Mar 18, 2024 - Business

New tool will confront workplace harassers for you

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A Chicago nonprofit is offering a novel service to address workplace harassment: sending cautionary emails to alleged harassers on behalf of unnamed accusers.

Why it matters: Workplace harassment — sexual and otherwise — remains a persistent but underreported problem, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

By the numbers: 81% of women will face sexual harassment over the course of their lifetime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

  • But EEOC data suggests that 75% of people harassed at work will never report it.

Context: The Wolf and The Bee co-founders Cheri Wolf and Sandy Lisonbee say they both faced sexual harassment at companies where the HR department failed to support them.

  • So they created an entire website of advice for addressing workplace harassment before the problem escalates — and last month they added The BeeMail service.

How it works: For $25, they will send an email to an alleged harasser on behalf of a client who prefers to resolve the issue outside of their company but doesn't feel comfortable confronting the perpetrator themselves. They do not require proof of harassment, but ask questions aimed at better understanding the situation and confirming things, including that:

  • There is a power imbalance between the victim and harasser;
  • The client would be open to an apology.

What they're saying: "The threat of retaliation from employers is a major reason why people don't report harassment to HR," Lisonbee said in a statement. BeeMail "offers a way to notify a person of their behavior" without that risk.

Zoom in: A BeeMail contains a subject line that reads, "Addressing Your Behavior." The text explains that the note is "intended to make you aware of the issue and to prevent further escalation involving your employer."

  • But the language is intentionally generalized and does not name the victim. Full text here.

The intrigue: BeeMails can also be commissioned by an ally who has witnessed something but doesn't want to involve the alleged victim.

  • While no screening process is foolproof, Lisonbee and Wolf hope the $25 donation and question process help weed out those with malicious intent.

Between the lines: Wolf and Lisonbee came from corporate and media backgrounds before taking this on full time.

  • "People have asked what gives us the right to do this," Lisonbee tells Axios. "And we say, 'Because nobody is doing it.' People are looking at the issue of harassment from the government perspective and the company perspective, but nobody's looking at this from the victim perspective."

So far, Lisonbee and Wolf say they've sent one BeeMail since launching the option in February. Several clients who've wanted to send a letter got cold feet at the last minute, they say.

  • It's difficult to gauge the success of the first email. All they know is that the receiver opened it twice.

The bottom line: The budding BeeMails could grow into a service that helps resolve or prevent workplace harassment. But at the very least, they're sure to create a buzz.


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