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A CEO’s Solution to Workplace Harassment and Discrimination: Ensuring Every Voice Is Actually Heard
CEO and Founder
Jared Pope / Work Shield
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor
Published – May 10, 2021
CEOCFO: Mr. Pope, what is Work Shield?
Mr. Pope: Work Shield is the first and only solution that protects employers, employees and workplace culture. We do that by removing the fear of reporting any form of harassment or discrimination by empowering employees with a voice to be heard, while at the same time managing the investigation process and ensuring there is a clear path to solution for all of our clients.
CEOCFO: How does it play out in practice; how would a company work with Work Shield?
Mr. Pope: You first have to understand what the problem is and that the existing system is broken with how employers manage and address work place harassment and discrimination. 98% of the companies out there basically have a solution or policy that says if you have been harassed or discriminated against go to your manager, supervisor or HR or call that anonymous hotline. However, guess where it goes back to? It goes back to the company to investigate.
Work Shield is different because we not only manage the intake of every single issue, but we also do the investigation and partner with the employer to ensure a clear path to resolution. The key distinction between our platform and anybody else is that we actually do the investigation, and for every single one of our incidences, we have an average turnaround time from incident intake to resolution of less than five days. This is six times faster than the national average.
CEOCFO: I certainly can see why employees would want this and why companies should want it, but do both groups see the value?
Mr. Pope: You look at the historical aspects of harassment and discrimination, and when you fast-
Executives today have to understand that with the instant gratification of today’s technology and social media platforms, everybody wants solutions now. Therefore, they are realizing that if we give our employees a voice to be heard and we actually intently listen with empathy and understanding, then we can create the best culture. That company culture is not only made of diversity and equality, but also of inclusiveness that allows every person to understand and know that their company not only cares about them but wants to make sure that they are always heard no matter what.
CEOCFO: How do you conduct the investigation and what is different about how you put the pieces together at Work Shield?
Mr. Pope: You have to think about where society is coming from. Most investigations can take 25 to 30 days. There is a new article out of the New York Times about an incident at Google that took three months for an issue to be completely resolved. Most investigations today without Work Shield would be done by an HR manager or supervisor or some other manager. They may get someone internally who is frustrated because it is taking up their time, as they have 9,000 other things to do and they are just trying to get to the bottom of it.
How our approach is different is that we actually come at it to make sure the voice is heard. A prime example is if I am being interviewed or I am a witness or an accused or someone that filed an incident. If someone comes and asks me a question or if it is an attorney that asks me a question and they ask how I discriminated against this person, the natural reaction is to be defensive. However, if you actually approach the individual and say, “Hey every person has a voice to be heard, would you help us understand your story and what happened?” All of a sudden, that person would want to be heard. Our approach provides that unbiased third party who can investigate a situation with no preconceived notions about what happened.
The reality of these situations that we are talking about today with the harassment and discrimination is that it goes back to the fear. The number one reason why people do not report is fear of retaliation, fear of being terminated and fear of being ridiculed. That is why people do not necessarily report, but when they know they can report to a third-
It is about making sure that the employee’s voice is always heard. There are a lot of cookie-
CEOCFO: As an employee I might still be concerned that ultimately my concerns will get back to my employer in some way that would be negative. On the other hand, the fact that your company has Work Shield would seem likely to encourage reporting. Would you address both sides?
Mr. Pope: One of our strong suits is we can onboard any client in less than 10 days. We can have up to 22,000 live clients to 10 live clients and everywhere in-
When the employer says, “You are our number one asset and we want you to feel safe, we want you to have a great place to work and by the way just like if you go to the airport if you see something say something, if you hear something say something. We want to encourage you to report to Work Shield.” When that happens and you have this executive leadership from the top down, all of a sudden, employees are saying you are bringing in a third party to hear all of our drama. Nobody wants to report to the company, they want to report to someone else and have someone else come in and do the investigation. I think that is why we have over 270 plus clients that trust Work Shield and are what we call Work Shield Certified employers.
CEOCFO: How do you get to the bottom of a complaint?
Mr. Pope: It is communication, empathy, and listening intently. Everybody has a right to be heard, every voice has a right to be heard whether you are the accused or the person filing the incident or even a witness to it. The easiest way to get to the bottom of it is when we do the investigation it is about listening. People want to talk and tell their story and oftentimes people get in the way of really understanding what is happening because they want to talk too much and if we all just sit down and listen and that is what we are good at with our investigators, they know what questions to ask and they listen.
