. “It was really awesome to hear that people were exchanging information and talking about working together – definitely brought warm fuzzies to my insides.”

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Following in the footsteps of many great authors before her, Carson chose to begin her writing career with journalism. She's been writing news stories since high school and now writes for CisternYard News. She came to Charleston as a transfer after a two-year sojourn in the icy mountains of Utah and never looked back. She keeps busy by reading, playing video games and working at the Children's Museum as an expert in cardboard swords, dragons and pirate adventures. After graduation she will be setting off on her own pirate adventure, conquering the globe in her trusty VW van.

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