Claire Schmidt is the CEO and Founder of AllVoices: A technology platform that enables employees to anonymously report bias, discrimination or sexual harassment to their company's leadership. By equipping companies with transparent data, leadership teams can actively work to improve their culture and move towards a more equal and just workplace. Prior to founding AllVoices, Claire served as Vice President of Technology and Innovation at Fox, the Senior Director of Giving at Thrive Market, as well as the Director of Programs at Thorn.
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Listening is so important in every aspect of life. And I think more than ever, we are talking a lot and maybe not listening as much. And so I guess listening in the workplace, listening out of the workplace, I think those are the key to helping our world evolve.
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Claire Schmidt Interview
Brandon Stover: [00:00:00] Hey, before we get to the show today, I wanted to tell you about a great podcast that I think you should check out. If you're a fan of evolve, then you probably love hearing how startups can be a force for good podcasts. I personally enjoy listening to startups for good with host miles less. In the podcast miles interviews, founders of mission driven companies, creators of startup non-profits, investors, donors, and other inspiring thinkers and doers.
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Welcome to evolve a show to help you become a hero and solve the world's greatest challenges. I'm your host, Brandon Stover and I interview social innovators, entrepreneurs, and thinkers about the global problems. And the solutions that they have created to solve them. Today's guest is Claire Schmidt, founder and CEO of all voices, which allows employees to share real-time feedback and report issues in an anonymous way in order to create an amazing work culture. Claire has an astonishing career at the intersection of social impact and technology. She was the vice president of technology and innovation at 20th century.
Fox worked with Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore to start their nonprofit thorn, which builds technology tools to fight child sex trafficking and let a successful initiative petitioning the USTA to allow people to use their food stamps online while at thrive. But today Claire is going to help us learn about the problems that keep us from decent workplaces and how her solution, all voices helps to overcome harassment, bias and culture issues inside companies stay tuned till the end of the episode, when she shows the skills she learned in order to start her career in social impact and how she surrounded herself with mentors and experts to learn.
Now let's hear from Claire about her mission to solve the world's challenge of psychologically safe, decent and positive workplaces.
Well, before we start diving into the problems of creating decent work for all, can you briefly state your mission with all voices?
Claire Schmidt: [00:02:09] Yes. My mission is to make all voices available to every employee. So that every employee has a place to go to speak up about whatever they're experiencing in the workplace and to do so in a way that feels safe and comfortable for them.
Brandon Stover: [00:02:23] to really help our listeners understand some of the problems that are going on, what are the root or core problems that are happening within the workplace?
Claire Schmidt: [00:02:31] Look, I mean, I think we spend the vast majority of our days working for the most part and the problems that happen in the workplace. You know, in many ways, no different than problems that are happening outside the workplace. But there are a vast array of issues that can happen when you bring a big group of people together.
And you have them all working on something, they all have different goals. They all have different skills. They all have different personalities and inevitably there are miscommunications, there are people who don't treat each other. Well, there are problems that maybe for some are more upsetting or difficult or challenging to deal with than others.
And so maybe there's not enough of an understanding about how, you know, different people respond to the same environment. But in general, what I would say. Anything that you can imagine it's probably happening outside the workplace. It's probably probably happening inside the workplace. And I think the biggest difference is that historically there has not been a way for employees to speak up and raise their hand in real time without facing, you know, potentially some type of judgment retaliation.
Maybe in really small ways, like being thought of as not a team player, for example, or maybe in big ways, like being fired for speaking out about something, you know, very serious. So what we're trying to do is to take the first step, which is really to even know what's going on and to help employees speak up.
And then as far as the solutions, we can talk more about that, but, but we see ourselves as really one piece of the puzzle to solving these greater workplace issues like harassment, mistreatment, toxic workplace cultures
Brandon Stover: [00:04:11] I think an important part is, in the beginning you were saying, we spend so much time in the workplace and when we're at home, when we have some of these issues come up, we have much more agency within our own home. But when we have it happened in the workplace employees don't feel that agency, you were that they can do something about that problem because of the many of the issues that you outlined as well as they're not the ones in control of the workplace.
So I think it's really important to be able to have their voices heard about these problems so that people are, that are in control, know what's going on.
Claire Schmidt: [00:04:43] Exactly. I mean, I think you, you hit the nail on the head with that description. I would also add to it on top of that you have very little control and you are reliant upon your job for, you know, paying rent, buying mood, your very most basic necessities for the most part. So I think that combination is what can make these situations, especially true.
Brandon Stover: [00:05:05] Well, some of the other solutions that have been in the space before are like whistleblower hotlines and culture surveys. Why do those not work so well when addressing these.
Claire Schmidt: [00:05:17] Yeah, I think the answer for each of those is different, but as I was exploring the space and thinking about trying to find ways to help employees speak up in a way that felt safer to them in a way that was more effective. Those were the two solutions I identified as you know, already in the market for employees.
And I would say whistleblower hotlines are kind of on one end of the spectrum. They're really intended for the most severe and egregious incidents. The branding of whistleblower, I think, is very scary and intimidating, right? You think of like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. So I think for many reasons, including the kind of user experience, the branding, the product themselves was the blower hotlines are almost never, they're very rarely used.
