Workplace harassment is evil. It can make lives a misery. Victims often feel unable to speak out. If they do, they face an inquisition, often by the very HR department they turn to help from. In many cases they risk their careers and livelihoods and face ridicule if they speak up. If things get to court, every memory recollection is microscopically interrogated. No wonder it usually goes unreported, as do other forms of harassment and abuse. The recent supreme court hearing in the US highlighted just how harrowing and difficult reporting harassment can be.
The recent protests at Google merely hint at just how endemic workplace harassment is. The Google workforce gets my thumbs up for its collective action efforts to force change there. But this is not a Google problem, it is potentially an every employer problem. The #metoo movement has helped surface some of this, but it is really only the surface. There are many forms of workplace harassment, it is all around us.
Lately I have been suffering from a bit of AI disillusionment in HR/work tech. Most of what I’d seen recently labelled AI was really just adequate analytics with a new label, or chatbots replacing screens with rather cumbersome text based chat. Also the role of AI as a magnifier or enabler of workplace bias was laid open with the recent Amazon recruiting incident. Approaches to AI in HR tech lurch from underwhelming to cavalier.
I opened the November UK edition of wired magazine, and I was pleasantly surprised to read about Dr Julia Shaw’s start up, called Spot. Julia is a psychologist, an expert in false memory and memory based evidence. Spot aims to make a record of harassment that is “reliable, complete and contemporaneous”. It uses a natural language chatbot to guide victims through a cognitive interview, producing a more robust documentation of the incident. Spot then enables the victim to communicate with their employer through a secure service, and provides employers with better reporting. More details on the site.
I wish Julia and her team every success. Every organization, corporation, public sector, institution or NGO should take a serious look at this. I’d like to see VC and PE “strongly encouraging” their portfolio companies to deploy tools like these. Thanks for curing my AI despondency. Thanks too Wired for writing about it.