Can Tech Help Us Tackle Sexual Harassment?

by | Oct 1, 2019

Apps that can help in the battle against sexual harassment

Sexual harassment continues to be prevalent, and continues to go unreported. Could new apps bring us a step closer to a solution?

Sexual harassment

One of the biggest revelations of the #MeToo movement was the sheer scale and scope of sexual harassment incidents of varying degrees of severity in our workplaces. This is not taking into account the probably millions of sexist micro-aggressions that women regularly endure, causing many eventually to leave their jobs.

Sexual harassment continues to be a massive problem, and is not just concentrated in sectors involving glitz and glamour. Businesses impacted have ranged from Uber, Nike and Deloitte, even to The Houses of Parliament in the UK.  A study has been done by the  Everyday Sexism Project and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in the UK. According to the research, 52% of women have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour at work.

JUMP, the Brussels based organization for gender equality, surveyed more than 3,000 women. Their research found that the most common forms of sexism in the workplace are jokes (83%) and inappropriate remarks (71%). Disrespectful or contemptuous comments are so commonplace that 24% of the respondents said they suffer insults. The following statistics demonstrate just how prevalent it is:

  • Women are ten times more exposed to sexist insults than men.
  • 18% of sexist insults are uttered at the place of work.
  • 90% of targets are woman.

These may not be at the extreme end of the spectrum, but over time these constant microaggressions have a negative impact on the well being of employees and the effectiveness of the organisation.

3 reasons why sexual harassment or sexism go unreported

1. Lack of  awareness around what it is exactly.

You would be surprised how many people are unaware what sexism and sexual harassment are:

Look at the above infographic and test yourself to see if you understand exactly what it can be. Frequent acts of what might be seen as being relatively harmless, can become harassment when they are persistent patterns of behaviour. Women can be just as guilty of dismissing this as a "bit of fun" or "he didn't mean it."  They may not have meant it - fun it certainly isn't.

2. Fear of repercussions

One of the biggest challenges is highlighting incidents to people in authority. Most cases are not reported. Women cite shame, embarrassment, and fear of repercussions as the main reasons for keeping key information to themselves. For many managers and HR professionals, unreported = not happening. I have personally spoken to HR Directors who believe that because nothing has been flagged up, their organisations are free of sexism and harassment. Many companies don’t have neutral reporting channels where women can voice their concerns anonymously. Often organisations won’t take action unless a formal complaint is made. The problem is that processes for monitoring patterns of behaviour in sections of companies are limited and informal. This brings us to the additional challenge of holding the perpetrator to account.

Statistics suggest that 75% of sexual harassment cases are unreported. Therefore the ones that do filter through, represent the very tip of the iceberg.

3. Lack of anonymity

One of the biggest barriers to reporting is lack of anonymity. This is where the role of tech, in providing anonymous platforms to report instances, is growing in importance. These platforms ask neutral, open-ended questions to start with. Then they follow-up with specific questions, without making assumptions. These apps also tackle the problem of memory errors when a person can struggle to remember all the details of an incident, especially if it was upsetting or even traumatic.

Tech can help

There are a number of different apps which I have looked at. Take a look and see what you think of them:

1. Talk to Spot

With Talk to Spot, companies can sign up for an online reporting  channel and offer this is as an employee benefit to their employees. Women who experience sexism or harassment have the opportunity to register the incident or pattern of incidents. They can file an incident with the bot, which generates a date stamped report, which is in turn issued to the employers. Companies which  sign up for the Spot-bot can see all reported incidents on an online dashboard.  Employees can sign into Spot using an employee ID number or email address. Their submissions are anonymous and HR managers can follow-up using a chat tool on the platform.

Also, Spot doesn’t only rely on the company to install its platform, but instead allows individuals to register a complaint. They recommend using a private device for security reasons. That way the complainant can send an email from Spot’s servers, so that those who want to stay anonymous can do so.

My experience of the app

The App was easy to use when I filed a notional incident about a fictional boss who invaded my personal space. I found that the complainant opens up the app and is asked a series of questions about the incident. I was asked open-ended questions around the key words I had used (boss and personal space).

sexual harassment

This included asking if there were witnesses, how the incident made me feel, and if I had any evidence of the situation. I exited at that point, but the target then has the option to file the report to their company, either anonymously or not. Spot says it will delete your email address from its servers, and the PDF will be deleted after 30 days.

The Spot service requires companies that sign-up for their service to respond to reports within 10 business days. If a complainant hasn’t had any communication about their report after that time, they can email Spot with their report ID and Spot will reach out to the company.

Downsides

However, there can be some downsides, especially as many of these technologies are still in their infancy. Websites collecting sensitive data related to  personal situations need water tight security measures in place. This is especially true for a website collecting detailed reports of harassment, assault, and discrimination.

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2. STOPit Solutions

STOPit allows employees to submit anonymous reports that go to specifically-designated company personnel. This will typically be someone from HR, compliance, or legal. Then the company personnel can address the complainant via the messenger platform. At this point they can discuss the issues and ask for more information.

Downsides

The App can also be used in other situations, such as schools and universities to report bullying. Anonymity gives students a safe outlet to help school administrators and school resource officers resolve problems. However, reports suggest that it can also be a vehicle for disparaging statements with no validity, or just random silliness.

3. Vault Platform

Vault Platform enables those experiencing misconduct in the workplace to record a private, time-stamped report. It is stored as evidence in a "private vault" on the users' phones. A "digital receipt" of the report is stored in a “vault” for protection. It also makes sure that it can’t be altered, stolen or deleted. Users can opt to send their report to a nominated company representative. However, what makes Vault different is the feature that highlights if someone else in the same organisation has also reported a similar incident or individual. This allows individuals to report collectively via their GoTogether function.

The platform helps targets to record a timeline of events, upload evidence, identify perpetrators and detail the impact with a simple step by step process. Anything they add is irrefutably time stamped using Vault’s unique technology. Records go directly to HR if requested, where a case manager is assigned. Therefore this reduces initial investigation time and allows employees to track resolutions, so they know action is taken. The system keeps a full record of the audit trail.

4. Workshield

The WorkShield philosophy is to take the employer out of the process, to eliminate the fear of reporting. WorkShield offer their services as a third-party intervention solution, talking to the accuser, the accused, HR and any witnesses. All of this is carried out within 5 working days. Any report goes directly to WorkShield representatives made up of lawyers, HR professionals, and workplace experts.

Work Shield notifies the employer of the incident and verifies the status of the employees before completing an independent investigation by their employment lawyers. A certified recommendation is then delivered to the employer.

To achieve workplaces where sexism and harassment are eliminated takes time and energy. It needs strong leadership commitment, systemic changes and equally importantly all of to become aware of our daily behaviour and mindful of how we might  inadvertently contribute to the problem.

Anonymous reporting via neutral platforms goes a long way to supporting targets of workplace sexism ad harassment. Tech offers improved solutions to tackle the problem at source.

 

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Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she joins the dots between organisations, individuals, opportunity and success.
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