Women in the Workplace: Kaffeeklatsch

Annette Heide-Jessen has felt the sting of the gender gap. She says that, in many ways, it’s still a man’s world. But she is candid about what brought her, a native of Berlin, to Seattle: It was a man. By the time the two parted, however, she’d fallen in love with the city: the mountains, the water and, more importantly, the people.

It was partly that connection to people that drove her to open Kaffeeklatsch, her coffee shop and bakery, in Lake City in January, 2011.  As she explains, “I had lost my job and been unemployed for two years.  There were not any independent coffee shops in Lake City, so I borrowed money with a business partner and opened the shop, creating a job for myself and jobs for others.” The hardest part was negotiating the original bank loan and then, most recently, she bought out her business partner.

She now has eight employees and, after three and a half years, she no longer has to get up at 3:30 a.m. every day to bake – only when key employees have a day off.  She still puts in 60 hours a week, but relishes the shop’s popularity. She says, “I can’t do a lot of outreach, but everyone meets here and I can connect them.”

Although she’s had success, she wrestles with gender realities:  some subtle, some not so subtle. She cites the difficulty of getting repairmen to explain what caused the mixer to malfunction to a mere woman. Then she points out, “I just got my health care coverage. A man, my same age, has the same coverage, the same plan.  I pay $100 more. Just because I’m a woman.”

Heide-Jessen says that fall and winter are the best times at Kaffeeklatsch. The bakery turns out pretzels—a huge hit during Oktoberfest, ginger cookies and other holiday treats. “More people are likely to stop in for a warm cup of coffee or tea in the chillier months and buy more when they’re in holiday spirits. This is why food banks are stocked in the Winter, and have shortages during the summer months,” she shares.

Although even in the summer, the bakery is always a popular meeting spot and its half dozen tables spill over with locals and with those of us who relish the irresistible smells of baking bread and savor the daily soup and sandwiches. Everything is made and baked in-house. “It takes two things to run a successful business,” Heide-Jessen says, “hard work and a big heart.”

Beyond being a small business owner, Annette is elbow deep in the Lake City community, recently working to attain an “Only in Seattle” grant from the city. And then there are her connections with the Lake City Alliance, the North Seattle Chamber and the Lake City Farmer’s Market, where she sells baked goods.

“We put the loaves and cookies on a cart and walk them over,” she says, pointing out where the market sets up on Thursday afternoons, just a block away.

She’s enthused over the work market manager Molly Burke has done at the Lake City market.  Burke has arranged kids activities and events like meetings of the Northwest Knitters. There also are handy bins to help stock the shelves at Northwest Helpline.

Heide-Jessen’s parents in Berlin, and 23-year old son who is studying at Evergreen University, are proud of Annette’s achievements.  She says, “My parents are on social media, although my mother is 77 and my dad’s 81. They follow Kaffeeklatsch on Facebook.”

Women in the Workplace: Mobile Electrical Distributors

Colleen Hallett has a stock of stories to share about being a woman who owns a traditional blue-collar business, an electrical supplies firm on Lake City Way Northeast.

She says, “One day a guy came into the counter. When I asked, if I could help him, he said, ‘Oh, I’ll wait for one of the guys.’” “Finally my part-time truck driver came in and asked the guy what he needed. After he ordered, the truck driver had to turn to me to find out where the part was located.”

Hallett, president of Mobile Electrical Distributors since 1998, laughs at the memory. She says, “I guess the guy just wanted to wait.”  Hallett has been working at the family-run business since 1967. She says she began helping out while still a student at Bishop Blanchet High School and continued during her years at the University of Washington.

“I grew up in the business that my dad Leslie Armstrong started in 1959,” she explains.  “I have a brother and a sister.  We thought my brother would be taking over the business, but he was more interested in art and design.”

Although she sells supplies to do-it-yourself homeowners, much of her business is furnishing supplies to large projects such as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the Seattle Tunnel Project, and 520. “Things slowed down during the recession,” Hallett notes, “But the projects have kept us going.”

