Early on in Heather Yanak’s career, she walked into her office to find a piece of masking tape across the floor. Placed there by the company’s CEO, it was a literal line that a male colleague was forbidden to cross. If he came anywhere near Yanak’s desk to talk, she was to flip a small hourglass. When the sand elapsed, the coworker had to leave. Time, as they say, was up.
The term “sexual harassment” was never used, and the coworker never formally faulted for anything. Yet Yanak’s new office accessories were the result of a series of complaints, by witnesses, about the man’s unsavory behavior toward her, which had reached the CEO.
Today she considers the incident with detached amusement and a bleak realization: “That was their version of proactive. That was their version of not ignoring it,” she says. “For the day and time, that CEO was pretty progressive.”
Of course, things have advanced, but not far enough. From Weinstein to Wynn to—here in Houston—Shipley, nary a day goes by that new charges aren’t levied against some corporate executive, somewhere, for misconduct that ranges from unsettling to utterly egregious.
Last October, just as initial reports of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of alleged sexual abuse became front-page fodder, Yanak and a longtime colleague, Tracy Davis Bradley, launched B3OND (pronounced “beyond”), a line of anonymous surveys and other analytics that, among other things, allows a company to assess the prevalence of sexual harassment among its staff.
Available in eight languages, the surveys are short, simple, industry-specific, and affordable enough that smaller companies can make use of them.
Yanak, a Houston-based attorney with extensive experience in compliance and risk management, serves as B3OND's CEO; Davis Bradley, who has a PhD in organizational development and statistics, is its vice president of data and analytics. Former public relations executive Caroline Starry serves as director of business development and communications. We chatted with Yanak and Starry about the new venture.
Last year a group of discouraged female Nike employees began circulating an informal survey about their workplace experiences, which led to the ousting of two top-ranking execs. What is the takeaway for B3OND?
Heather Yanak: For them to reach a point where that is what you believe to be a good option in a corporate structure, that speaks volumes. Because that is really putting your neck out there. The fact that this is the outcome of an unorganized, ad hoc survey should make every single organization wonder: What is the power behind one that is out in the open?
B3OND launched within weeks of the Weinstein scandal breaking. Was that a coincidence?
HY: No. Around that same timeline, I was touching base with some friends who are chief compliance officers or regulatory attorneys. I always want to hear, “What’s your big thing right now?” More than one—male and female—said sexual harassment. Every day it was validated with every single article that came out. There’s a need.
Caroline Starry: When the sexual harassment stuff started really blowing up and snowballing, it became obvious that there was a dearth in the market.
HY: It astounds us a little bit. Places say that they are trying to assess this, but they don’t actually use the word. We tiptoe, and we allude.
Have you seen more interest in your product as more sexual harassment–based scandals break?
HY: We’ve been getting a lot of inquiries. The time has come that being passive is no longer acceptable. We need to be proactive. We can’t wait. When do we say, “Enough”? How many people have to suffer before we say, “I guess we’ll address it”? Being proactive is good business. You can’t afford a scandal.
CS: Look at Shipley’s. That CEO got sued by three very underling people who were not management. They cleaned the Shipley’s, and they said that he was abusive, and a lawyer was willing to listen to them. When you start seeing everyone in the pyramid of the organization, including those who maybe before had been looked at by corporate as expendable—if they can cost you millions of dollars in a lawsuit, maybe we should protect them.
HY: When your employees are frightened, when they dread coming to work every day, it doesn’t matter what level they’re at; you’re not getting the best work out of them. You flourish when you take care of your best asset, your biggest asset, which is your employees.
Are companies surprised by their results?
HY: It’s astounding to a lot of organizations how much is taking place. But it’s tough to argue with a neutral third party. I don’t want to go to any organization and present them with findings that are upsetting or bad, but it’s a lot tougher to argue with me than someone whose paycheck you’re cutting every couple of weeks.
CS: Let’s say people are squeamish about saying “strongly yes” to their own situation, something that they’ve personally experienced. If you have a high percentage of people saying, “I have witnessed this type of behavior,” that’s indicative that it’s going on.
What misconceptions might people have about this product?
HY: We’re not anti-corporation; we’re not going after them. We also don’t come in with a preconceived notion of what’s going on—or that anything is going on. My best day would be to go back to a place and say, “It looks like everything is trending very positively.” You’re giving that organization peace of mind to continue along the path they’re on with a level of confidence they didn’t have before. This is not some kind of witch hunt.
What’s the importance of making it easier to report these incidents?
HY: When I was starting out, I had to pay my rent, I had to pay my law school loans, and frankly I was the poster child for the person who says nothing because I had so much at stake. I had to make it work, and that meant navigating some of the issues, which I’m a firm believer in. I think you still have to learn proper skills and navigation, but I also believe in giving people enough voice. When employees see that organizations are taking it seriously, they’re more willing to speak up and nip something in the bud. They’re more apt to speak up for others, too.