The next six months were challenging. I was looking for work, not in the best state of mind, while trying to process how quickly my life had uprooted and took a 180. But as time went on, day by day, I was trying to be more optimistic about what new role I might find.
Applying for jobs was exciting, but also exhausting. I can’t even remember how many positions I actually applied for – I just know it was a lot. It’s not something you can do all day every day, or you will lose your mind. For something that sounds so simple, it’s a lot of work.
About 5 or 6 months after I left the organization, a couple of things happened in unison. First, I started talking to my friend who was a previous technical founder in a tech company more in depth about my experience. Second, I was on a good trajectory with a tech company out of state for a role that I was eager and excited about.
When talking to my friend about the specifics of my experience, one of the many things that stood out to him about my story was how and when I started to document them. I was just throwing everything in a Google doc. When I started doing it I never thought I’d need to go back to it again. But it did make me feel better, just having it written somewhere. As time went on, I went back to it – whether it be to write about something else that happened, or cut and paste a screenshot that I took of an email or message. I didn’t know what I should or shouldn’t put in there. Or, what I would have needed to be in there if or when I went to HR. I just did what I thought made sense at the time. Technically, his wheels started turning about a platform that could be offered to people to help with that process. We would go back and forth about what it could look like, how things were laid out and what was asked of the employee going through the experience.
I was then offered the other tech job. It felt good. Good to be back in the game. I loved working and it felt like everything was starting to align. When I told my friend about the job offer, he mentioned that it was too bad that we hadn’t started talking earlier about the platform. I told him that I hadn’t officially signed or accepted the offer yet. And that is when we decided to really bring Speakfully (although we didn’t know that would be the name of it yet) to fruition. Of course, there was a lot more back and forth discussion about it, but that’s the short version of it.
When thinking and reflecting on my experience, there were two things that were always on my mind: What do I wish I would have had or known as an employee when going through that? What do I wish the organization would have done differently in order for me to come forward sooner (sooner than my day of exit)? If we break those two up, what does that look like?
As an employee, what do I wish I would have had or even what do I wish I would have known? I wish:
- I would have known that I had support or maybe the word I’m looking for is validation, that what was going on was NOT okay. It’s something that sounds so easy and maybe even obvious to some, that “yeah, of course it wasn’t okay for him to do that.” But, it wasn’t. Not when you’re in the middle of it. Even when I would tell people what he was doing, I couldn’t get into every story and even without getting into every story, they would tell me that it didn’t seem right. But I would then question myself and think, “did I tell them the story right? Maybe I over exaggerated the story.” He put so much self-doubt in me that I didn’t believe anything I told myself or really what anyone else told me either.
- That I truly understood the grey area of it all. At the time, that wasn’t clear to me. Which is why it made me feel a little crazy. Was I overthinking it? Was I being too sensitive? When it’s not as obvious as coming up and grabbing someone’s ass, and builds over time, it makes it much harder to make sense of it.
- That I knew more specifically what would happen if I did come forward. Would I have to meet with him? Would we actually have to give a chance for mediation? He was a very manipulative person - so when thinking through the process of going to HR throughout all of this, my thought was that he’d talk his way out of it. Turn it around on me somehow. He was very good at throwing people under the bus, I saw it so many times first hand.
- What I should have specifically included in my experiences that I was writing out. It was therapeutic in a sense to write about what was happening. But, if I was to bring it to HR, did I have the pertinent information in there that I would need?
- I felt safe. At the end of the day, I didn’t. Which is why I endured it for so long.
Now when it comes to the organization, what do I feel they would have done differently in order for me to come forward sooner. Sooner than the day that I left. I feel like things could have looked very different if just a few other things happened:
- Rather than just the first day of employment, when receiving the handbook, discuss regularly more uncomfortable topics with employees and how to address them. Yes, we had the annual harassment training. Yes, at the beginning of starting there we were told the whistleblower hotline number and how to get to it. But that just isn’t enough. And not effective, honestly. Both of those sound intimidating and sterile. A hotline? There needed to be more vulnerability. If they wanted me to come forward sooner and be vulnerable, they needed to do the same.
- Been more transparent about what happens after you come forward to HR. I understand that every situation is different and based off of that, different action will be taken. But that is where a huge amount of the fear came from. The unknown. And because conversations were never had about anything like this regularly, I didn’t trust that it would be taken care of appropriately. Or frankly, just didn’t know.
- There were other ways to come forward outside of calling a whistleblower hotline or going directly into HR personally. They both seem very extreme. And at the time, I didn’t feel like what I was going through was that extreme. When you can’t classify what you’re going through yourself, it makes it difficult to be confident to go address it with HR or call a hotline about it.
With all of the thoughts above plus a lot of additional brainstorming, Speakfully was officially created. It’s a tool that HR rolls out to their employees that not only allows the employees to easily track any potential negative behaviors and experiences to submit to HR when ready, but also gives the HR teams some truly unique data and insight into what is happening within their organization that they wouldn’t otherwise have.
As I’ve been doing this, when I talk to organizations a lot of them don’t have a pulse on what is going on. An incident happens, they didn’t have any idea, in turn makes it very difficult to be proactive, addressing any concerns before it’s too late. However, on the flip side I’ve also heard a lot of, “we have a really good culture, we don’t have any issues or negative behavior here.” And they probably do. But how do they know for sure? Just because no one is coming to you, doesn’t mean there isn’t anything going on.
From an organization perspective, Speakfully is built to give real-time data and analytics to HR teams in order to provide them with the types of priorities and conversations to have with employees. Let’s face it. There has always been this gap between employees and HR. We want to bridge that gap. By letting the organizations know when issues are coming to the surface and what kind of issues they are - gives them the tools to take proactive action.
This is all done by giving the employee a safe, private place to track their experiences. They need to feel safe before they are going to come forward. They can feel safe when organizations are having the hard conversations with them, based on data that Speakfully provides. Because these ongoing conversations are happening, employees see that action is being taken, allowing them to feel vulnerable and safe to come forward sooner than if these conversations weren’t happening at all.
I could go on and on about this topic. I’m extremely passionate about it and so is everyone else on the Speakfully team. We want to truly create change. We want to bridge the gap. Change the status quo. Be a part of the movement with us. You can either message me on LinkedIn or go to www.speakfully.com.
I want to thank everyone for following along with this blog series. I have received so much support by so many people, some who I don’t even know. I wrote this in hopes that it would give more perspective on how people can find themselves in a situation like mine and how confusing it can be. As always, I’m here if anyone needs some support or validation in what it is that they are experiencing. Anytime.