Culture

Could This App Help Fix the Tech Industry's Sexual Harassment Problem?

When workers can't trust HR, they turn to anonymous apps and whisper networks for justice.

Photo Credit: lev radin / Shutterstock

The exposure of Harvey Weinstein's decades of sexual predation opened the floodgates for women—and some men—to reveal their stories of abuse at the hands of powerful men. The #MeToo campaign, started by activist Tarana Burke a decade ago and reignited by actresses like Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan, offered women across industries an opportunity to expose long-buried mistreatment. Now an app that allows tech workers to anonymously review their workplace and report on company culture has launched a channel for women to share their #MeToo stories. 

The move is an example of how corporations may start borrowing and consolidating the whisper network, the term for the usually informal practice of women warning each other about potentially predatory men in their workplace. New platforms like Blind (which launched in 2015 but started a #MeToo channel on Monday) could supplement or replace the controversial anonymously sourced spreadsheet, such as the Shitty Media Men list, where women reported on a variety of abuses at the hands of editors, executives, managers, and other men in positions of power at media companies. 

Blind, however, is adamant that it is not simply joining a trend, but committed to helping employees who feel they have nowhere else to turn.  

“At Blind, we’re on a mission to bring transparency to the workplace," said Wonshin Lee, head of U.S. Operations at Blind, in a press statement. "By providing a platform to elevate the voices of the #MeToo movement, we are continuing [to] build on our vision to empower every employee, regardless of title or position."

Blind was founded in South Korea in 2014, based on, according to CNN, "an internal message board once used by employees at Naver, the South Korean equivalent of Google." It's aimed at tech workers, but the company said in a statement that anyone can read and contribute to the app's public, non-company-specific channels. Users have to use a work email address, which gives many security-minded users pause, though Blind counters that all of the information provided is disconnected from the actual email addresses.

In doing so, Blind claims it is "empowering every individual in the workplace." 

The emergence of sites like Glassdoor (where workers across industries can review various companies) and Blind underscores the declining trust in traditional human resources departments, which, Danny Crichton writes in Techcrunch, "has to be one of the greatest bait-and-switch professions one can join today." Candidates join thinking they are going to make a difference in workplace culture, to be a mediator, to close the wage gap and reduce inequality. Instead, Crichton continues, the reality is often very different: 

"A superior has made a pass at a subordinate, and an executive of the company asks that the subordinate be fired to 'clean up' the situation. An employee repeatedly makes homophobic, racist, or sexist remarks to their colleagues, but the company has deemed the individual critical to the functioning of the sales team, and so is merely given a warning. Company morale is suffering and complaints are showing up on online sites like Glassdoor, so HR is charged with 'fixing' the company’s rating. A well-performing employee is repeatedly given poor performance reviews to make their firing tidy."

This isn't hypothetical, and it's often HR abuses, as much as harassment itself, that propels the current wave of harassment stories. Uber didn't change its behavior until Susan Fowler wrote a memo documenting multiple instances of the company protecting harassers.

Vice Media, which for years was plagued with rumors of a degrading culture for women, was only exposed because employees complained that the HR department dismissed their claims. The Weinstein Company has also come under fire for the lengths its HR department went to protect the company, rather than the workers

Blind developed its #MeToo channel with this distrust in mind. "We surveyed 3,000 of our users, asking them if they felt comfortable reporting sexual harassment to their HR department. The results were alarming," Blind's head of marketing, Kyle McCarthy, told AlterNet via email. 

"Forty-three percent responded that they did not feel comfortable doing this," McCarthy continued. "Blind is littered with posts from users about not trusting HR. The common theme is a fear of retaliation for reporting legitimate concerns." Respondents, according to McCarthy, believe that "HR works to protect the company and NOT the employees."

So far, at least one company is taking action based on Blind reports. According to CNN, "Last month, Lyft said it is investigating accusations made on Blind that employees had improperly accessed its private data about riders.

McCarthy believes this is only the beginning: "With so many fearful of retaliation, it's no wonder people would want to remain anonymous. With Blind, they can do exactly this."

Blind may be the first employee-review site to start a dedicated #MeToo channel, but if the movement continues to gain momentum, it won't be the last. 

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Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.