Me Too and Time's Up have highlighted that harassment and discrimination are a shockingly common part of many people's lived reality, and that this reality extends into the workplace. Whether in tech or finance, sports or the service industry, every day we seem to hear another story about an abuse of power or another grossly inappropriate workplace behavior. People are furious. They're taking to Twitter and social media to voice that this must change.
But it's time to move beyond the hashtag. It's time for us to report harassment and discrimination to those who can fix this mess. And it's time for us to talk about harassment in a more inclusive way: not just about sexual harassment, but to encourage people to come forward about harassment and discrimination based on other characteristics such as age, disability or ethnicity. Because only together can we fix the underlying causes and consequences of harassment.
You see, most of us will, at some point in our lives, experience workplace harassment or discrimination. Research shows that particularly women, people of color and people who openly identify as LGBTQI are likely to be targeted, and for some people, this is a pervasive and persistent part of their reality. And for most of these people — 98 percent according to some studies — most of these people will never speak up and tell their employer. Too often, harassment and discrimination is a lonely and isolating experience, but we need to help people out from under their desks. We need to empower people to have a voice.
The reasonable first question that everybody asks once they've been harassed is "What do I do now?" And this is what I want to help you with. Navigating the barriers to reporting can be absolutely dizzying. How can we speak up in a society that too often discredits or diminishes our experiences? How can we speak up in a society that is likely to be retributive towards us? How can we deal with the silencing that goes on all around us?
Making matters worse, often our memories are the only evidence we have of what happened. Now, here's where I can come in. I'm a memory scientist, and I specialize in how we remember important emotional events. I've particularly focused on how the memory interview process can severely impact the evidentiary quality of reports that we produce. A bad interview can lead you to forget details or misremember them while a good interview can forever change your life for the better. After looking at lab reports and working, studying this issue both in the courtroom and in research settings, I've dissected all the different things that can go wrong with our memories that can really threaten your case. And now I'm turning my attention to helping people tackle recording and reporting of workplace harassment and discrimination.
There's three things that I've learned from my research on this that you can immediately apply if you've been harassed or discriminated against at work. I want to help you turn your memory into evidence — evidence that even a memory skeptic like me is unlikely to find fault with.
First of all, James Comey had it right. The former head of the FBI used to sit in his car, lock himself in after meetings with the president and write down absolutely everything he could remember about what happened. The now-famous recordings proved to be quite useful later on. Be like Comey. Now, you don't need to lock yourself into your car to do this, but please, immediately after something happens, I want you to contemporaneously record what happened. And do this before talking to anyone else about it. Because as soon as your share your story with friends or family or colleagues or therapists, you have the potential to distort or change your memory of the event. Uncontaminated, contemporaneous evidence is worth gold.
Second: the type of evidence matters. Sure, you can do a handwritten note of what happens, but how do you prove when you wrote it? Instead, pull out your computer or smartphone and make a note that's time-stamped, where you can prove this was recorded at this time. Contemporaneous, time-stamped evidence is better.
Finally, make sure what you're writing down is actually relevant. Too often, we see that people bring out Facebook messages, they bring out time-stamped pieces of evidence, but sure, they're not particularly relevant, they're not particularly useful. It's easy to write an emotional, unstructured account of what happened — understandable because it's an emotional experience — but those might not actually be the details that matter later on for an investigation.
Write down this list. I want you to keep track of this and simply fill in the blanks. First of all, what happened? In as much detail as possible, describe the situation, and do it on the day it happened if at all possible. Second, who was there? Were there any witnesses? This becomes crucial potentially later on. What exact time and date did this happen? What location? Where did this happen? Who did you tell after the event? How did it make you feel during and after it happened? And is there any other evidence such as WhatsApps, photos or emails that might lend more credibility to your case. These are all details that are incredibly easy to record contemporaneously but are also incredibly easy to forget later on. Humans, according to research, often overestimate their ability to remember important emotional details later on. Assume that you're going to forget. Assume you have to write it down.
Now, these three pieces of advice are a good start, but of course they don't overcome a lot of the other barriers to reporting. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which published a report in 2018, there's one key recommendation to overcome some of the other fears often associated with reporting these kinds of incidents to your employer. One piece of advice that they made? Have an online, anonymous reporting tool. Only that way, they say, can you truly overcome many of the fears associated with reporting.
Now, in line with this, and informed by what was happening all around me and taking and applying the memory science, the science that I had been doing for many years, I sat down with a number of people and we together created TalkToSpot.com. Spot is an online, anonymous reporting tool that helps you record and report workplace harassment and discrimination. It allows you to do it anonymously, it allows you to do it for free, and it's completely evidence-based. You don't have to talk to a person, there's no fear of judgment, and you can do it whenever and wherever you need.
Now you have the power to walk through an evidence-based memory interview. Now, this is called a cognitive interview. This is the same technique that police use when they're doing their job properly. So in best-case scenarios, people who are being asked about important emotional events are being asked in line with the cognitive interview. Now, this walks you through all the relevant information so that at the end, after you've talked to the bot — which is an automatic messaging system — after you've talked to the bot, it generates a PDF record that's time-stamped and securely signed that you can keep for yourself as evidence in case you want to share it later, or you can submit it to your employer right away. And in line with recommendations, you can submit it to your employer anonymously. But a reporting tool is only as useful as the audience that's listening. So if your employer is truly committed to change, we've decided to also offer them the tool to respond. So if organizations work with us and are truly committed to doing something about workplace harassment and discrimination, they're also able to respond to you even if you've chosen to stay anonymous. We think it's important that you can work together with your employer to tackle this issue.
We think that everybody wins when we bring light into this dark issue. Whether it happens to you or to someone you know, recording and reporting what happened can really improve how we talk about these issues. And if you're an organization, this is a call to give your employees access to better and more effective reporting mechanisms. We know that the current methods that are used in most organizations don't work effectively. It's time to change that if you're committed to inclusion and diversity. It's time for us to celebrate our diversity. It's time for us to give a voice to those who have for too long been denied one. It's time for us to celebrate those who come forward, even if they feel they need to stay anonymous — to stay masked to do so. It's time for a reporting revolution.