TrustIn presented a whitepaper at the international Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP)’s 2020 conference, as part of a panel of experts on Generating Solutions in Combating Workplace Sexual Harassment, titled “Technology Solutions for Workplace Safety and Equitable Access to Justice.’
The paper was authored and presented by TrustIn’s founder and CEO, Meghana Srinivas, and focused on technology-enabled interventions that could address the barriers to effective reporting and redressal of workplace sexual harassment cases, and lead to successful POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) implementation in Indian organizations.
View full session here: https://youtu.be/pF4fKNikl2o
Thanks to the #MeToo movement, and changes in legislation globally, attention to issues around sexual harassment (SH) at work has grown. Yet, the focus tends to be on the target reporting or ‘speaking up’. This session highlights the importance of other practical factors — organizational climate for SH, role of observers and managers, and technology — in mitigating SH at work.
Show and Tell: Generating Solutions in Combating Workplace Sexual Harassment
Recently, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have brought forth an awareness that sexual harassment (SH) is an endemic issue around the world. It is difficult to pin down estimates of how prevalent the problem is, especially in the workplace, largely because of targets’ tendency to minimize or downplay incidents, underreport or underemphasize experienced harassment due to fear of consequences (Vijayasiri, 2008), lack of faith in the organization’s desire or ability to take action (Harlos, 2001), and reluctance to speak up in a male-dominated environment (Collinson & Collinson, 1996).
While current solutions range from legal recourse to activist-like ‘call out’ campaigns, most have required the target (victim or survivor) of sexual harassment to act after the fact. This onus placed on the target is unfair, ineffective and unsustainable in preventing SH. Organizations play a significant role in SH — either in being complicit in its occurrence or actively preventing it. Organizations with high power differentials (Ilies, Hauserman, Shwochau, & Stibal, 2003), male-dominated workforces (Willness, Steel, & Lee, 2007), in industries with traditionally masculine behaviors and expectations (Chamberlain, Crowley, Tope, & Hodson, 2008), and those with climates for sexual harassment (Hulin, Fitzgerald, & Drasgow, 1996) are likely to have greater incidences of SH.
Consequently, organizations can play a large role in preventing and providing support in cases of SH (Bergman, Langout, Palmieri, & Cortina, 2002). The current session brings together scholars and experts, and identifies gaps in current approaches to provide solutions from four perspectives using a unique “show and tell” format. These perspectives span a spectrum from the macro (organizational culture and climate) to the meso (leaders) to the micro (target-centric technology solutions) levels. This session is distinct from a typical symposium in which the “final” research work is shared because it will allow presenters to share their current work, and provide a voice for audience members in further solution generation that can be incorporated into ongoing work.
Specifically, the proposed session will use a 50-minute “Show and Tell” format — wherein the chairs (Aarti Shyamsunder and Afra Ahmad) will begin with a brief 3-minute introduction to describe the atypical session format and introduce the diverse group of academics, practitioners and multinational members. Then each of the four presenters will have approximately 8 minutes to present the rationale for addressing an overlooked issue in SH at work (i.e., ‘show’ the need for a solution) and present their proposed solution to closing this gap (‘tell’ the audience what the solution could be). This will be followed by 15-minutes of Q&A and facilitated feedback with audience members.
Starting at the macro level, Ahmad and Goldberg will present a case for why the measurement of organizational climate for sexual harassment needs an overhaul and propose a more topical solution to this. If the climate is conducive to fairness, more observers/bystanders will step up when they witness SH at work. Khanna and colleagues will share a tool designed to equip observers with behavioural responses in such cases. Meyer and Zelin will then discuss an approach that taps into the role of leaders as instrumental bystanders in preventing SH. Finally, Srinivas tackles the issue of under-reporting with a novel technology-based solution that promises to support targets of SH as well as help organizations implement fair practices. Together, this group of diverse presenters provide a compelling set of perspectives that go beyond the current ‘victim centered’ narrative for dealing with sexual harassment at work.
