Human Resource departments are often the first line of defense when someone is being sexually harassed at work. But what happens if there is no HR department? Or if people feel that their HR department doesn’t have their back? In those cases, sexual harassment often goes unreported and unaddressed. And that’s where chatbots can come in, according to Beerud Sheth, the CEO and co-founder of Gupshup.
“Just as a crisis hotline is available for domestic abuse, a public chatbot can deal with all kinds of counseling issues,” Sheth tells Bustle. “There are plenty of traumatic situations that all too often go unaddressed in daily life, such as discrimination, violence, PTSD and more.”
Sheth developed a #MeToo chatbot, called Me2bot, after Anindita Guha, Gupshup’s Head of Product, challenged him to explore if chatbots could be utilized to help victims of workplace sexual harassment. She, like many of us, felt personally impacted by hearing the stories that came out from #MeToo going viral last year and wanted to do something to empower the victims.
So why chatbots? Firstly, it’s because that’s the type of business they run — Gupshup develops a range of chatbots for businesses. But Guha believes the form is uniquely suited to helping with workplace sexual harassment.
“Sometimes it helps to take personality and people out of sensitive subjects,” Guha says. “It’s not meant to replace counselors or other resources; it’s meant to bridge a gap. A chatbot never judges and can help you speak up and save you from further harm. The timing was right and we had the technology needed to do this.”
People who experience workplace sexual harassment can send their complaints to the Me2Bot, where they’ll be redirected to information and resources on how to deal with their specific case. Sheth describes it as “like a crisis hotline.”
“When a person interacts with Me2Bot, the chatbot will provide information about the issue and guide them toward the right resources,” Sheth says. “While the chatbot doesn’t do what human counselors do, it still has a valuable role, since chatbots can be non-judgmental and, depending on its terms of service, may be bound by confidentiality and would not be forced to share information with anyone.”
The Me2Bot, then, can be seen either as a boost to an existing HR department; a way for companies that don’t have HR departments to handle sexual harassment; or simply as a first, non-judgmental way for people to reach out when they’ve experienced workplace sexual harassment. It’s obviously not a full solution to the problem of workplace sexual harassment, but in a time when it can seem like all news is bad news, it’s a nice addition to the arsenal in the fight.
Companies interested in integrating the Me2Bot can put up an independent widget, a website, or internal app. It can also be embedded on a site or Gupshup can provide a QR code. And if you want to give it a test run before trying it out, it's currently up on Facebook Messenger.
"Anyone can use it for free," Guha says. "If organizations need to get this customized, human resources can get in touch with Gupshup and implement this in their internal systems. Gupshup intends to make this bot better by adding more advanced functionalities and tying up with organizations."
Of course, technology can't be the only solution to the problem of workplace sexual harassment. We're in the midst of a long and sometimes painful process of changing the culture around how women are treated at work. But we can absolutely use any help we can get and the Me2bot sounds like another small way to fight back.
Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated Anindita Guha was Beerud Sheth's wife. It has been updated to remove incorrect information.