This app by a woman entrepreneur lets employees fearlessly Woice opinions about the workplace
Sonali Siddha - Co-founder of Woices
When a situation or atmosphere in the workplace tends to make us uncomfortable, we all have those little voices in our head telling us to speak up. But coming forward to talk about it makes us break into a cold sweat for fear of the fallout.
So not many of us pay heed to these voices, as they are quickly out shouted by the other niggling, more loud ones – a series of constant 'what ifs'. What will happen to my career? What if I am judged? What if they assume I am the guilty party?
This is why Sonali Siddha believes people should be able to fearlessly voice their opinions. The Founder and CEO of Woices says,
“The main issue with the #MeToo movement was not the lack of action as much as it was the lack of the number of people reporting. If one out of 10 who are targeted report today, it is easy to ‘handle’ the situation without really doing anything about it or by ignoring it or retaliating against the individual or dealing with it superficially to just be right on paper. However, if eight or 10 out of 10 people spoke up because there was a mechanism that guaranteed no retaliation, it will be difficult for management to ignore the data, and a lack of action will be unaffordable especially in the post MeToo era."
Woices is an app that was envisioned as a platform to give employees a voice they never had and give organisations information on employee sentiment that did not exist before.
Being brave and fearless
Woices, however, began as Nidarr (meaning ‘fearless’), an app that was created to enable citizens to report incidents to government authorities without any fear or hesitation.
The trigger for Nidarr came from an article Sonali read about illegal gender determination and female feticide by a doctor-couple. Operating in a crowded area in a big city, it went on for many years before it was discovered by authorities.
“I was shocked and I wondered as to why it was not reported over so many years. I started to find out more and wondered why such crimes and those against women and children go overwhelmingly unreported. The top reason that emerged was fear of retaliation. I came up with an idea of a mobile app that would allow users to speak up without any fear or hesitation. This gave birth to Nidarr,” she recalls.
The app received attention at the highest levels including National e-Govt Department, Cabinet ministers, three state governments, and was featured as a part of the Digital India theme.
All this while, using Nidarr in the corporate context to enable employees to speak up without fearing backlash was always at the back of Sonali’s mind and she started to work on a blueprint. Coming across some alarming statistics pushed her futher.
“As per EEOC (Equal Opportunities Employment Commission, USA) report, 85 percent of employees report having been harassed at some point, 75 percent do not even report it, and 75 percent of those who do report faced retaliation. As per 2018 Blind Survey, 23-56 percent of those who reported harassment faced retaliation in poster child companies of Silicon Valley. I started working on Woices, the corporate version of Nidarr, and redesigned the app to revolutionise employee engagement involvement and participation in the workplace, enabling them to speak up without fear of consequences or hesitation,” she says.
Speaking up and being heard
What does Woices do?
- It gives employees a voice they never had before, and gives organisations information on employee sentiment that they were not able to get before.
- It acts as a deterrent for bad behaviour and facilitates valuable information exchange.
- It acts as the missing link in ensuring diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
- It enables everyone to be who they are at work, without having to worry or fear retaliation or embarrassment.
How to use Woices?
- Organisations need to sign up and go through the self-setup process using the admin panel. As part of the set-up, they need to add a phone book of everyone eligible to receive an incident report. They also have to enter/upload information of employees who are eligible to use Woices.
- Employees have to download the app, register on it, and use.
- Top management can access the dashboard to view reports and patterns, and manage all messages.
This is how employees use the app:
- Launch the app on their smartphone
- Taps a pertinent entry on the correct entry in the phonebook to report an incident (harassment hotline, discrimination hotline, ideas hotline, feedback hotline, surveys, Head of HR, COO, or even the CEO, etc)
- Employee sends a message to the selected. They can also send an attachment (image, location, document, audio, and video).
- The corresponding person from top management receives the message. Identity of the employee is not revealed.
- Employees can also be engaged in a conversation to get more information, ask questions or for counselling and training purposes. The identity of the employee remains hidden.
In its second phase, Woices intends to provide an entire ecosystem involving third-party intermediation, legal help, counselling, and training, etc.
“The response to Woices even before it was released has been very promising and validates the acute need for such a platform. We were approached by companies in Malawi and Singapore with partnership and collaboration interests. We also received collaboration interests with companies in HR software space and a few renowned experts who consult organisations in the areas of transforming organisational culture and ensuring diversity and inclusion in workplaces,” says Sonali.
Sonali adds that the company is majorly focussed on the US corporate market currently with some efforts initiated towards the Indian market.
“Our plan is to start with the US and then expand to Europe, India, and APAC,” she adds.
Targeting the US market
The US was home to Sonali and her family for a long time before they decided to move back to India. After completing her Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Computer Science, and a postgraduate degree from Pune University, she got her first job with Global Electronic Commerce Services in Pune, India.
Later, while she was working in tech, her husband and she got job offers with a US-based company, where she worked with OneBeacon Insurance. They lived in the US for about 14 years before taking the decision to move back to India.
Sonali believes that Woices can be an effective part of an organisation’s HR plan. “The cost of implementing Woices is a minute fraction of per employee per year HR cost. It has distinct and compelling advantages over existing substitutes such as hotlines in that it is instant, easy to use from anywhere anytime, is two-way, supports attachments, and can identify patterns,” she says.
Building a team and challenges
Woices currently has two full-time employees – Sonali is the CEO while Gunjan Siddha is COO. Soon, they will have another person to drive strategy, funding, and customer acquisition. The company also works with a team of advisers and consultants that help in the development of the product, content creation, branding, and social media management. Woices is headquartered in Silicon Valley.
And running a tight ship comes with its own set of challenges.
“Every day, there are new challenges. Some you are prepared for and some you are not. Courage to pivot from Nidarr to Woices and then from Woices being focussed on combating sexual harassment in the workplace to capturing true employee sentiment was tough and challenging,” adds Sonali.
It’s time to speak up and make your voice heard. You can make your beginning on Woices.