How Feasible is a Harassment Canary?
After reading “10 Impressive Questions to Ask in a Job Interview” back in November, I tweeted:
Questions they left out:
Has anyone currently with the company ever assaulted, harassed, or discriminated against a fellow employee? If so, are they still with the company? If so, what steps were taken?
Does the company or any of its direct customers provide material support (e.g. hosting or other services) for hate groups?
What is the demographic breakdown (age, gender, ethnicity, etc.) of current employees by level?
I’ve been thinking some more about the first two of these, and about whether some kind of harassment canary might be useful.
What’s a harassment canary? Well, a warrant canary is a way for a company to let people know it has been served with a subpoena that it’s not allowed to talk about. In its simplest form, the company posts a notice every day or week saying, “We have not been served with a secret warrant in the last N days.” Any time the notice doesn’t appear is a very significant silence, like the dog that didn’t bark in the night.
By analogy, a harassment canary is something regularly published on a company’s website that says something like, “There have been no reported incidents of assault, harassment, or discrimination in this company in the past 30 days.” Since zero tolerance is a more achievable goal in the short term than zero incidence, it could be expanded to say, “…or if there have, those found responsible have been fired or have been penalized in the following ways,” along with a detailed list of steps taken (so that senior executives aren’t let off with a slap on the wrist).
I think that something like this could be useful in several ways. As someone interviewing with the company, for example, the absence of such a statement or a gap in its publication would tell me a whole lot more about the company’s culture than any number of frothy statements about commitment to excellence. Similarly, a non-profit organization trying to decide whose donations to accept would be able to steer clear of companies whose behavior they might not want to be associated with.
There are undoubtedly ethical and legal considerations here that I haven’t thought of. If you can spot the flaws, I’d enjoy hearing from you by email or in the comments on this post.