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New Tech Solutions To Help Companies Curb Sexism And Racism

Maren Thomas Bannon, July 15, 2020

The last few months, from the spread of Covid-19 to the protests following the death of George Floyd, have only further exposed the systemic racism in society and the huge problem of inequality in the workplace.

Inequality is not new. It’s been an issue for a very long time and it’s very much a business issue. Certainly, in terms of brand, businesses understand this, and a good number do have the right intentions. But marginalized employees know what they want and although businesses may be acknowledging these demands they may not be acting on them effectively. During the recent protest by Adidas BAME and LGBTQ workers, one of the demands of the company is the “creation of an anonymous platform where employees can report instances of racism and discrimination, and for protection against retaliation”.

Yet in response, Adidas, like many others, has fallen back on its incumbent solution – an ethics hotline. The question is, if the incumbent solution was working, why the need for employees to protest?

Society at large, and employees, are no longer placated by a modified logo featuring the Pride rainbow, a hashtagged statement of solidarity or a charitable donation. People want meaningful, lasting change. Tangible action is the only benchmark that matters these days and for those that speak up about failures, protections are increasing. Both the EU and the US are ramping up safeguards for those who blow the whistle both internally and externally and giving them greater protection against retaliation. This extensive legislation increases the demands on employers in terms of reporting. Simply put, hotlines are not enough.

Discrimination is systemic – old school ‘fixes’ don’t work

It’s well documented that Black employees have an uphill struggle in the workplace. Around 58% of Black professionals have experienced racial prejudice at work – much more than any other racial or ethnic group. LGBTQ employees also face hostility in the workplace, with at least 22% of LGBTQ Americans not treated the same as their peers. Discrimination increases to 32% for LGBTQ people of color. And of course, there’s gender discrimination. Up to half of women have experienced some sort of sexual harassment during their career. And women who are victims of harassment are 6.5 times more likely to leave their workplace within the following 12 months.

If business initiatives were working and internal protests about organizational failure could be heard, this shouldn’t be the case. So something is amiss and time and time again that disconnect is revealed as the gap between a company’s intention and how it executes on it.

There’s an old adage to never waste a good crisis and if anything, the number of global crises this year (so far) have given businesses the opportunity to tear up the book and look at how to do things not just differently but better. Stamping out racism and discrimination can be achieved, but it must start with giving employees a real voice and opportunity to speak up.

With remote working, social distancing, and the extinction and creation of jobs becoming the new normal, technology has come to the fore. There isn’t just more inequality and discrimination, it’s also changing as society shifts to become more online and businesses have to adapt in kind.

Technology helping companies monitor and end discrimination

New technologies are emerging to help companies act more assertively to end discrimination.

Vault Platform, a next-generation misconduct reporting platform, has created the solution that those Adidas employees are now demanding. Vault’s customers include Airbnb, M&C Saatchi and Minute Media among others. The Vault App has proved that there’s a better way to take the ethical temperature of your company than the now antiquated method of dialing into a hotline call center somewhere. It changes the method of interaction to meet employees where they are most comfortable – a mobile app. Vault Platform puts the power of reporting in the hands of the employee and streamlines the resolution process with an enterprise-grade case management tool that provides board ready reports on how ethically the company is behaving.

Vault Platform’s own research among stakeholders of organizational culture revealed that 72% of businesses claim discrimination and misconduct are already on the board agenda. Furthermore, 68% believe the best way to tackle workplace misconduct is through cultivating a speak up culture. Yet employees still don’t feel heard, and technology can change that, starting today.

Another area where technology can come in handy in stamping out discrimination is in the equity pay gap. Syndio’s mission is to create fairness at work and eradicate unlawful pay disparities based on gender, race and ethnicity. Syndio licenses software that helps companies identify and eliminate unlawful pay gaps across race, gender and ethnicity and their intersectionality. Most importantly, Syndio’s customers use the software to identify the underlying policies and practices that caused the problems to ensure change endures.

Syndio eliminates the need to work with outside consultants that do this by hand, saving companies time and unnecessary expense. They’re already working with 70+ companies (Nordstrom, Slack, Target, Adobe) and recently launched the Fair Pay Workplace certification effort, joining forces with a number of progressive employers and academics.

Syndio’s nationwide survey of working women found they are spending more time than men overseeing homeschooling and child care during the coronavirus pandemic, and they expressed strong concerns about this negatively impacting their careers. These concerns are especially pronounced with Black and Hispanic women. In a later survey, 40% of Black and Hispanic parents and caregivers who worked in an office pre-COVID they or their spouse is considering quitting the workforce altogether.

We’re in danger of turning the clock back because businesses hadn’t fixed the problem; they had just silenced it. The time for change is now. There is a lot of talk, but action is what’s needed. Now is the time for companies to address the problem of discrimination and there are leading tech solutions to help them take action.

Note: Maren Thomas Bannon is a partner at January Ventures, which is an investor in Vault Platform.

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