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Friday, November 1, 2019

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

TechCrunch

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


This startup is making customized sexual harassment training that it says employees won’t hate (or forget)

Posted: 01 Nov 2019 03:22 PM PDT

If you work for someone else, you likely know the drill: in comes that annual email reminding you that it’s time for unconscious bias or sexual harassment training, and if you could please finish up this mandatory module by this date, that would be terrific.

The email — not to mention the programming itself — is straight out of “Office Space.” Little surprise that when Anne Solmssen, a Harvard-trained computer scientist, happened to call a friend recently who was clicking through his own company-sponsored training program, his answer to how it was going was, “It’s more interesting when I have baseball on.”

Solmssen has some other ideas about how to make sexual harassment training far more interesting and less “cringe-worthy.” Indeed, she recently joined forces with Roxanne Petraeus, another Harvard grad, to create Ethena, a software-as-a-service startup that’s promising customizable training delivered in bite-size segments that caters to individuals based on how much they already know about sexual harassment in the workplace. The software will also be sector-specific when it’s released more widely in the first quarter of next year.

The company first came together this past summer led by Petraeus, who joined the U.S. Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to help defray the cost of her Ivy League education and wound up spending seven years in the U.S. Army, including as a civil affairs officer, before co-founding an online meals marketplace, then spending a year with McKinsey & Co. to get a better handle on how businesses are run.

Petraeus says that across her experience, and particularly in the Army, she had “great leaders” who were “thoughtful about their [reports’] development goals and what was happening in their personal lives, and brought out the best in their people, rather than making them feel less than or marginalized.”

Still, she was aware that from an institutional standpoint, most harassment training is not thoughtful, that it’s a matter of checking boxes on an annual basis to ensure compliance with different state laws, depending on where an organization is headquartered. She marveled that so much of the content employees are being forced to consume seems “designed for a 1980s law firm.”

Solmssen was meanwhile working for a venture-backed public safety software company, Mark43. She was getting along just fine, too, but when a friend put the two in touch on the hunch that their engineering talent and vision could amount to something, that instinct proved right.

“I’d been working for Mark43 for four years, and I wasn’t particularly interested in starting a business,” Solmssen says. “But I fell in love with Roxanne and this idea, and I came to this thinking that someone needs to make [this training process] better. We’re still using the tools and technologies that we’ve had since 1997.”

So how is what they’re building different than what’s currently available? In lots of ways, seemingly. For starters, Ethena doesn’t want employees to “knock it out all at once” in an hour or two of training at the end of each year. Instead, it’s creating what it calls monthly “nudges” that deliver relevant studies and questions on a monthly basis — information that can then be used in an all-hands meeting, for example, helping to reinforce its goals.

It’s also focused on sending content and questions to people that’s iterative and that evolves based on how an individual responds. A new hire might answer very differently than a sponsor of other women within an organization, for example. It’s a stark contrast to to the black-and-white scenarios that every employee is typically presented. (Think: “Judy and Brian go to a bar after work.”)

These subtleties are a significant development, argues Petraeus, because “traditional training implicitly tells employees that going to spending time together outside of work is bad for mentorship. It’s why you hear things like, ‘I just hired my first female analyst; can I get into an Uber with her when we’re traveling?’ ” Turning every mixed-gender occasion into a potential minefield is “not the message we should be conveying.”

Yet it’s a message that’s being absorbed. According to a survey conducted earlier this year by LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey,