Can Technology End Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

The founders of TalkToSpot, STOPit and Callisto think it might.  These are three different technology tools created by people passionate about combatting issues of sexual assault and harassment.  Will they work?

The Technology:

  • Callisto was developed in response to the outrage over rampant sexual assault on college campuses.  Its underlying premise is that 90% of sexual assaults are by people who have done it before.  It gives victims a place to immediately report the incident and store the details with a time stamp.  The system holds that information and looks for matches.  When a match is found—meaning another victim reports John Doe did this to me too—the victims can be empowered.  They know they aren’t alone and can be more confident coming forward, and John Doe can get the help or punishment he needs to make sure there isn’t another victim.
  • STOPit started after a fifteen-year-old victim of bullying committed suicide.  It was created for youth to have a platform to report inappropriate behavior.  Recognizing the current reliance on and comfort with technology, STOPit’s founder wanted to transform the way inappropriate behavior is reported and prevented.
  • TalkToSpot is a direct response to sexual harassment in the workplace.  This technology employs a chatbot to interact with employees through a cognitive interview approach (like the police use when questioning witnesses).   Its founders believe that answering questions from a neutral, inanimate chatbot makes reporting more comfortable.  It takes the emotional reactions of the person listening to the report out of the equation.

Technology Reporting Tools Are Good: 

  • These technologies appeal to victims.  They seem to encourage reporting because the human element on the other side of the reporting equation is removed.
    • In the first three weeks that TalkToSpot was live, around 220 people chatted with it about their experiences and more than 3,000 people visited the site. 
    • Callisto claims dramatic improvements in reporting on campuses using the system. 
    • The success of STOPit has led it to expand into other areas, including workplaces for use in reporting not just sexual harassment, but financial and other business misconduct.
  • Developments in analytics and pattern recognition through such tools could allow companies to get a read on their corporate culture and identify potentially troubling patterns.  That could allow employers to focus training in departments with higher reports or even identify harassers without those experiencing harassment ever having to reveal their identity.

Technology Reporting Tools Are Bad:

  • The anonymity inherent in these reporting tools prevents employers from addressing situations immediately and directly.  They could result in harassers being left in the workplace longer.
  • There is potential for abuse if accusers can remain anonymous.  An employee or two could sabotage a supervisor they dislike without consequences.

Our View: 

Technology reporting tools seem well suited to sexual assault situations on college campuses, but we don’t think they are the key to preventing workplace harassment.

  • The bar for appropriate workplace conduct should be high, high enough that things should not reach the level of unlawful sexual harassment.
  • Employers need to focus on creating workplace cultures where higher levels of professionalism are promoted.  Employees should be comfortable bringing attention to situations in the workplace before they get to a level severe enough to need what technology reporting tools are designed to bring to the table.

Let us know what you think—Can Technology End Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?