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This startup is making customized sexual harassment training that it says employees won’t hate (or forget)

If you work for someone else, you likely know the drill: in comes that annual email reminding you that it’s time for unconscious bias or sexual harassment training, and if you could please finish up this mandatory module by this date, that would be terrific.

Solmssen has some other ideas about how to make sexual harassment training far more interesting and less “cringe-worthy.” Indeed, she recently joined forces with Roxanne Petraeus, another Harvard grad, to create Ethena, a software-as-a-service startup that’s promising customizable training delivered in bite-size segments that caters to individuals based on how much they already know about sexual harassment in the workplace.

Petraeus says that across her experience, and particularly in the Army, she had “great leaders who were super thoughtful” about sexual harassment training, “who cared about their [reports’] development goals and what was happening in their personal lives, and brought out the best in their people, rather than making them feel less than or marginalized.”

Still, she was aware that from an institutional standpoint, most harassment training is not thoughtful, that it’s a matter of checking boxes on an annual basis to ensure compliance with different state laws, depending on where an organization is headquartered.

“I’d been working for Mark43 for four years, and I wasn’t particularly interested in starting a business,” Solmssen says.

Even the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission thinks sexual harassment training has gone wrong somewhere, noting that it hasn’t worked as a prevention tool in part because it’s been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability.

Toward that end, and with compliance in mind, Ethena is also modernizing the content it delivers, including as it pertains to dating at work, which definitely happens; and inclusivity around pregnant colleagues, who are often subtly marginalized; and transgender colleagues, who can also find themselves feeling either misunderstood or overlooked by current sexual harassment training materials.

But Solmssen and Petraeus are strong pitchmen, and they say their software will be available beginning in the first quarter of next year for $4 per employee per month, which is on a par with other e-learning programs.

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