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Nonprofit Empower Work helps people deal with discrimination, harassment on the job

Nonprofit Empower Work helps people deal with discrimination, harassment on the job
Nonprofit Empower Work helps people deal with discrimination, harassment on the job 03:30

An estimated 40 million American small business employees don't feel like they have enough resources to deal with on-the-job harassment, discrimination, or other serious issues.

Jaime-Alexis Fowler has a unique view of the work world. From her San Francisco home office, she helped empower some 80,000 people last year through crises in their own workplaces.

"How can we make sure people don't lose a job, have an economic setback or mental health setback when they go through something like harassment, discrimination, or even the challenge of job loss?" Fowler asked.

She herself remembers being in an uncomfortable situation as a young employee years ago.

"My mentor, the person responsible for my career, was hovering, threatening me, above me. He'd just screamed in my face, like, I could feel the spit. It was so close, and I felt this physical reaction and no one around me said a thing," she described. "I was left swirling, unsure how to handle it."

She left that situation. But it gave her empathy for what she does today through Empower Work. Fowler founded the nonprofit in 2018, after advising a young technology worker in a predicament.

"I knew how awful it was to feel stuck, and the impact it can have on the emotional toll, financial toll," Fowler explained.

She created a free, confidential text line to support workers facing everything from bullying to unsafe conditions. Many are low-wage earners, women, and people of color employed in small businesses who've contacted Empower Work after seeing the nonprofit's flyers on buses and at bus stops.

Empower Work receives funding from donations and philanthropic organizations and partners with workforce development groups. Fowler has trained 130 volunteer peer counselors to operate the text line nationwide. Laura Combs first used the text line when she felt disrespected at work a few years back.

"By reaching out to a more objective source, I was able to see the situation through a different lens," Combs said.

She was able to resolve her issue and it was such a positive experience, Combs began volunteering on the text line. She's seen people go from upset to confident in minutes.

In fact, more than nine in ten people who've used the text line say they would recommend it, and that it improved their mental health. Nearly 90 percent surveyed say they'd taken action to move forward.

Combs credits Fowler's empathy and leadership for the nonprofit's impact.

"She's a thoughtful leader," Combs said. "She truly listens to feedback, thoughts and ideas."

For Fowler, hearing the success stories keeps her going.

"It just, like, brings me such joy," Fowler smiled.

Fowler has also partnered with the U.S. Surgeon General to share what she's learning from the text line, in hopes of building a healthier work environment for everyone. 

Note: The free, confidential text line, 510-674-1414, is available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific time. 

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