In a survey by the Harvard Business Review, fewer women reported unwanted sexual attention and coercion at work since the #MeToo movement became mainstream in 2017. However, 92 percent of women in the study reported experiencing gender harassment in the workplace in 2018, compared to 76 percent in 2016.
“This data suggests that while blatant sexual harassment—experiences that drive many women out of their careers—might be declining, workplaces may be seeing a “backlash effect,” or an increase in hostility toward women,” the researchers stated.
Roxanne Petraeus, co-founder of Saas company Ethena, believes the narrative behind sexual harassment in the workplace needs to change. Too often, mandatory sexual harassment training consists of a hour-long seminar where the underlying question is, “Can I go to jail for this?”
Petraeus explained that 60 percent of male managers reported being uncomfortable participating in common work activities with women, compared to 32 percent a year ago.
“One big issue we have with training is that training makes every mixed-gender interaction feel like it’s going to end in a lawsuit,” Petraeus continued. “We shouldn’t portray mixed-gender interactions as dangerous. Male managers are already more hesitant to mentor women at work; and that’s bad because, um, we hope we aren’t the first to tell you this, but the majority of managers are men.”
Petraeus is a Harvard and Oxford graduate, US army combat veteran, former McKinsey consultant and a Rhodes Scholar. Co-founder and CTO Anne Solmssen also graduated from Harvard and served as a senior software engineer at public safety startup Mark43. As women in careers with a lack of gender inclusion, they decided to found Ethena to improve corporate culture and genuinely decrease gender harassment and hostility towards women in the workplace.
Ethena designs customised sexual harassment training that “employees won’t hate.” Instead of focusing on what not to do, the company emphasises ways to promote inclusion on the job. The training is delivered as a small, monthly interactive “nudge” with relevant studies, questions and information.
The training is currently personalised based on how much a company’s employees know about sexual harassment. Once the software is more widely realised, it will be geared towards businesses in various industries. It will also include information about topics such as dating in the workplace and inclusion towards pregnant and transgender workers.
The company has received $850,000 in funding from investment firms and angel investors, including Neo, Village Global, Jane VC, Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani and a few military veterans.