Funded by: ESRC Impact Acceleration Account

Principal Investigators: Dr Galina Goncharenko, Lecturer in Accounting, University of Sussex Business School in partnership with Matthew Bellringer, Director, Meaningbit LTD

The #MeToo social movement manifested itself in the calls to accountability for the abuse of power, sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace. However, there are social, cultural and practical barriers to reporting sexual harassment, abuse and misconduct. Also, there are challenges to an organisation’s capability to respond effectively to reports. Finally, there are ongoing changes to the underlying structures and systems of the organisation which will be mediated by the adoption of technology. It cannot be assumed that all of these changes will lead to de facto benefits, in all circumstances.

This project originated from the insights of the ESRC Festival of Social Science Event “#MeToo: A journey towards a harassment-free workplace” organised in November 2019. The event contained the panel debate of eight external non-academic partner organisations, which accumulate relevant legal (Martin Searle Solicitors), technological (Vault Platform, Spot) and psychological (Survivor’s Network, Meaningbit) expertise on addressing organisational challenges related to harassment and misconduct. Three other partners (Sussex police, Brighton & Hove City Council and The Pensions Regulator) are the large public sector organisations, which are enthusiastic to respond effectively to the challenges of improving organisational culture and preventing harassment and bullying by using various tools and strategies.

The partners have also launched the effective practice guide “#MeToo: A journey towards a harassment-free workplace”, discussing various perspectives to halting the abuse of power and sexual harassment, and empowering people with new knowledge, ideas, ways to seek help and support, join campaigns and calls to action.

The engagement project The impact of harassment reporting technology on organisational accountability and psychological safety in the workplace” will synergise different types of expertise and facilitate collaborative learning and the exchange of knowledge and effective practices in the emerging area of the utilisation of digital harassment reporting technologies in organisational practices.

The project aims to move forward the change in organisational practices and culture emphasising creating psychologically-safe and respectful working environments, in particular, by utilising digital technology of harassment reporting. The project interlinks the emerging digital solutions (such as harassment reporting apps, bots, etc.) to the accountability of organisations for abuse of power and sexual harassment and the right for psychological safety in the workplace and the responsibility of employers to assure it.

More specifically, the project aims to deliver:

  • Exploring the field of complex relationships between the abuse of power and working environment, organisational culture, availability and accessibility of reporting technology;
  • Conceptualizing bullying and harassment;
  • Investigating how the complexity of power relations are abstracted in technology;
  • Exploring the relationship between people in organisations, technology and power;
  • Building a community of practice to facilitate effective use of technology and to provide the basis of future research. Community members are drawn from organisations using the technology and those developing it.

The project assists in understanding of how the #MeToo movement transformed the public perception of accountability for abuse of power in the workplace and caused the development of new social, regulatory and technological mechanisms to hold organisations and individuals to account. The movement takes place in a wider social context in which technology platforms facilitate significant social change. The project also explores the role of digitalisation and the use of online social media and networking platforms in the rapid expansion and empowerment of the #MeToo movement.

The project is grounded on interdisciplinary perspectives of applied sociology, management and business studies, organisational psychology, social and environmental accounting and accountability. The study mobilises the lenses of the moral problematization of accountability (Butler, 2005; Messner, 2009; Roberts, 2009), the notions of organisational complexity (Gerrit & Marks, 2015; Klijn & Koppenjan, 2014) and psychological safety (Keegan, 2015) in the workplace and the impact of social movements on sustainable organisational practices (Gahan & Pekarek, 2013; Bertels, Hoffman & DeJordy, 2014; Lefsrud, Graves & Phillips, 2019).

Methodological approach and engagement activities

  1. The establishment of an online community of practice of organisations developing harassment reporting technology and organisations utilising such technology for psychological safety in working environment.The community of practice aims to create a platform for people who share a common interest to gather and engage for learning, knowledge generation, sharing and communicating experiences and viewpoints and promote transformative action regardless their geographical locations. The online community aims to cultivate the notion of forum and togetherness, reciprocity, informality, trust and reliability among participants.
  2. Meetings with organisations developing and using harassment reporting technology for building and strenghtening relationships, collaborations and engagement.The meetings aim to develop joint understanding of how the cases of harassment disrupt organisational effectiveness and create a problematic power dynamic; to discuss how harassment reporting technology is introduced in organisations and embedded in organisational culture and the appropriate ways to assess the short-term and long-term impact of digitalisation of harassment reporting.
  3. Three community webinars aiming to share knowledge and expertise with all interested organisations and individuals for broadening networks and connections, effecting positive impact for member organisations and providing a platform for the sharing of the latest research.The webinars will focus on the change of working practices and shifts in the perceptions of accountability for abuse of power in the workplace in the #MeToo era; new reporting instruments, campaigns and regulation for creating safe working environment; harassment reporting technology and organisational response; the positive effects on organisations having adopted technology and practice to aid in the reporting of harassment.
  • The facilitation of sustainable change in working environments and organizational cultures by establishing an ongoing, self-sustaining online community made up of organisations which are seeking to reduce harassment, and organisations which provide solutions in this space.
  • Development of the online forum, which serves as a central information point for organisations involved in the community of practice (in order to seek effective practice examples and exchange with other organisations).
  • Co-production of knowledge and effective practices of the implementation of harassment reporting technology in organisational practices by undertaking eight meetings with partner organisations and dissemination of knowledge by delivering three community webinars.
  • Development of a map of relational complexity between the abuse of power, working environment, organisational culture and accessibility of harassment reporting technology (which is going to be used in forthcoming research projects).
  • Communication of research results by drawing on the knowledge generated in the online community of practice in order to broaden engagement and outcome and stimulate the implementation of recommendations based on research results.