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#MeToo

What: Press Democrat’s “Women in Conversation” program featuring “The Silence Breakers” Lindsay Meyer, CEO of Batch, Inc.; Ashley Judd, actress and feminist; Adama Iwu, director of government relations for VISA and co-founder of We Said Enough.

When: Mix and mingle at 4:30 p.m. with dinner for purchase; Women in Conversation program at 6 p.m.

Where: Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa

Tickets: $55, at 707-546-3600 or socowomenevents.com

Lindsay Meyer, the 32-year-old founder and CEO of lifestyle retailer Batch, had already worked as an analyst, consultant and investor in Silicon Valley when a few years ago, she experienced sexual harassment from the co-founder of a venture company.

After the harassment started, Meyer went to a female mentor, who alerted one of the company’s investors about the issue. But much to her chagrin, nothing changed.

“I’d come from the exact world ... as the person who was causing me trouble had been in,” the entrepreneur said in an interview from her San Francisco home. “I’d never seen anything happen like that before. So when it happened to me, I was savvy enough to realize that something wasn’t right.”

Meyer’s time to speak out arrived last summer, when she talked about her story in a New York Times article headlined “Women in Tech Speak Frankly on Culture of Harassment.” She was one of two dozen women in the tech startup industry that were quoted, and one of 10 who named names.

The women’s stories revealed how the toxic culture of sexism and sexual harassment in the world of tech startups had led to awkward, inappropriate and unwanted advances from male investors. In addition, the fear of harassment had kept many women entrepreneurs away from the industry, already under fire for its gender imbalance.

As reported on June 30, 2017 by New York Times reporter Katie Benner, Meyer had received $25,000 from Binary co-founder and managing partner Justin Caldbeck for her fitness startup in 2015. He then began sending her text messages asking “if she was attracted to him, and why she would rather be with her boyfriend than him.” She also alleged that he groped and kissed her. (Caldbeck subsequently resigned in the midst of the scandal and two other partners followed closely behind.)

“My story came into the spotlight in June of 2017, and this was a time when there had been very few women who had used their name and their narrative in any kind of public forum in such an explosive way,” Meyer said of the New York Times report. “There was still a high measure of risk.”

Along with actress Ashley Judd and lobbyist Adama Iwu, Meyer will discuss her story and the growing #MeToo movement Tuesday night as part of the Press Democrat’s Women in Conversation program at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.

All three women were profiled by Time magazine as part of its 2017 “Person of the Year” issue honoring “The Silence Breakers.” Since then, Meyer’s story has also appeared in Glamour, Fortune, USA Today and other publications.

A native of Minneapolis, Meyer graduated from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., with a combined degree in science and business. She moved to the Bay Area and worked for five-plus years in biotech and health care.

Looking for a professional life that was more personally fulfilling, she switched her career path to lifestyle-driven consumer commerce, starting with the online home decor firm One King’s Lane, then founding the Active Collective company, a group of curated health and wellness experiences, in 2014.

More recently, she served as the general manager of Mission Statement, a luxury “athleisure” line launched by actress Hilary Swank in 2016.

#MeToo

What: Press Democrat’s “Women in Conversation” program featuring “The Silence Breakers” Lindsay Meyer, CEO of Batch, Inc.; Ashley Judd, actress and feminist; Adama Iwu, director of government relations for VISA and co-founder of We Said Enough.

When: Mix and mingle at 4:30 p.m. with dinner for purchase; Women in Conversation program at 6 p.m.

Where: Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa

Tickets: $55, at 707-546-3600 or socowomenevents.com

“It was really helpful to do a brief tour of duty through fashion and get oriented on the retail perspective,” Meyer said.

After being tapped by a Palo Alto investment fund to help them think through futuristic retail concepts, Meyer launched home decor company Batch last September, opening a showroom on Russian Hill in San Francisco.

The showroom is the hub of the firm’s retail activity, but the firm also stages real homes as short-term, pop-up shops where people can view her curated products in situ.

“It’s an intimate opportunity to go in and live with things before you make a purchase decision,” she said. “That’s something that really hasn’t been done before.”

With the help of a small team of mostly women, Meyer sources all kinds of design, art, fashion and accessories from local companies, including Sonoma artist Martha Oakes and San Francisco fashion company Frances Austen.

The entrepreneur lives with her boyfriend and rescue mutt, Ralphie — “20 pounds of white fluff” — in San Francisco. Here is an edited version of a conversation with Meyer held earlier this week.

When did you decide to publicly share your story?

I had been getting tips for a couple of months before the story ran in the New York Times. I was contacted by reporters who were looking for women to go on record and speak out against this person. I was not the only target of this person’s behavior, so there had been enough back-channel conversations that the media knew there was a story there.

What were your qualms at that point?

The important point was that we weren’t quite where we are now, where another good guy turns out to be a fallible foe. So I spent a lot of time gathering evidence and agonizing over it. In the end, pulling together all that information was a good use of time, because the top (news) outlets will dispatch their fact checkers and lawyers. I ended up turning over seven pages of documentation. and from there, the velocity of the story really took off. The day after the story ran, NBC asked me to join their roundtable on the status of women in Silicon Valley.

What convinced you to talk to the New York Times?

I was pretty calculated and strategic in my approach. I felt if I was going to unearth all of these things, that I wanted to do it with the news organizations that had the highest journalistic caliber, and therefore, the highest potential impact. But, the decision was still incredibly difficult.

Why do you think women are willing to speak up more freely now?

I feel like my generation of women are just so much more idealistic across every measure. This is a group of people who, if they feel like something is wrong or not right, they really take it upon themselves to do something about it. That’s the climate and the peer group and the times in which I’ve been raised and am living. It’s not just me standing up on my own.

I see this happening all the time, where young people are really pushing the envelope and trying to change the status quo. They feel it is ridiculous that the realities in which we are living are still the same, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Were there other factors that helped the #MeToo movement gain momentum?

I think we’re at a point in time that the world listens, and the pendulum has swung so far the other way that women have a lot of power, and we have to use it carefully and selectively ... it is an incredible ascent to power in such a short time. Previously, if anyone would have said something, it would have been squashed or she would have been threatened with legal action.

Today, the women who come forward are believed and supported, and there’s action taken because no company wants to deal with the risk or the fallout of having harbored or enabled that behavior.

This didn’t motivate me personally, but other women have done courageous things because of what happened in the (presidential) election. Women and younger people had to make a personal decision to go to bat for themselves and for others. They don’t necessarily feel like they have a leader who is going to act on their behalf.

In your case, did the male-dominated culture of the tech world play a part?

I think that it did play a role. Because I had been in Silicon Valley myself, and I knew right and wrong, (I knew) what I was experiencing was very alarming and not normal.

How has this journey changed your life?

I’m definitely more of a public figure these days. My social sphere is peppered with people who have thanked me or solicited suggestions about their own situations ... but if I had known what I would have to endure, I’m not sure I would have gotten to this place.

Now I have the ability to educate and inspire others ... I’m very focused on attracting and retaining other women at work and building customers and investors. This is a tiny drop of water, and if the ripple can inspire people around me, maybe that small drop becomes a waterfall. It comes down to the micro ... I really view my day-to-day work as running my company and helping other women succeed. And if a lot of people are acting in that fashion, all of the voices and effort will create a future that is not 10 years down the road. It will happen much sooner ... someday is actually a lot sooner than we thought.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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