While working in a restaurant, Yasmine Mustafa recalls her manager asking for a kiss in exchange for her paycheck.
“In terms of inappropriate touching in the kitchen by the staff, stuff like that, that was so commonplace,” said Mustafa, 2006 entrepreneurship and innovation management alumna. “People knew what happened but there was nothing that could be done to stop it.”
Mustafa is the the co-founder of ROAR for Good, a local technology company that creates wearable safety devices for restaurant and hotel workers. The company recently released Always On, a small clippable device that workers use whenever they feel unsafe. It instantly alerts security and management teams via push notifications and an Alert Console, an iPad-like device kept at hotels’ front desk or in the security area, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. It’s being used by more than 350 hospitality workers, Mustafa said.
“It initially was meant for college students and for women that live in urban cities, women that go running, women that feel unsafe at night,” Mustafa said. “The device is for anyone that just wants to have a friend or family one click away.”
After New Jersey became the first state to require hotel workers to wear panic buttons in 2019, the company began marketing to the hospitality industry. The legislation made the company change focus toward women in the hotel industry, Mustafa said.
“A lot of people have needed protection for a long time and they haven’t had it,” she added. “So the fact that there are now requirements in place, I believe means that the shift in power is moving from the employer to the employee.”
In 2018, the United States restaurant industry had the most amount of sexual harassment claims that any other industry, with 90 percent of women and 70 percent of men reporting experiencing sexual harassment, according to the Harvard Business Review.
Doug McBrearty, a senior leadership member of Gulph Creek Hotels, a hotel management company, encourages the use of the Always On devices among Philadelphia hotel employees, not only for their safety benefits but the devices’ effect on the overall industry.
“It’s a good time to be in the business and [Mustafa]’s got a product, it’s different than anything I’ve seen,” he said.
Lu Lu, an assistant professor of tourism and hospitality, said that the increased protection of hotel workers is integral for the hospitality industry.
“It’s very important to take care of our people because hospitality, we are a business, and everything we do, we depend on our employees,” Lu said.
ROAR for Good’s technology complements the change in the social dynamics for women in the workplace, Mustafa said.
“It’s a great time for this to be happening with income inequality, with the #MeToo movement, with the gig economy,” she added. “I think that we’ve come to a position where workers are demanding more rights and protection and that we’re open to it.”
Making employees, female employees in particular, feel safer not only increases morale but has the potential to decrease company’s bottom line with less liability insurance claims and a decreased rate of employee turnover, Mustafa said.
Mustafa expects that other states and industries are sure to follow New Jersey’s path in requiring panic buttons as there are many “at-risk” workers, like emergency room doctors and physicians, she said.
“I think there’s still a lot to do,” Mustafa added.