However, she notes the challenges more unique to a women-owned business in her industry.  Colleen cites one firm that promised her a lucrative job and then only allowed her to supply a third of the million-dollar contract, claiming she had been unable to perform. Certification through the state and the federal government as a woman-owned business should have prevented Mobile Electrical Distributor’s contract from being reallocated to a company with a closer relationship to the lead firm.

This type of cherry-picking is exactly why the government has women-owned business requirements on large contracts—to prevent the boys’ club effect. At the city-level we are currently working, with Mayor Ed Murray as the lead, to ensure such switches no longer occur. As Colleen says, “Things are stricter now.”

In her day-to-day work, Hallett supervises 10 employees, including her daughter Tanya Hallett. Tanya jokingly notes that, like her mother, she was “suckered” into the firm.  Before joining the Mobile Electrical Distributors work force, Tanya went into the army, serving as a signal officer from 1999 through 2006. Today, Tanya wears the royal blue polo emblazoned with “Mobile Electrical Distributors” and, on occasion brings her own offspring, four and eight-year-olds, to the office to “help,” or in other words, rearrange the inventory.

The flexibility to be a parent is one of the benefits of owning a business. As Colleen says, “Besides the headaches, there are rewards to being your own boss. I could occasionally take an afternoon off to attend a child’s softball game.”

Seattle’s Got Distinction

If you’re assembling an “Only in Seattle” file, you’d have to include June 6th, the night that the Seattle Symphony showcased music inspired by Seattle hip-hop icon Sir Mix-A-Lot.

Sir Mix asked for “a couple of ladies” to help him out with his signature song, “Baby’s Got Back.” Upwards of three dozen women crowded onstage and boogied while he rapped and the symphony played. The free-form performance quickly went viral across the country. Few, if any, symphony orchestras anywhere can match that claim.

Mix’s dance-a-lot is only one of the happenings that make Seattle stand out as a city where the unusual is usual. Every day brings us more evidence that Seattle’s got distinction.

For example, as we speak, Seattle is fine tuning regulations necessary to implement Washington’s standing as one of only two states to legalize marijuana.  While it is true that state regulations are being hammered out by the Liquor Control Board, the fine points are being left to municipalities. Seattle is the leader, figuring out where marijuana can be smoked, inhaled or consumed as an edible.

There are other Only-In-Seattle distinctions. Seattle is the city that buys the most sunglasses (I suspect we misplace them during the winter months) and, overall, the most cans of cat food.  Seattle is the city that sells the largest number of books per capita. And it has jumped out ahead of the pack: fastest growing city in the nation, its population up 2.8 percent in one year.

Fast Company, a business magazine, has dubbed Seattle “the smartest city in the United States,” factoring in six indicators: people, government, economy, quality of life and mobility (think of that when you’re stuck, idling in traffic, though the magazine probably means another kind of mobility).

We’ve got the deepest working harbor and the highest adjacent mountain. We had the nation’s most successful world’s fair, one that actually turned a profit and left us with the 74-acre Seattle Center and an acclaimed metropolitan opera company.  We are said by insurance folks to house the nation’s worst drivers; but, cushioning the sting, we have motorists who are rated “politest to one another.”

Seattleites drink more espresso than water (the bottled kind) and we have a City Hall that houses a Farmers’ Market on its plaza on summer Tuesdays. City Hall also was home to more than 100 same-sex marriages on Dec. 9, 2012, the first day when such unions became legal following a state-wide vote.

Not all Seattle’s distinctions are worth bragging about – the gender pay gap, women earning only 73 cents for every dollar a man takes home – continues to haunt us. It is the worst gender pay gap in the nation. And yet Seattle and Washington State continue to elect some of the nation’s best balances of women to its legislative and city governments. It is time – past time – for women and men of conscience to get to work on that dark disgrace and start changing it into a distinction of the past.

