Heard on the Hill

Former Staffer’s Nonprofit Strives to Combat Sexual Harassment

The Purple Campaign focuses on education, action and elections

The nonprofit that Ally Coll Steele founded now has fellows, senior advisers and interns working for it. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Nearly six months after leaving her law firm to start a nonprofit to combat sexual harassment, former Capitol Hill staffer Ally Coll Steele has no regrets.

“I just felt strongly that this moment was an opportunity for real, substantial policy change,” Steele said of the #MeToo movement. “I was concerned that it may become just a moment of awareness-raising and wanted to ensure that it turned into a moment where we saw workplace policy change and also public policy change come out of it.”

Steele, 32, teamed up with former college classmate Jessica Patterson to launch The Purple Campaign in January. The nonprofit has three components: education, action and elections.

The education component involves working with employers and employees on policies to root out sexual harassment. Steele met with officials from Uber after it announced last month it was ending its practice of forced arbitration for sexual misconduct claims.

[Former Congresswomen Share Stories of Harassment]

The action component focuses on overhauling the Congressional Accountability Act. The organization led a social media campaign until the Senate passed legislation to crack down on sexual harassment, and Steele has been working with the House on implementing its own efforts to protect staffers on the Hill.

As for elections, Steele’s group is working with campaigns to help them develop broader workplace policies.

“It’s the workplace setting I’m probably the most familiar with, on a personal level,” she said.

Steele previously worked as field organizer for the Obama campaign in 2008 and later as statewide field director on two Democratic Senate campaigns: Washington Sen. Patty Murray’s 2010 re-election and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine’s winning 2012 bid.

In 2013, Steele became Murray’s press secretary when the senator was chairwoman of the Budget Committee. She then left the Hill to attend Harvard Law and spent a semester clerking at the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs. After graduation, Steele worked in the Hillary Clinton campaign’s legal department.

[Life After Capitol Hill: Ex-Staffer Is Connecting D.C. to Silicon Valley]

Patterson, who is based in Silicon Valley, brings a different perspective to campaigns with her tech world experience. 

“There are a lot of parallels with startup culture and campaign culture in that you often have a lot of people working very closely together, very long hours, fast-paced, very team-oriented environment and oftentimes you’re scaling up so quickly that HR policies are a bit of an afterthought,” Steele said.

In addition to Steele and Patterson, The Purple Campaign team has five fellows, five senior advisers and a handful of summer interns.

Steele had a personal experience with sexual harassment as an 18-year-old Capitol Hill intern in 2004. She told The Washington Post last year that a former Democratic senator grabbed her buttocks at that year’s Democratic National Convention.

And the issue followed her once she started life as a lawyer.

After the 2016 election, she worked as elections counsel on the House Administration Committee, before moving on to Boies Schiller Flexner, the firm that retained private investigators to target the women coming forward with allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

“When that news hit, it created a moment for real internal conversation in my own workplace about sexual harassment, about #MeToo, about what the role of lawyers is in the movement,” Steele said.

After just eight months at the firm, she left to start The Purple Campaign.

Watch: McConnell and Klobuchar High-Five After Passage of Sexual Harassment Bill

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