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Corporate Talent & Inclusion

Tech-based platforms offer modern approaches to preventing & reporting harassment

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Can the increased use of technology-based platforms help curb workplace harassment, especially online, and promote better transparency and work cultures?

Culture is the daily expression of an organization’s specific, well-known performance expectations and its implied standards of behavior, which outlines what is rewarded, what is condoned, what is intentionally ignored, and what is penalized.

And a key indicator of an organization’s culture is the tolerance or intolerance it has for harassment and bad behavior, which are some of the worst elements of a toxic workplace.

Further, an organization’s transparency — defined as how an organization “operates in a way that creates openness between managers and employees,” is an important ingredient in aligning words with action with regard to harassment. Well-maintained workplace transparency breeds trust, and when there is inconsistency between management’s words and actions concerning harassment — such as nothing being done after an incident is reported — that trust can be broken.

Harassment is increasing through digital channels

Many assume that because they don’t see or hear about workplace harassment, it does not happen. However, this is not the case. In fact, a recent survey data of 800 professionals conducted by AllVoices, a technology platform that enables employees to anonymously report bias, discrimination, or sexual harassment to their company’s leadership, indicated harassment at work remains prevalent, and in fact, is occurring more often through digital communications channels.

According to the survey, 44% of respondents experienced harassment at work, ranging from personal harassment and bullying, discriminatory harassment and bias, to online harassment and cyber-bullying. Of the 44%, more than one-third of respondents (38%) experienced harassment remotely through email, video conferencing, chat apps, or by phone.

Luckily, there are new enterprise-wide technology platforms around employee communication coming online, providing invaluable tools for creating a transparent work culture. These platforms can provide an easy way for an organization’s leaders to communicate with their employees while also being “phenomenal” accountability boosters.

Indeed, platforms used for incident-reporting by employees in this manner creates increased transparency when compared to the use of hotlines, which when companies use them, are the most common tool for employees to anonymously reporting incidents. Yet, according to the AllVoices survey, there is still a ways to go. Only 32% of respondents said they have used their organizations’ reporting hotline, and women were less likely to use the hotline as opposed to men (21% as compared to 45.9%, respectively).

Enhancing transparency & trust

The use of technology platforms for incident-reporting also enhances psychological safety, which is the belief that an employee can respectfully disagree, raise concerns, ask questions, and be themselves without the fear or worry that they will be embarrassed, singled out, or somehow penalized or marginalized for doing so. Feeling comfortable enough to speak up and voice both ideas and concerns without fear of retaliation, attack, or shaming is key for a healthy workplace, says Claire Schmidt, founder and CEO at AllVoices.

However, 52.4% of respondents in the AllVoices survey say they have been in a work environment where they have not felt psychologically safe. Moreover, 23.1% say they did not believe their employers had measures in place — such as reporting procedures and anonymous hotlines — to prevent harassment before it begins. And “of those who said their workplace did not have these measures, they cited issues of abuse of power and microaggressions as their top experienced types of harassment,” Schmidt elaborates.

Specifically relating to the legal industry, when legal employers have outlined reporting procedures, there are strong indications that they are not used because of workplace cultures that lack psychological safety or fear of retaliation. The Women Lawyers On Guard’s Still Broken survey, which is the most recent data available on harassment within the legal industry, made this issue clear. “Most people do not report sexual harassment and very significant barriers to reporting still exist because of fear of job loss and other negative career repercussions, and concerns about safety,” the report noted.

To improve psychological safety and prevent harassment, leaders of all organizations need to reinforce and drive accountability for their organization’s culture, emphasizing that management will not tolerate harassment of any kind within their teams. Also, employers need to expand and increase accessibility of incident-reporting mechanisms to further promote needed transparency.

To improve incident-reporting, respondents recommended anonymity, ease of use, and leadership involvement. Having an online tech platform that enables incident-reporting in addition to a place where employees can seek support and guidance is a great method for enabling trust and psychological safety, as well as to demonstrate employers’ commitment to a culture that does not tolerate any form of harassment.

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