Corporations Can Dictate Contraception? My Thoughts on the Hobby Lobby Decision

I confess that I was totally blindsided. I never expected the Supreme Court would rule the way it did, five justices – all male, by the way — agreeing that requiring family-owned corporations to provide insurance coverage for contraception somehow violated a federal law protecting the corporation’s religious freedom.

A corporation’s religious freedom? I guess that’s what really stunned me. It was outrageous enough that, writing earlier in the infamous Citizens United decision, the court had declared that corporations have First Amendment rights to free speech. Now the court’s majority has decided that corporations – at least those owned mainly by families — are also entitled to freedom of religion.

If one follows this convoluted line of reasoning, corporations apparently are allowed to believe and worship gods of their choosing. These profit-oriented corporations apparently need not comply with federal or state laws should those laws conflict with their “free exercise of religion.”

That leaves family-owned corporations perhaps subject only to certain religious tenets; say the 10 commandments or Sharia law or the Koran or Talmud or the teachings of Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy or Pope Francis.

The plaintiff in this case, an outfit known as Hobby Lobby, apparently got the verdict that the owners were praying for.  Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, responded that the decision ”makes clear that the Obama administration cannot trample on the religious freedoms that Americans hold dear.”  Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine, another Republican, said that, “It’s a great day for religious liberty. Americans don’t surrender their freedom when they open a business.”

Ah, but women who toil for these corporations apparently give up something else:  access to reproductive health care. This personhood fixation leaves the women employees who, under federal law, ought to have been able to obtain insurance coverage for contraception unable to access needed coverage. They are left to pay for contraception outside their employee health coverage.

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, writing for the court’s four-member liberal wing held that the contraception requirement was vital to women’s health and to their reproductive freedom. She rightly said that the decision is “bound to have untoward effects in other settings.” She went on to say that the court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood “invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations that they deem offensive to their faith.”

It’s hard to disagree with Justice Ginsberg’s concern that the Hobby Lobby finding will have wide implications. The pathway ahead is scary. One can see that there could be corporations that will adopt religious objections to vaccines; others that may refuse to provide coverage for heart surgery that relies on animal valves; and still others that may object to blood transfusion.

One can even fear that there may be corporations that, adopting strict Biblical precepts, might refuse to pay women equal pay for equal work, based on religious objections.

It seems fairly clear that the main concern behind this misbegotten decision is a rebuke to the totality of the Affordable Care Act with those who would seek adequate reproductive care second-hand victims.

Women in the Workplace: Greenlake Primary Care

Recently, I had a fascinating discussion with Dr. Naomi Busch, a Seattle-based primary care physician—who happens to be my doctor.  What differentiates Dr. Busch from other physicians, however, is that she is a businesswoman who owns her practice: Greenlake Primary Care.

When Dr. Busch spotted my “No Wage Gap” campaign button, aimed at ending the 73-cent on the dollar gap between women’s and men’s wages, she didn’t hesitate to fill me in on her own past gender pay gap problem.

“That’s why I’m here,” she said simply.

She explained that, as a young mother, she had taken a part-time, six hour shift at a local clinic. She said, “I didn’t extend my day to work eight hours because I had to pick my baby up at daycare before 6 p.m. I am a highly efficient doctor and was caring for more patients in six hours than most of the men were seeing in eight. But I was paid far less: paid by the hour, while they were on salary.” Owning her own practice provided Dr. Busch the flexibility to earn a good salary and spend time with her family.

Dr. Busch is also convinced that women aren’t good at negotiating salaries. She reported asking one woman physician about her rates and was shocked at how little that woman charged. “We women are always undervaluing ourselves,” she said with just a hint of anger. “We need to have more confidence.”

Dr. Busch, who grew up in the Tri-Cities and attended college and medical school in the East, completed her residency training at Valley Medical Center in Renton. She is now settled into the Greenlake neighborhood with her husband, an orthopedic physician, and their two small children. She told me that her daughter once explained the family to a friend, saying, “My daddy heals broken bones and my mother heals everything else.”

Dr. Busch is intent, like me, on healing the gender wage gap.