This is either the best of times or the worst of times for an app like this.
The best is because Bravely is a confidential new communication platform launched for employees to report conflict, harassment or other workplace issues off the record to a coach for free.
The worst perhaps because the avalanche of sexual harassment and discrimination charges by women and men have been overwhelming every industry in the past few months.
“Everybody cries in the bathroom. It’s why they need Bravely,” says Sarah Sheehan, co-founder and chief customer officer of Bravely.
Calling the venture “urgent care for human resources,” Sheehan says Bravely received $1.5 million in seed money from venture capitalists and has 30 companies in the pipeline for the communication company that offers trained expert coaches to unravel workplace dynamics. The seven-member Bravely management team has five women leaders.
As for the deluge of harassment claims in recent months around the behaviors of men from Matt Lauer to Harvey Weinstein to Roy Moore to Louis C.K. to Al Franken to John Conyers, “Part of me is thrilled so many people are coming forward,” says Sheehan, who co-founded Bravely with friend and former Gilt Groupe colleague Toby Hervey, who is Bravely CEO.
“It’s incredibly brave for those people to take those first steps,” Sheehan says. “And it’s time for company leadership to look at how they support their employees. “
“As we absorb the cascade of sexual misconduct revelations, it is important to consider context—not as an excuse, but to understand and develop solutions. For example, consider that some of the wrongdoers forged their workplace habits in the age of ‘Mad Men,’” according to the National Law Review blog.
“Consider that — although sexual harassment has been illegal since 1986 (which, by the way, wasn’t all that long ago)—most training has been focused on avoiding liability, not on improving workplace culture. And consider the impact of men in powerful positions who adopt a well-meaning, yet backwards sexist policy of not working or traveling with women,” according to the National Law Review.
The harassment does not have to reach overt, physical levels in order to create a problem at work, or make the workplace hostile.
Leigh Anderson writes in Lifehacker, “Kathleen Peratis, an employment lawyer and partner at Outten and Golden in New York City, says: ‘As a legal matter, the hostility has to be either severe or pervasive.’ Severe is a Weinstein/Louis C.K. kind of situation, or the classic boss-chasing-you-around-the desk, or an explicit quid pro quo. But the more subtle markers of a hostile environment are a drip drip drip—the sexist jokes, the snickers, a colleague ‘accidentally’ letting you see porn on his computer. ‘Even though a particular comment isn’t about sex,’ like a colleague exhibiting too much lurid interest in your dating life,’ you can see that it’s creating conditions that are interfering with your ability to do your job: a hostile work environment.”
This complicated, muddy work environment is the reason Bravely exists. Eighty percent of people who left jobs in tech did so because they felt they were treated unfairly, according to the company site. And 26 percent of a manager’s time is spent helping direct reports deal with conflict.
“The companies have to rebuild trust,” Sheehan says. “Even if they have nothing to do with the news stories, it’s that moment of pause.”
Harassment, discrimination, employee conflict—all of the issues affect productivity and create a toxic culture, Sheehan says. More than 65 percent of performance problems are related to strained personal relationships within the company culture, according to Bravely statistics.
“With the growing number of high-profile harassment cases,” Elizabeth Tippett, an associate professor at the University of Oregon School of Law, says, ”publicly shaming employers could be a more effective way to get them to punish harassers,” according to Eric Tegethoff of the Oregon News Service.
Tippett says “harassment has the potential to tarnish a company’s brand, and a company’s brand is much more valuable than even a high-ranking employee,” Tegethoff writes.
“So now, when employers stop to think about it, they have to worry about, ‘How is this decision going to look if this allegation later comes to light, and will we be able to defend the decision that we made?'” Tippett told Tegethoff.
Perhaps to repair that company brand, rebuild trust and defend personnel choices and decisions or to pre-empt any conflict, “a company comes to Bravely, offers the service free to their employees and Bravely confidentially handles it with a coach,” Sheehan says.
To the company, Bravely offers formal reports without identifying an employee. “In large companies, the potential learnings are huge,” Sheehan says. “If 10 people come forward to us about a vp in marketing, then we tell the company, ‘you should look at your vp of marketing.”
For employees, they can download the free confidential app, privately create an account and log in to a secure web app to describe their need and desired outcome. They can schedule phone meetings with a licensed coach for 45-minute calls before work in the early mornings, after hours or on weekends.
Then the employee “can have anonymous escalation, if the employee wants administration to learn about it, without reporting it,” Sheehan says. All throughout the process, Bravely makes sure the employee has the support he or she needs.
Telling your story about a workplace issue is Power Tool # 9 of the 9 Leadership Power Tools created by Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead. “Your story is your truth. Your truth is your power. Telling your story authentically helps you lead (not follow) your dreams and have an unlimited life,” Feldt says.
Taking action by telling is a step toward solving the problem.
“With workplace stress, if you are not experiencing it, you forget how horrible it is,” says Sheehan, adding people will more often leave a job rather than confront an issue.
“Having a third party with no skin in the game,” is ideal for solving workplace issues, Sheehan says, who after 20 years in organizations, some in human resources positions, was always shocked that no one would come to her with big issues.
The spotlight shed on workplace harassment in the past few months is only one piece of the puzzle, Sheehan says.
“There are definitely enough other problems to go around,” she says.
Read more on gender discrimination at work here.
With Bravely launching at a time when the culture seems to support those who go bravely forward, Sheehan says she has a big dream for the company.
“I want everyone to have access to Bravely. Because everyone deserves it. We would like to be able to offer talks on a daily basis and be multi-lingual.”
As for empathizing with employees under so much stress they cry in the office bathrooms, Sheehan gets that and says she has been there and done that. But not it’s different.
“I cry tears of joy after I get feedback from someone about how thankful and positive they are now,” Sheehan says. “This is my dream job.”
This post originally ran in Take The Lead.