Technology solutions for workplace safety and equitable access to justice
Meghana Srinivas, Founder and CEO, TrustIn
Workplace misconduct emerged as an urgent pain point during India’s recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movement of October 2018, resulting in hundreds of cases. As survivors came forward to name and shame their perpetrators, an interesting phenomenon emerged; unlike their international counterparts, Indian survivors used intermediaries to speak up. Multiple courageous journalists and activists used social media platforms to reveal alleged abusers while shielding the survivors, who preferred to remain anonymous (Shrivastava, Altstedter, & Chaudhary, 2018). This surfaced the need for alternate reporting channels that incorporate secure, sensitive solutions that can enable equity, effectiveness, and empathy at scale.
Primary research has revealed that the fear and stigma resulting from long-term societal conditioning discourage escalation. Retaliation and reputational damage come a close second in why survivors choose to not speak up, and while policies and processes exist to ensure workplace safety, their implementation is sadly compromised, leading to a sense of futility and lack of trust in the system.
This has translated to a higher awareness of one’s rights not necessarily translating into higher access of those rights, with less than 20% survivors choosing to report workplace SH and more than 80% choosing to exit their workplace instead (EY, 2015). The process of disclosure can be highly retraumatizing for survivors; this is exacerbated in the average workplace, and the survivor’s experience is highly dependent on the company’s IC, or Internal Committee, which is vested with the powers of a civil court and comprised of four company employees and one external expert, to adjudicate all matters pertaining to workplace sexual harassment. Even with the best of intentions, all IC members hold full-time jobs, making it difficult to comply with the time-sensitive demands of documentation and communication. More than half of all ICs reported that they do not feel ready for the demands of a rigorous POSH adjudication (EY, 2015). The result is a broken system that leaves employees (both complainants and respondents) feeling exposed and unsupported, while ICs are unsure of their verdict, stretched for time, and leave their company open to the risk of being sued for their noncompliance with a complex process.
Misconduct of any kind in a workplace- ranging from harassment to abuse- is more likely to go unresolved when the perpetrator is a high performer (Summers, 1996), in the presence of major power differentials (Ilies, Hauserman, Shwochau, & Stibal, 2003)- that arise not just from organizational hierarchy and reporting relationships but also other contributors such as gender, socioeconomic status, age, and tenure in the organization, and when the incident goes unreported. This makes a strong, transparent, trustworthy reporting platform, with aligned consequences, imperative to bolster employee safety and robust implementation of safety policies. A viable solution is an integrated, intelligent, contextual system that removes barriers to complaint reporting and adjudication efficiency.
Starting with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) legislation, the proposed solution, called “TrustIn”, is a platform encompassing all labour, civil, and service laws to transform the safety landscape. With best in class legal and technology frameworks, it empowers companies to implement a culture of safety, confidentiality, and compliance. It also integrates trauma informed, unbiased support structures that enable all employees to educate, escalate, and advocate for themselves.
TrustIn’s smart technology platform gently guides complainants through the process of documenting their experience in a trauma-informed manner. Every complainant receives the option to share their name or remain anonymous. What results is a time-stamped, tamper-proof body of evidence that ensures complainants never lose crucial memories or information (a side effect of the trauma response), and escalate when they choose to, even if that takes a protracted period of time. Comprehensive support dashboards ensure two-way communication and support loops for complainants, respondents, and all Internal Committee members, along with an aggregation platform to access verified legal, psychological, or other aid providers. This includes an overall safety dashboard, with member organizations receiving relative rankings based on their transparency, fairness, overall psychological and sexual safety, and inclusivity. Other technological support systems can include: vernacular and multilingual reporting through IVRS enabled helplines, legal chatbots that enable users to make informed decisions, and centralized access to all the organization’s policies and principal escalation points.
On the other end of the process, once the Internal Committee receives escalations, an automated system begins the process of streamlining documentation, deadlines, and communication as per legal guidelines. This also generates the case and annual safety report for each organization, including the number of cases received and resolved; currently, due to the confidential nature of the process, the reporting system is often opaque. Organizations can ensure a 100% compliant process a 100% of the time, mitigating their risk and legal liability, through a wholly digitized end-to-end redressal solution that incorporates role-based restricted access, speech to text transcription, one-stop scheduling and logistics for all stakeholders involved, video conferencing, and digital signatures. This reporting model includes restricted data privacy and access, procedural equity that’s personalized for each organization’s safety policy, and third-party verification of all reported data.
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