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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Victims Urge Lawmakers To Address Sexual Harassment In Workplace

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Tech worker Melissa Taylor speaks with reporters after testifying before the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee about sexual harassment in the workplace.

Victims of sexual harassment are urging Washington lawmakers to take steps to make the workplace safer. At a public hearing Wednesday, lawmakers heard personal stories and a rare acknowledgment of past failures.

Melissa Taylor works in the tech industry. She told the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee about something that happened to her in her first job out of college. She and other women were pressured by a senior executive to go to a strip club.

She said that’s just one of a number of bad experiences she’s had in the workplace and she knows other women who’ve had it worse.

“And when I think about the time and energy and effort that women put into avoiding these situations, it holds us back, it holds our careers back, it holds our companies back, it holds our communities back, it holds our state back,” Taylor said.

Taylor urged the panel of lawmakers to pass a trio of bills aimed at addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. One of the proposals would require Washington’s Human Rights Commission to develop model policies that employers could implement to create a safe workplace.

The sponsor is Democratic state Sen. Karen Keiser who chairs the labor committee.

“It was the unfortunate incidents that we had at the Department of Fish and Wildlife that really turned on the light bulb,” she said.

Keiser was referring to reports last year by Northwest News Network, The News Tribune and The Olympian that revealed evidence of a sexualized workplace culture at Fish and Wildlife. We also later reported on a culture of sexual harassment at the state Capitol.

Barbara Baker is familiar with both worlds. She’s the former chief clerk of the Washington state House who now serves as a Fish and Wildlife Commissioner. In testimony, Baker acknowledged that state agencies and the Legislature haven’t always owned the problem.

“We all do the best we can,” she said. “I’m sure the best we can is often not good enough.”

Baker said model workplace policies would help, but the true test is when victims feel comfortable coming forward. She added that she’s “proud” of Fish and Wildlife’s efforts in recent months to change its culture.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."