People will tell you exactly what happened because they want to feel like they are being heard. People are eager to tell their story and when things happen, they want to go right to the front of the line and say let me tell you what happened. When you are dealing with these issues it is very sensitive, they could be fearful or anxious. The fact that we as a company on average every single incident is resolved in less than five days from the time it is reported and you do not have to live from 25 to 30 days in fear or anxiety. How we get to the bottom of this comes down listening and asking the right questions and then being quiet when they start talking.
CEOCFO: Are you recommending a solution? Are you providing a solution that the company has agreed beforehand to accept? How does the resolution come about?
Mr. Pope: We always partner with our employers and clients to ensure a clear path to resolution. Our clients always have the ultimate authority to decide how to resolve every issue but by the fact that we have Work Shield Certified attorneys and investigators doing the issues, they know how to resolve these.
On the other side of that, the employer directly understands it is always their decision to determine what the best solution is so we often provide our client partners and the contact of each company that we work with, our recommendations based on the facts and issues. That is one thing I think employers love about Work Shield is because they have the ultimate authority to decide how to resolve an issue but what they like about it is they are removed from the complete investigation, so it comes in from an unbiased third-
CEOCFO: Might the recommendation be different depending on type of company, industry, geography?
Mr. Pope: Absolutely!
CEOCFO: How do you put all those factors into place; how does someone learn to be an investigator for you?
Mr. Pope: First it is about understanding our client and their culture and that comes down with experience and understanding different industries. We have restaurant clients and those are completely different from professional services. We have construction clients and those are completely different from our banking and financial institution clients. We have CBD based clients and public entity clients all the way to blue collar, grey collar, and white-
How we find our investigators is we actually partner with a law firm that does all of our investigations. Why? Because they are there for us and have been doing this. We found a great partner that is a part of Work Shield to do these investigations because they have been doing them forever and they know how to get to it. They also go through our Work Shield Certified professional, they come through our training module to say this is not a typical attorney investigation, this is different. This is about listening, asking the right questions, empathy, intently listening and making sure every voice is heard so that they feel when they lay down the phone or hit the red button at the end of the call, that they feel better about telling their story.
CEOCFO: How have you worked with your clients through COVID?
Mr. Pope: We have 100% retention and I think a lot of that comes down to our service and adaptability. We have had restaurant clients in COVID that went from 1400 employees down to 20. They came to us and said they just did this and we said that is ok that we were still going to be here. They were worried about what they were going to do with their agreement and our total response was we are your partner, we are all adapting, do not worry about it. Guess what that did? They came back and said that is our true partner.
We had other clients that said they are going to a remote workforce just like everybody else did. What was interesting is a lot of people thought that because they were remote, there are probably not going to be as many incidents. It was the actual opposite. Incidents continued to occur because when COVID started it was just going to be two weeks and then it was only going to be three months, so everybody started having virtual happy hours that started at 5:30 and then all the sudden they now start at 3:00. People get a little loose in the tongue, they are behind a computer and at-
This goes to show that no matter where you are, whether it is on a Zoom call, a Google Hangouts, it does not matter; harassment and discrimination knows no boundaries. Whether it is physical in the office or over the computer or internet, it is always there. It is about adapting to those situations as well and making sure the clients are protected and the employees have a voice that is heard and they are protected and the culture stays the same or it is one of a safe place environment that everybody wants to go to that consists of integrity, trust and protection.
CEOCFO: How are you reaching out; how is the world finding out about Work Shield?
Mr. Pope: The best advertising is word-
You also have companies that are hiring DE&I professionals but not giving them the resources or tools to actually implement effective change and it is more of a check-
I often say DE&I is like making sure that everybody is invited to the party. Inclusion is making sure everyone is on the dance floor. Equality is making sure everyone’s favorite music is listened to. I think the diversity part of inviting everyone to the party, I think we are good at that as a society and we are getting even better. We can always improve through talent, acquisition, and I am hiring the right people and making sure people are raised through the ranks and have the right jobs and opportunities. The inclusion and equality part, inclusion has to occur by making sure every voice is heard. It is a three-
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“Work Shield is the first and only solution that protects employers, employees and workplace culture. We do that by removing the fear of reporting any form of harassment or discrimination by empowering employees with a voice to be heard, while at the same time managing the investigation process and ensuring there is a clear path to solution for all of our clients.”