Business harassment training is often defined by mandatory annual workshops, photo curricula, and often outdated scenarios. Harvard graduates Roxanne Petraeus and Anne Solmssen believe it is a business to do better.
The duo co-founded Ethena, a software-as-a-service startup that sells anti-harassment training software that is more comprehensive and flexible than the status quo.
Ethena sends “nudges” or personalized short-form training content to employees all year round. An initiation could be office dating, and a few weeks later, another initiation could be mentoring.
Every month, a user received either an email or a Slack notification that it's time to exercise. Then the user would go to a browser based app and take a lesson depending on your leadership status, your country of residence and other factors. The sessions would then last five to 10 minutes.
The distributed approach means that an employee can no longer preload training hours in the first week. Instead, Ethena's consistent check-ins are aimed at a metric that is difficult to track: understanding within the compliance training.
"The reason why we do this is that in the adult education base, repetition is crucial," said Petraeus.
This format also gives the company the ability to adapt its content to the world in which users live. The content of Ethena must follow a specific curriculum based on state law, but can give it its own taste. For example, when COVID-19 became a serious threat, Ethena was able to send users training on online harassment and cyberbullying. Old curricula may not explain what zooming might look like.
Petraeus said of the examples users see in the software: "There is no point in sending Jim and Jan to a bar if this is not the environment we are in."
Ethena also works as a replacement for personal anti-harassment workshops during COVID-19 and the resulting shelter-in-place orders. As offices remain closed, businesses need to find new ways to talk about issues that won't go away.
The effectiveness of anti-harassment training is difficult to understand using numbers. If a company has attempted to measure the effectiveness of Ethena based on data on the number of harassment reports submitted before and after using the software, it assumes that the victim decides to report it first. Victims often fail to report for various reasons because of fear of retaliation or inaction.
For the co-founders, a lack of hard data about whether their software was working meant that they had to find another way to reach customers.
"It would be really irresponsible to rely only on" everyone will believe in this mission with us, "said Petraeus. "We read the newspaper; it won't happen."
Instead, the co-founders believe that extensive training regulations and legal obligations could force companies to integrate more intensive software.
"We keep companies in a very secure legal position because their employees are always one step ahead to comply with government regulations," said Solmssen. "We are able to become part of the everyday thinking and behavior of our employees."
In the long term, Ethena is working with a peer-reviewed journal to find out whether effective anti-harassment training can be linked to higher retention rates in companies.
The company sees early adopters as small companies that scale. It charges companies per seat, which is $ 4 per employee per month and $ 48 per employee per year.
Petraeus and Solmssen piloted the program in November 2019 and started in January. theinformationsuperhighway announced today that it has raised $ 2 million in seed capital, led by GSV, with the participation of Homebrew, Village Global, and other companies. It has 50 customers.