Hospitality workers plan Jan. 21 sexual harassment workshop


A sign at a 2017 rally hosted by New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee.
  • A sign at a 2017 rally hosted by New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee.

New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee (NOHWC), the grassroots organization which advocates for workers' rights in the local restaurant and hotel industry, hosts a workshop on fighting sexual harassment and assault Jan. 21.

This workshop — part of a national conversation about sexual misconduct that has roiled many kitchens and toppled several prominent chefs — is focused on workers, rather than management strategies. There are planned discussions of what to do one when one experiences sexual harassment; how to hold management, coworkers and customers accountable; and how to confront sexual harassment in the moment, for both people experiencing harassment and bystanders.

"That's really the only way to change it; if you just call people out in the moment it's going to send a strong message," NOHWC organizer Lita Farquhar says. "If you keep doing it over and over again, every time it happens, I think it's going to send a strong message."

NOHWC co-hosts the workshop with Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault (LaFASA), who will share materials on legal remedies for harassment. A trained LaFASA advocate also will be on hand to address triggered feelings among survivors.

Jessie Nieblas, LaFASA director of education and prevention, says this kind of education is critical within the hospitality industry.

"There are issues prevalent in these industries that make their workers particularly at-risk for harassment from customers, co-workers, and supervisors," she wrote in an email. "These specific risk factors include low wages, reliance on tips from customers, lack of reporting options, a 'customer is always right' perspective from management, and, often, a perception that harassment is 'just how the industry works.'"

Though this workshop is geared mostly toward the needs of hospitality workers, it's open to anyone who would like to come. Farquhar also encourages men from the hospitality industry to attend.

"Men listen to other men more than women, and they should be doing a lot of work to correct this," she says. "We know that they might not experience it as much as women, but they can still help and call other coworkers out when it's happening."

Workshops and events surrounding sexual harassment have popped up throughout the city over the last few months. Me Too NOLA has hosted open mics at which people can share stories of gender discrimination and violence, and earlier this fall, a group called Medusa formed to discuss sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. Gambit food critic Helen Freund spoke with the founder of that group for a Q&A in December.

NOHWC organizers hope that this workshop and similar events will begin shifting the culture of many hospitality workplaces from the ground up, rather than waiting for remedies from human resources departments, which Farquhar characterizes as either minimal or ineffectual in many hospitality workplaces.

The NOHWC organization also will continue to work in this space — a march planned for Feb. 23 will call attention to sexual harassment in the industry, with an emphasis on one worker's experience.

"A lot of times, your complaints will go unheard. So it's like we really need to team up, and change it ... and not just rely on bosses to do it," Farquhar says.

The workshop takes place at 7 p.m. Sunday at 1418 N. Claiborne Ave. There's no charge to attend.

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