Workplace harassment and discrimination is underreported. Can a chat bot fix that?
As a psychologist and memory scientist, Julia Shaw understands the way memory works. She wants to improve how people record and report workplace harassment and discrimination so their accounts are accurate.
"We know that most people who experience harassment and discrimination never speak up," Shaw said. "One of the big barriers is talking to a human being, because it's really awkward to go to someone in HR and say 'I think this happened to me … is it even harassment or discrimination?' Maybe you don't want to escalate it right away."
As well, many people are concerned about the negative repercussions of reporting incidents. "They're worried about things like getting fired, they're worried about being ostracized at work," said Shaw.
It's time-stamped, it proves what you remembered on a certain day, and you can use that whenever you want- Julia Shaw
The time stamp is important. Shaw's memory research focuses on the fallibility of human memory. "Our brains are pretty bad at keeping all the relevant details in mind if we ever want to talk about it later," she said. "This lets you keep a record; it's time stamped, it proves what you remembered on a certain day, and you can use that whenever you want."
But if Spot makes it more comfortable for people to file a complaint than sitting face-to-face with HR, and do so anonymously, does it increase the likelihood that people might launch malicious or unfounded claims?
"People already have the ability to file anonymous reports," Shaw said. "Ultimately, a Spot report should be taken as the starting point for an investigation. Just like if someone reports something to you in person, you don't take that necessarily as definitive proof...you use that as the beginning for looking for other evidence...and then deciding what the best response is."
Spot's planned business model is to offer this as a paid service to companies, in order to manage and respond to reports of harassment and discrimination. The tool will continue to be free for individuals to use to report incidents.