Apps Help Anonymously Report Sexual Harassment
In the wake of a rash of high-profile sexual-harassment scandals—and the resulting resurgence of the #MeToo movement—employers have been striving to ensure employees are comfortable reporting questionable workplace behavior. By law, companies are required to provide an anonymous hotline through which employees can report incidents of sexual harassment. Increasingly, however, organizations are taking a high-tech approach by offering smartphone apps and web platforms that allow employees to ask questions about workplace policies, anonymously report sexual harassment, and sometimes even connect with colleagues who have similar complaints.
Technology has become such a ubiquitous part of people’s lives, it only makes sense that people feel most comfortable using tech to report workplace harassment, according to Neil Hooper, chief revenue officer at STOPit Solutions. What’s more, he says, people are more likely to report incidents of harassment they have experienced or witnessed “in the moment,” rather than waiting until hours or days later, when they may look back and second-guess what happened.
“If they go home and think about it, they start to wonder whether they interpreted the situation wrong. As time passes, they lose their courage to step up,” says Hooper. “Technology provides the ability for a very quick, convenient, natural method of recording that something wrong is going on, to capture the moment immediately after it happens.”
In recent years, a number of providers have unveiled new apps and platforms for reporting workplace sexual harassment. The STOPit app allows employees to make a complaint, with the option of remaining anonymous while still allowing for two-way communication through which the employer can elicit more details about the incident in order to investigate. Likewise, Tel Aviv-based HiBob recently added YourVoice, a feature for anonymously reporting workplace sexual harassment, to its HR platform.
Originally developed for use on college campuses, Callisto will soon be available in corporate settings. The fully encrypted sexual-assault and harassment recording and reporting system allows victims to keep their identities secret, while alerting them to other complaints against the same perpetrator and inviting them to join a private messaging center with other alleged victims of that perpetrator.
Another new offering, AllVoices, grew out of the spate of recent Hollywood sex scandals, as its creator, Claire Schmidt, worked as vice president of technology and innovation at 20th Century Fox until November. The web platform empowers employees to anonymously report incidents of sexual harassment and allows them to share the nature of their experience, such as sexual advances, uncomfortable jokes or comments, physical or verbal offense, or harassment based on identity, gender, race, age or disability. The resulting data are then emailed directly to the individual’s boss, as well as those in senior positions, so they may take the requisite action.
One of the most innovative offerings, Talk to Spot, enables workers to report harassment anonymously to an AI chatbot named Spot. According to the company, talking to Spot feels much like texting or using a messaging app with a friend, but there is not a human on the other end of the chat. Using a cognitive interviewing style, Spot responds to what the employee writes, asks meaningful questions and generates a confidential timestamped record of the exchange. Employees have the option of creating a report to send to HR, deleting any content they don’t want to share. They can remain anonymous or choose to identify themselves later.
The ability to remain anonymous is key to making employees feel comfortable reporting incidents of sexual harassment, according to Sharon Argov, vice president of growth at HiBob.
“The reason the majority of people are not [reporting sexual harassment] is they don’t feel comfortable going to their boss or HR or the head of diversity in their organization and talking to them,” says Argov. “Technology allows them to have a private, discreet and anonymous conversation. It cancels that barrier.”
Anything that raises awareness around the problem of sexual harassment is a plus, according to Sheila Willis, an associate at Fisher Phillips. However, she is concerned that anonymous apps and platforms often serve as little more than data-collection tools and fail to provide the kind of individualized report that leads to a thorough investigation.
“Oftentimes, they may not get enough information to do a proper investigation, which has the potential to let the person continue committing the behavior,” says Willis. “While it may be cathartic for the person who endured the sexual harassment, it limits the employer’s ability to remedy the situation.”
Willis is relieved to see that anonymous reporting is continuing its slow, but steady decline, according to the 2018 Ethics & Compliance Hotline and Incident Management Benchmark Report by Portland, Ore.-based NAVEX Global. While the number of harassment-related reports ticked up slightly in 2017, just 56 percent of reports were submitted anonymously, down from a peak of 65 percent in 2009.
While Willis cannot draw a direct correlation between the rise of the #MeToo movement and the decline in anonymous reporting, she credits the movement with giving victims of workplace sexual harassment the courage to step forward and share their stories.
“The #MeToo movement has made people more comfortable about coming forward and having their name associated with [their report],” says Willis. “They do not feel like they are alone in the process. They find courage in reporting.”