Final numbers won’t be in for a while, but New Jersey Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Tom Bracken said he was thrilled with how last week’s Walk to Washington train trip went.
“If every train trip we have is like this, it’s going to attract a lot of people,” he said. “Because, on this train trip, people got a lot done.”
Let’s be clear: There were fewer people. A late December story by NJ Advance Media about how women can be groped and harassed at large networking events certainly had an impact on attendance. Early estimates by state chamber officials say attendance was off by about 10%.
But discussion of workplace culture toward women was up. And that made for a better trip.
That’s how Patricia Teffenhart, the executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, saw it.
Teffenhart, who worked with chamber officials to help create a better atmosphere, felt they succeeded.
“I think it went as well as we could have possibly expected it to go,” she said. “This was the first time in eight years that I’ve taken the train that I felt that people were there to do business. They were conducting themselves professionally. There wasn’t an overindulgence in things that would not be part of your normal workday.
“Me and some of my colleagues spoke to this when we chatted with the press (on the train going down). And I think it just continued to resonate throughout the day and in the evening and throughout the event.”
While there were some jokes about #MeToo issues (and Teffenhart answered those forcefully in this story), Teffenhart said the fact that workplace culture was top of mind had an impact. And can continue to have an impact.
“I felt as if the subject was actually taken very seriously,” she said. “The fact that Tom Bracken and Gov. (Phil) Murphy both spoke about the issue at hand in their remarks during (Thursday) night’s dinner really elevates the importance of the issue and how new Jersey’s top leaders are taking it seriously. And I remain hopeful that this is just the beginning of what I think will be a very important and sustainable culture shift for New Jersey.”
More discussion on the issue is a plus, Teffenhart said. And trips such as these spark more discussion.
“I think, everywhere we go, the more high-profile the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault is, we kind of get a twofold response: Some people perhaps are not really yet at the point that they’re ready to talk about issues of misogyny or harassment or sexual violence (and) will not want to engage,” she said. “But, more and more, there are people who come up to us and say, ‘Thank you so much for what you’re doing,’ or, ‘Tom (Bracken) mentioned how much work the coalition was putting into this,’ or, ‘You guys are everywhere right now. Thank you so much for everything you’re doing.’
“There does seem to be a general level of appreciation for the fact that there is a nonpolitical, nonpartisan entity out there that’s trying to lead the charge and hold everyone accountable for doing what’s right by our communities, regardless of whether or not it’s politically popular or financially expedient.”
Bracken said he was thrilled the event had more of a business feel.
“I think, of all the years I’ve been on that train, it’s the best trip we’ve ever had because there was a lot of congeniality and a lot of great networking,” he said. “There were enough people that it was comfortable. It was not uncomfortable because of overcrowding. I think people got a lot of work done.”