Breaking the silence on discrimination, racism and sexual assault: How this Manchester tech firm plans to encourage incident reporting

Rachael Hesno's picture
by Rachael Hesno
Culture Shift

The CEO and co-founder behind tech-for-good developer Culture Shift explains how the platform is seeking to make “real change” by changing the way incidents of bullying, harassment, violence and discrimination are dealt with.

From the sexual abuse stories arising from the Me Too movement to the racism highlighted by  the Black Lives Matter movement, CEO Gemma McCall explains there has been a “global reckoning” with victims coming forward.

“People aren't going to suffer in silence anymore. 

“If we can help organisations tackle those issues before it gets to a whistleblowing stage or where people decide to leave or sue that organisation for their experience, then that's what we want to do,” she told Prolific North.

Culture Shift, co-founded by Gemma McCall and Carl Sadd, aims to empower organisations to forge a positive change in workplace culture with its incident reporting platform.

Driven by her own experience of maternity discrimination with her first child, she is keen to elevate a positive culture shift across organisations and universities.

Her passion for convincing organisations to make changes to HR practices is also fuelled by an urge to shape a safer future for her nine-year-old daughter, who dreams of heading to university.

“My daughter really wants to go to university and I would love her to. I need to change the culture at university before she can go. I have 10 years,” she explained.

The platform currently works with over 70 UK universities, colleges and NHS Trusts. 

It seeks to provide organisations with the tools and training to offer a preventative approach to incidents of bullying and harassment and act as an accessible platform for victims to report incidents.

On the issue of campus culture at university, student news site The Tab asked 4,000 students about their experiences of sexual assault at university for its 2021 Sexual Assault Survey.

According to the survey, nearly 60% of female students reported they have been sexually assaulted during their time at university with only 7% of students reporting the incidents.

“It is the reporting bit where Culture Shift's story starts because at the time it was pretty difficult to report something to your university,” she explained.

The platform initially evolved from a conversation in 2016, when the University of Manchester approached Gemma and Carl when they worked together at Carl’s Stockport-based agency, Trust.

The university described a problem of how UK universities were facing pressure to tackle the issue of female students experiencing sexual harassment or sexual violence.

After launching the new incident reporting solution for the University of Manchester, overnight the pair were approached by some of the biggest UK universities from UCL to the University of Bristol.

Delving into the depths of the issues faced by universities and businesses with reporting incidents, the pair realised it was an opportunity to develop a solution to tackle the problem. 

They felt it sparked “a moment and opportunity” to “leave this world in a better place than we found it” by improving the system of reporting incidents confidentially. 

“I would love to achieve that dream where people feel safe to speak up and can stay in a job or stay studying at a university that they love,” she said.

Gemma Mccall
Pictured: Gemma McCall, co-founder and CEO of Culture Shift

How the platform works

“We created a system that was available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year that people could use at a time and place that felt safe to them,” she said.

One of the key features of the platform is offering users the option of reporting incidents anonymously, which she said is vital to the process. 

She explained how victims typically report incidents with the aim of preventing the same traumatic experience from happening to someone else and not for the purposes of justice.

On the anonymous element, she said the team noticed it started to be “a really important moment on a cathartic journey of being a survivor”.

When a victim is reporting an incident, she explained there are many points along that journey where they believe it is “too hard” and decide against reporting. 

To tackle this, the platform offers a plethora of support articles to either sign-post users to external services or topics covering the workplace and home life, from domestic violence to sexual harassment.

She explained the support articles are in place for users to understand “what it is that they've experienced and have a choice to either report anonymously or to report with their name”. 

If a user decides to report an incident anonymously, the platform works with organisations to track and use the data to decipher any trends with the aim of tackling any specific issues raised.

However if a user reports an incident and is happy to be named, they are connected to a case worker to support the person through the process of reporting an issue.

The reports element of the Culture Shift platform.

In a bid to ensure it has a “survivor-centric approach”, the platform tackles the issue of toxic management by enabling the user to select who the report goes to. 

An organisation can access a dashboard to assess the number of new cases, existing cases being assessed, the duration of cases in the triage process and responses to the reporter. 

To build a “picture of what’s happening” in the workplace, an organisation is able to utilise the platform’s trend analysis feature to view how many times users have viewed a specific support article. 

“It's very much working with the organisation to help them identify trends, understand what to do as a result of those trends, and then also what they can do to drive reporting and increase awareness of the system,” she explained.

Outlining key trends the platform has uncovered, users are often reluctant to report incidents due to fear of repercussions or reprisal and often debate whether action will be taken.

“If you publish those findings and say these people reported and this is what happened as a result, it will just build that trust and encourage people that if they do speak out something will happen,” she added. 

She said “transparency is at the heart of the platform” with multiple universities utilising the platform to publish reports with findings and actions taken arising from the use of the platform, which can encourage incident reporting.

Analytics dashboard on the Culture Shift platform.
Analytics dashboard on the Culture Shift platform.

Future of the platform

After experiencing maternity discrimination and the demands of the agency world, the transition of returning to the workplace after maternity leave had left her feeling isolated with a dent in her confidence.

She turned to the world of Instagram to launch a support group, Manc Mummas, and soon realised she was not alone in her experiences which propelled the “activist” in her.  

“There’s this attitude towards mothers that you are either a mum or have a career, you can’t do both. That realisation lit a fire under me,” she said.

After developing and focusing attention solely on the Culture Shift platform she realised it was an opportunity to “make real change”.

The platform recently started working with the NHS to offer more than 23,500 NHS employees access to its reporting system and plans to work with legal firms and financial institutions.

“I am excited about launching that system and the potential impact it is going to have,” she said.

The platform has raised just under £3m of funding and is set to move its headquarters from Stockport to Ancoats, based in the city centre of Manchester.

“This round of investment is definitely there to build the team,” she said on its future plans to build its marketing, product and relationship management teams. 

On the future of the platform she said she “wants to move the conversation on” from whether there is a problem with bullying and harassment to discussing preventative measures and intervention.

“The thought of the unfulfilled potential of those people that have either left university or work hurts my brain a bit when i think about it,” she said.

“Organisations can just take a much more proactive and preventative approach from these negative cultures existing.

 “It would be an incredible place to get to.”.

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