Worried about going to HR? There is an app for that

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Even with the onslaught of people coming forward to talk about sexual harassment and racial discrimination at work, a lot of employees are still reluctant to go to their company's human resources department for help. But a new app may change that.

Even with the onslaught of people coming forward to talk about sexual harassment and racial discrimination at work, a lot of employees are still reluctant to go to their company's human resources department for help.

In many companies, there is good reason to be wary. HR's primary responsibility is usually to protect the company from liability, even if that is not in the employee's best interest.

A new computer platform called Tequitable aims to create a safe way for employees to voice concerns without fear of retaliation.

TAKE ACTION: Get help with harassment, abuse and inequality

Tequitable is being developed in Oakland at the Kapor Center which focuses on improving diversity and inclusion in the tech world.

Tequitable founder Lisa Gelobter is an African American woman with a degree in computer science. She said she has spent 30 years in the tech industry "experiencing all kinds of discrimination, around gender, around race, around age."

Gelobter was glad the issues were getting more attention, but wanted to see more action toward solutions. So she teamed up with another software engineer, Heidi Williams, to design a neutral digital resource for victims of harassment or discrimination.

"We don't advocate for the employee. We don't advocate for the company. We advocate for fairness" said Gelobter.

Tequitable is now in the pilot stage, with three companies testing it out. Participating companies must agree to allow employees to use the platform anonymously. It can be accessed from computers or phones. If a worker has a problem or a question, instead of going to H.R., he or she can get information and advice on the app.

Gelobter says Tequitable gives workers tools to help decide how best to move forward. "For example, if my boss says a racist joke, that is not the totality of who he is, I don't want to start a formal HR investigation, I just want him to stop telling racist jokes. On the other hand if my boss is overtly sexually harassing me, I want to the company to take immediate action. Tequitable can help in both those situations."

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Twilio, a cloud communications service in San Francisco, is one of the pilot companies.

The program is still being customized for Twilio's needs, so employees have not actually started using it yet. But LaFawn Davis, Twilio's Head of Culture and Inclusion, is already excited.

Davis says Tequitable will be providing "really sound, neutral advice and so it's really important for an employee to open up and share things that may be happening to them at work, or just information they want to know, without attaching their name to it.

She said Twilio's management benefits because it will get data, not about who made reports or asked questions, but more general information, about specific areas where the company might have an issue that needs addressing.

Tequitable's founders have not disclosed exact pricing yet, but they expect to charge an annual fee based on the number of employees at each company. There is currently a waiting list of companies interested in participating.

Click here to read more about Tequitable

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.
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