“I experienced sexual harassment in my first job out of university,” Neta Meidav says. “Because the person who harassed me was in a position of power, I felt at the time that it was easier to resign than report what happened to me.”
Later, Meidav says, she discovered that she wasn’t the only one attacked by this specific individual. “A few years after that I was inspired by the #MeToo movement to establish Vault Platform so others wouldn’t have to go through what I did,” she says.
Launching in March, Vault Platform is misconduct reporting “re-engineered with the employee in mind,” Meidav explains. Using blockchain technology, it enables recording and evidence keeping in a private digital vault owned by the individual. “It gives employees the ability to individually submit reports or submit a record to HR under the condition that they aren’t the only person affected by an individual’s misconduct,” Meidav adds. Vault Platform shows employees if similar misconduct claims have been made, she says, “We call this tool ‘GoTogether.'” The feature allows people to report jointly with others who’ve been affected through “blind networks,” which don’t reveal anyone’s identity–only that someone else is making a claim.
The strength-in-numbers positioning is part of what Meidav asserts sets Vault Platform apart from a growing list of reporting apps and platforms that have launched and gained traction since #MeToo. Regardless of the means, a recent survey of over 24,000 workers from Comparably revealed that there has been an uptick in reporting harassment. They found that one in three women said they’d been harassed on the job in 2018, versus one in four the previous year.
However, some experts say that to remove fear, you need to not report to the employer at all, but to outside experts like the attorneys and HR professionals behind WorkShield, who can recommend a course of action to the employee that doesn’t carry the weight of potential retaliation that they’d have if they reported directly to their own HR department.
Meidav says the blockchain technology that underpins Vault Platform can also work to improve employees’ concerns. “We use private permissioned blockchain as an integrity layer to ensure users records are immutable and tamper-proof,” she says, helping to narrow the friction between employees and their employers.
Creating a trusted space
This internal reporting mechanism can be done without a third party or intermediary involvement. Time-stamping technology and digital signatures are used as receipts, so the employee can completely trust this reporting tool and authenticate their original records, should they ever be required to as part of an internal or external investigation. “This is especially important in sensitive situations such as misconduct reporting,” Meidav points out, “where many will outsource this important capability to third-party service providers, which can be alienating for affected employees.”
Although the rate of adoption for blockchain applications is still low, Meidav is confident in the technology’s ability to create a trusted space for workers with harassment claims. “They can create confidential records that live on their personal phones until the moment they choose to report,” she contends. “People are in complete control over their information.”
Vault Platform also scans for patterns in the reporting to deliver a detailed snapshot of the company’s health and work culture so that its executives can decide on a course of action. This has become a familiar feature in both the newly launched and established reporting apps and platforms.
Helping HR be proactive about harassment
However, Sabrina Atienza, the CEO and founder of Valued, which just launched out of beta, believes surfacing those patterns can potentially eliminate the need for reporting bullying or harassment. Research by CPP Global finds that U.S. employees spend 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict, and a recent survey by Udemy found conflict management to be the top skill businesses are hiring for in 2019.
Atienza also recalls being the target of harassment and microaggressions. The Filipino-American recalls how she’d be in groups with men who would make fun of people from the Philippines in front of her until they found out her background. She’d also find herself on the receiving end of provocative emails from men she met through networking or fundraising. Atienza confesses that it helps now that her cofounder is her husband–which she makes a point of announcing in mixed company–but people still look to him when they have questions about coding, even though she has a computer science degree and is an accomplished coder.
She’s not alone. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, more than 60 million workers in the U.S. have experienced bullying on the job through verbal abuse, humiliation, alienation, intimidation, unfair evaluation and criticism, and sexual advances.
The dismal statistics combined with her own experiences led Atienza to develop Valued as a compliance solution aimed at assisting HR leaders to combat abusive conduct proactively. Atienza explains that Valued scans a company’s anonymized communications in Slack (only for public channels–not DMs), as well as employer surveys to surface patterns of potentially bad behavior. She says they are hoping to also be able to use data from employers’ Gmail emails to add to the mix soon.
AI does the heavy lifting with surveys that can generate thousands of free text comments, as Atienza notes, “no way [a human] is going to read them all.” However, they can be a treasure trove of information about what employees are complaining or concerned about. Valued can also flag any extreme language like, “I’ve never been treated like this,” and alert HR or the CEO and suggest action to investigate. And can be turned on in Slack to detect breaches of compliance.
The challenge, according to Atienza, is twofold. Templated surveys only give a baseline of knowledge and what Valued has gathered during this beta test is that people don’t necessarily agree on what bullying means. There’s also obviously racist or sexist language that the AI can detect, but it doesn’t quite have the capability to detect nuance. “We are looking for departures and deviations from the normal amount of camaraderie,” Atienza explains. An alert comes with an option to dismiss if it isn’t really a problem, a mode which she says helps teach the machine normal culture of that company.
Atienza also notes that this isn’t a violation of employees privacy. She says Valued piggybacks off of Slack’s user agreement and points out that most internal communications at companies are the property of that company–not its employees.
The bottom line, she says, is that when it comes to bullying and harassment if you ask 10 employees what they should do you get 10 different answers. This, she says, has informed one of Valued’s biggest priorities. “We are helping companies define when you should report it.”