Metta Space - Making your workplace more gender equal, diverse, and financially transparent

Metta Space: Helping companies tackle workplace sexual harassment through tech

In Startup Stories by Henry Sung

Metta Space is a Madrid-based remote-first startup helping companies establish better reporting and resolution systems for sexual harassment and workplace misconduct through tech. The startup is led by three women who have witnessed sexual harassment in various contexts and forms, and had since aimed to create a tech solution which can enable companies to create safe, inclusive, and anti-harassment spaces for all employees.

Sexual harassment remains a major problem for workplaces

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a critical issue that plagues all industries. For a combination of reasons, the majority of workplace sexual harassment cases remain unreported, which can lead to worsening situations for the affected targets over time. A UK survey from 2016 found that 79% of employees who experienced sexual harassment did not report it to their employer.

This issue, of course, also concerns the startup world. In startups where new founders might be inexperienced with HR considerations, and a mature company culture is yet to be established, employees might find it challenging to report cases of sexual harassment, as there’s no existing reporting channels, and there’s no procedure that makes sure the person can report incidents safely and effectively. 

Metta Space’s Solution

Metta Space addresses this problem with three tech solutions: an anonymous reporting app for employees, a resolution centre with geo-specific recommendations for the companies and an NLP algorithm that can detect harassment in real-time.

Although still in R&D, the goal of the AI is to learn & identify potentially problematic communications. This capability is then combined with a reporting and case management system.

When an employee receives a potentially harassing message, the system can identify this instance, and prompt the receiving person to decide whether to qualify the message as harassment or not. If the person does qualify it as such, the AI system can learn that this is a case of harassment, and use this learning to optimise future identifications. At the same time, the system can also enable the employee to timestamp & record the message as proof, if they want to report the case either immediately or collect more evidence over time.

In an interview with Sifted earlier this year, Metta Space co-founder & CTO Eleanor Manley explained the company’s approach: “Usually it takes about three months for someone to want to report a case of sexual harassment, so what we’re trying to do here is actually be preventative and kind of create this psychological switch before it gets so bad that you want to report a massive case.”

the metta space team

The Metta Space Team

EU’s whistleblowing regulation & Reporting harassment

The European Union’s Whistleblowing Directive introduces a new set of standards, and requires companies with more than 50 workers to establish secure internal channels for employees to disclose any malpractice that are in breach of EU law. All EU member states are supposed to have incorporated the directive into national laws by December 2021. 

At the time of writing (July 2022), many member states have delayed the process, but it is foreseeable that in the near future, the directive will be adopted into most EU nations’ legal systems. 

Although the new rules will introduce more protection for whistleblowers in companies, the EU Directive doesn’t actually cover harassment. Rather, the EU’s rules only cover areas relating to breach of EU laws such as tax fraud, public health, product safety and data protection. That is to say, it is up to individual member states to extend the whistleblowing directive to include the reporting of sexual harassments in the workplace.

At this time, countries like Denmark and Sweden have included sexual harassments as a category of offense that can be reported via whistleblowing channels, while others countries’ current legislations can be more ambiguous in this regard. 

Although the regulatory compliance requirements are still being updated in each European country, companies certainly have many other good reasons for adopting a harassment reporting system like Metta Space’s solution. Namely, companies should be interested in creating a safe workspace for employees, and make sure that harassment has no place in the company’s operation.