Since Harvey Weinstein was first implicated in a string of sexual harassment cases in 2017, which spanned numerous decades and involved upwards of 80 women, the #Metoo movement has swept the globe.
In its wake more than 250 celebrities, chief executives and politicians have been accused of sexual misconduct in the US alone, and over 200 have subsequently been removed from their position, with nearly half being replaced by women.
According to the US’ Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the number of sexual harassment complaints rose 13.6 per cent last year, despite the overall number of complaints dropping 9.3 per cent. This lays bare not only how deep the problem runs in all areas of industry, but just how much power the movement has had giving the victims the confidence to speak out.
While perpetrators like Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Bill Cosby captured a near monopoly on media attention thanks to their public profiles, the individuals, organisations and technologies working behind the scenes to encourage and empower victims to speak out are often entirely overlooked.
“Our mission as a company is to give people the tools, the network and the confidence to make changes in their workplace,” Nat Whalley, founder and chief executive of Organise told Charged.
“It’s about making sure these staff are heard. One of my favourite quotes came from a McDonald’s worker, she said that for the first time in her 15 years at the company she felt hope. That’s what it’s about for me, people realise they actually have power when they team up.
“I think it’s so easy to forget that you can build this power inside a workplace, and that you don’t have to put up with stuff.”
Although Organise, the campaign group which Whalley founded in 2017 after leaving a career as a political campaigner, is seldom cast in the media’s spotlight, its results are quite the opposite.
Late last year, as the sexual harassment case against controversial retail mogul Sir Philip Green was snowballing into the industry’s first high profile #Metoo scandal, a storm was brewing for another UK retail CEO.
“It started when the Philip Green story came out at the end of October,” Whalley said.
“We ran a survey to our entire community asking: ‘have you seen harassment at work and what’s your experience of workplace of harassment?’, and from that a few hundred people responded.
“In that there were two Ted Baker staff who had similar stories, so we flagged them. These were quite unusually unique, it’s very unlikely you’d get two people sharing that level of detail with such similar claims.”
Organise, which now has over 50,000 members, sends out surveys like this to around 10 per cent of its userbase weekly. Its system will then analyse the data collected and pick out any similar responses from the same company, allowing those affected to team up and move the process one step further.
“They then ran a specific survey that they wrote around alleged harassment at Ted Baker, and that survey was shared through their workplace WhatsApp groups, which found 25 people who all had different stories,” she continued.
Once a potential issue has been highlighted in the initial survey, Organise will encourage similar respondents to work together and create a targeted survey to establish how widespread the problem actually us.
If something of concern is discovered, Organise gives employees the tools to anonymously create and circulate a petition, where real change can be affected. This is exactly what happened at Ted Baker.
“The really interesting thing is that the petition went out to Ted Baker staff and got to 300 signatures quite quickly,” Whalley added.
“While that was going on nothing really moved. We knew Ted Baker had seen it, and that they hadn’t responded to the petition. Everyone who has a petition obviously has a right to reply and it’s a great way of getting a constructive dialogue moving.”
Three weeks later, after the petition had been picked up by the press, the petition received around 2000 signatures overnight.
Days later Ray Kelvin, the founder and long-time boss of Ted Baker, was forced to take a leave of absence over numerous harassment allegations. These included an apparent designated “hug zone” near his desk in the office, making young female staff “sit on his knee, cuddle him, or let him massage their ears”, and an incident where Kelvin pushed an executive up against the glass wall of a meeting room.
In March Kelvin resigned from his position after an internal investigation, launched in response to the campaign, was completed. The results have still not been published publicly.
These exact technological tools and processes are also being used to highlight issues and drive change at Co-op, healthcare giant Boots, and student discount firm Unidays.
At Co-op, Organise found that numerous staff members had complained about one-on-one shifts, where just two staff members are working instore.
“The staff were saying they were getting more armed robberies when working one-on-one shifts, it looked like around 30 per cent of staff had seen an armed robbery in the last two months, or something along those lines,” Whalley explained.
Despite this representing a huge problem for Co-op and its staff, the issue remained largely unreported until the survey was conducted, because there were simply too few staff available to report it.
“I think that’s the interesting thing, it’s not necessarily disgruntled staff, but staff that are trying to help out the retail business, it’s a missing piece of the puzzle that the head office wasn’t getting,” she added.
The power of this simple yet accessible technology is clear, and by its very nature it is growing exponentially. Every person who replies to a survey shares across social media or workplace WhatsApp groups is added to Organise’s “community”.
As each anonymous respondent is stating where they work, Organise can create networks of people who work at specific companies, and according to Whalley, “that’s where the power comes from”.
“The power of this is exponential, the more campaigns we launch the faster we grow,” she continued.
“We’re seeing a lot more campaigns started than we used to, hopefully there will be a tipping point where we’re suddenly very big.
“We’ve just tipped over 50,000. I think we were about 10,000 last year. I want to be at one million at the end of the 3rd year (2020).”
It’s not just Organise’s network which is expanding rapidly, the group is launching new tools to provide employees with more solid foundations on which to build their cases.
The TakeNote App, currently available in beta, offers employees the ability to document numerous incidents throughout their work week. Though this diary-esque may sound simple, like the rest of Organise is can be incredibly effective.
“One of the things we’ve seen is, quite often collective actions can be really powerful at fixing things, but especially with things like bullying and harassment people don’t necessarily want to start a petition,” Whalley explained.
“That’s why we’ve built the Take Note app. The other gap is about helping people write down what happened to them and document it, so when it does come out they have a readymade bank of evidence.”
The app is pin protected, and lets staff note down what happened, who was there, what time an incident took place, as well as add things like screen shots and photos which are geolocated to add another layer of evidence. Every note made can then be linked and downloaded in a single PDF, creating what is essentially an individual casefile.
“Quite often it’s not just one incident, it’s often lots of small things that build up over time, actually a lot of it doesn’t feel like it’s worth reporting on its own,” she added.
“If you wrote it all down and packaged it up as a group of harassment cases it is worth reporting.”
As the tidal force of #Metoo continues to spread across the world, most recently taking hold in Namibia where women have historically feared reprisals over speaking out, the movement’s core message continues to be reinforced:
Collective action = power
This philosophy is at the very heart of Organise and its potential application is just as far reaching. While the movement continues to inspire people to speak out, Organise will provide them with the tools, network and encouragement to do so with confidence they can make a difference.
“I would say don’t be scared, put it on Organise and find out if you’re alone, you’re probably not. It starts with writing it down, that can be totally anonymous.
“Organise is designed to make it as safe a place as possible for you to share that experience and we’ll find a way to fix it.”