Sexual harassment movement sparks start-ups

 

Infographic courtesy of League of Women in Government.

Social media brought the #MeToo movement to life, but the creation of start-ups combating sexual harassment in the workplace might be the final outcome.

Startups, such as AllVoices, provide anonymous reports and data to companies that could face sexual harassment in the workplace. By providing these anonymous reports, companies can address the problem before it’s too late. This could result in human resource training and policies to become more proactive when dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, by giving the reports to executive officials in advance.

Companies are now preparing for this issue, which used to be treated as a hush-hush situation. A survey conducted online in January of this year by the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment showed that 43 percent of men and 81 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault.

These startups believe that anonymously reporting incidents will eventually decrease the number of sexual harassment cases that surface.

According to a report by the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,sexual harassment from 2010 to 2016 was estimated to cost U.S. companies $669 million. This can be broken down into lawyer fees, insurance claims, lawsuits settlements, the physical and mental health of victims, and loss of work productivity for those involved.

According to the EEOC, Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is supposed to protect anyone who might retaliate against a person who complained or filed a charge of discrimination. But the estimated amount of cases occurring is still being based on underreported of incidents.

Large companies and institutions, such as the University of Arizona, are being evaluated on ways to handle these situations in a more proactive way.

“The university supports the ability for anonymity in its processes,” said Thomas McDonald, chief of staff and operations manager for UA Business Affairs and Human Resources, when asked about the possibility of implementing a program to combat sexual harassment such as AllVoices, a web platform that lets people anonymously report their experiences of sexual harassment at work.

Currently, the protocol for dealing with a sexual harassment case within the UA consists of several steps, as explained in the infographic below. The process relies on the victim or the witness of an incident to step forward.

“Members of the university community may contact the Office of Institutional Equity or the Dean of Students Office at any time to ask questions about discrimination, harassment, retaliation, or complaint-filing procedures and may provide information without disclosing their names. This provision does not relieve managers, supervisors, instructors, or advisors of their responsibility to promptly report under this policy.” according to the UA’s website.

University of Arizona’s incident report flow-chart featured on the OIE Process website.

However, when reporting an issue, the current protocol does not leave much room for anonymity in order to provide a solution according to the human resources policy website: “An individual who believes that he or she has been subjected to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation in violation of this policy should report the matter immediately as set forth below to obtain information about resolving concerns, including complaint-filing options and procedures, and to enable the University to take prompt remedial action.”

Startups like AllVoices and tEQuitable were both founded by women to combat sexual harassment in the workplace, and they may have found the right tactic to win the fight.

Claire Schmidt, founder of AllVoices // (Photo from New York Post)

AllVoices was started the summer before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements became national news according to founder Claire Schmidt. Schmidt said, “AllVoices is determined to give a platform to the 75 percent of workplace incidents that go underreported.”

“The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements also created a very opportune moment for AllVoices to have these conversations with companies and investors. Something that executives may not have been as open to discussing years ago has now become part of the national conversation” said Schmidt.

The company tEQuitable is similar to AllVoices, hoping to combat bias and sexual harassment in the workplace. Founded by Lisa Gelobter, their media network shares many articles about battling sexual harassment. The company’s website states the startup’s goal is to empower, quantify and improve workplace culture, also through an anonymous reporting platform.

According to tEQuitable’s website, “Employees use a private digital platform and confidential calls with trained professionals to get advice and an action plan that best fits their individual need.”

From their data, AllVoices can interpret, for CEO’s, the necessary next steps a company should take when dealing with these cases.

“By helping employees, by giving a voice to the many people who are not comfortable publicly disclosing what they saw or experienced. This will help HR and leadership identify issues and solve them proactively” said Schmidt.

The problem lies in the culture, and HR policies must figure out a way to make procedures reflect and change the culture that is afraid to talk about sexual harassment.

“We want to reach a point where everyone feels happy and secure in their workplace, and that starts fundamentally with transparency and trust,” said Schmidt.

Megan Lange is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at meganlange@email.arizona.edu.

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