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20th Century Fox exec launches startup to combat sexual harassment

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent

Twentieth Century Fox Vice President Claire Schmidt is leaving the film studio to create a tool so employees at any company can report harassment, discrimination, and bias directly to their CEO, Yahoo Finance has learned. 

Schmidt, whose last day at Twentieth Century Fox is Friday, is leaving for AllVoices, a Los Angeles-based startup where she will serve as CEO. AllVoices is in the early stages of developing a website that will enable any employee at any company to log on and anonymously lodge an electronic complaint, which will be emailed directly to their company’s CEO and board members. 

“A lot of these companies, when they find out there’s a culture problem, it’s already too late by the time the culture problem is out in the public,” Schmidt told Yahoo Finance. “They say, ‘We just didn’t know. We weren’t aware.’ Our goal is to give them the data as early as possible so they can’t say they didn’t know.”

Twentieth Century Fox exec Claire Schmidt is leaving her post to run AllVoices, a tool for employees to report incidents of harassment, discrimination and bias directly to their CEO. Source: Claire Schmidt

Former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, whose explosive blog post this February sparked investigation into (and reform at) the widely used ride-hailing company, is an advisor. The startup’s investors include Zillow (Z) Group CEO Spencer Rascoff, Tinder (MTCH) co-founder Sean Rad, former Google (GOOG, GOOGL) executive Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, and law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. 

“One of the things we wanted to potentially change is maintaining a communication channel between employees and the CEO and board,” one investor told Yahoo Finance under the condition of anonymity.

In a statement, Cassidy told Yahoo Finance she agreed to invest in and advise AllVoices to help all employees share their concerns regarding difficult issues in a trusted environment and create a “feedback loop for change.”

“I believe new technology solutions are desperately needed in this area if we want to accelerate the rate of change in our own backyard and globally,” Cassidy added.

While Schmidt emphasizes AllVoices is close to launch, she envisions the website as one of many solutions for workers to take action when they experience a “challenging” work situation, including harassment, discrimination or bias based on factors including gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age or disability.

A lack of trust in Human Resources

This image provided by Viking shows Susan Fowler. (Shalon Van Tine/Viking via AP)

Certainly, going to Human Resources is a more traditional route for addressing problems in the workplace. But depending on the company and the circumstances, HR may not always be the best or most effective solution. In Fowler’s case, she said, Uber HR overlooked her reports of clear sexual harassment by a former manager until those allegations became public and made headlines.

But clearly, an employee should not have to resort to extreme measures to be heard by their employer.  

“I think right now, there’s just a bit of a lack of trust with HR,” Schmidt acknowledged. “If someone feels comfortable about going forward to HR, I think they should. Every company is different. Every situation is different. But I think it’s coming to light that HR isn’t always on the side of the employee. They have a bigger responsibility inside the company, which is legal compliance. So, we want to be an alternative to that.”

Schmidt’s motivations for developing AllVoices stem in part from personal experience. A sexual assault survivor herself, Schmidt has been inspired by the women and men coming forward on-the-record this year to recount their own experiences of harassment and assault.

In October, The New York Times revealed that Harvey Weinstein paid off sexual harassment accusers for decades. That report spurred an onslaught of sexual assault and harassment allegations against high-profile men, including actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K., producer Brett Ratner, fashion photographer Terry Richardson, and a number of others.

“I find the people who are coming forward publicly so brave, especially given what I went through, which wasn’t even on the front page of every newspaper,” Schmidt explained. “But I also felt like, if there was ever a way I could experience something really challenging and have anonymity, so I could still feel as though I was doing my part, which is trying to make sure something like this didn’t happen in the future, while sort of protecting myself. Well, I just felt like that would be really helpful.”

Hopefully, a tool like AllVoices proves helpful to others, as well.

JP Mangalindan is the Chief Tech Correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.  

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