And they're very, very rarely used for anything that's not the most serious type of issue. And so I saw that as, you know, maybe a point solution for like a fraction of a percent of all workplace issues and one that needed some innovating on in general. And then the other end of the spectrum is culture surveys.
And you may have interacted with these before, but they come out, you know, a few times a year, they ask pretty high level questions. Cause it's really about understanding in general the health of the workforce, which is totally important and necessary. But it's not really about getting down to specific problems or issues within a company.
It's not real time. So. An employee might experience something in February and not receive a survey from their company until July. Maybe they've already quit by then. Or maybe the survey is not even asking about the topic that they experienced the issue with. So to me it felt like there needed to be something in that huge kind of gray area in between those two.
And over time, we've also innovated on the whistleblower hotline, but we started in between and we just said like, this can be a place where employees can come anytime they want to share anything with leadership and they want the option of doing so anonymously.
Brandon Stover: [00:07:19] How has the recent things in the last decade, like the metoo movement COVID and black lives matter affected company culture,
Claire Schmidt: [00:07:27] I think the me too movement really represented like a massive step change in the way that we, as a society, listen to employees. We can go way back and talk about like the unions and everything, like, but, but as far as like, in terms of present day, in terms of let's just look at like the last 20.
The me too movement represented a major shift. And what it did was it actually gave a voice to employees spotlighted and highlighted the mistreatment that they were experiencing in the workplace. And actually kind of pushed the ball over to the companies and said, Hey, you need to figure this out.
Like the ball is in your court, you need to resolve this. Or there will be consequences. And those consequences range from, you know, reputational damage just by having a lot of bad press about harassment incidents all the way to leadership being pushed out or having to step down, even if they weren't the ones that were, you know, sexually harassing employees, right.
They were just, we're seeing an organization that wasn't addressing it properly. And so. I think that kind of spooked companies. And I think that was the beginning of companies saying, wow, we actually need to hear from employees and we need to find a way to make it safe for them to speak up, because if we don't look what can happen.
Brandon Stover: [00:08:46] your company, all voices has done some reports within the last year about the state of the workplace. And I was hoping that you would share a little bit about some of the problems that you are seeing now currently in real time,
Claire Schmidt: [00:08:56] One issue that I noticed when I came into this space is that there wasn't a ton of data actually about, you know, the prevalence of harassment. The prevalence of other types of workplace, like work culture issues. Certainly there's not many studies about, you know, COVID and how employees are reacting to this new world.
So we just took it upon ourselves to start doing surveys. They're they're massive. We kind of get representation from every different industry from various, genders and ethnic backgrounds. between the surveys we're doing and our, our product. We're really getting a really good picture of what's happening in the world today as it relates to employees.
one of the statistics that I am happy to share is we always have this hypothesis from the very beginning that if you give people the opportunity to speak up anonymously they will be more honest. They will be more willing to share information. They will be less fearful about it.
And our surveys have really Have really validated that hypothesis. So we found that and these are all surveys we've done in the last six months. 74% of people said they are more likely to share feedback about something going on in the workplace, if it could be anonymous. And then when, when it comes to harassment, 85% of people said they would be more likely to report harassment if it was anonymous.
So I think those two stats really show why a solution or a comprehensive solution really needs to include the feature of anonymity. Because without that, if you think about even COVID we, we talked a lot about. When we were launching the survey, like all of the things that might prevent somebody from speaking up about a COVID concern.
And I think that's even become more important now. And we're seeing like the great resignation and employees quitting, like companies really want to understand if that's because, you know, people don't feel comfortable going into an office or people don't feel safe in some way due to the kind of ongoing nature of the pandemic.
So we found that actually 20% of people who didn't, who said they didn't feel comfortable voicing concerns about COVID said it was because they, they fear retaliation or they don't think anything will be done about it. So you really, as a company leader, want to make sure that you're hearing from employees even about a topic as specific as COVID, because that could lead to someone just leaving their job.
Because they, they don't feel heard.
Brandon Stover: [00:11:23] How did these problems stay the same or change in A remote working.
Claire Schmidt: [00:11:28] that's a really good question. So what we found actually through another one of our surveys was that harassment in particular is still happening in a remote world. But the nature of, of what it looks like has changed. So as opposed to someone, you know, inappropriately like touching you or doing something physical in the same space as you, since obviously that's not possible, there's been a shift more towards like virtual bullying, harassment happening through like email texts slack even on zoom. And it's still just as you know, scary and stressful and upsetting for the employee regardless of how it's taking place.
And I think, you know, there's less of a likelihood that someone might witness it, right, because it's happening in these more private forums. So it's, it's still a serious issue and it's something that, that companies need to be thinking about how to get ahead of, and I think it starts with hearing from employees.
Brandon Stover: [00:12:24] well, I think it's hard to work towards something if you don't define what you're working towards. So what does a psychologically safe and decent workplace.
Claire Schmidt: [00:12:34] One of the foremost experts on psychological safety in the workplace is Amy Edmondson. Who's a professor at Harvard business school. She's one of our advisors and. What she's put forth is basically that one of the elements of a psychologically safe workplace is a place where people feel safe to make mistakes or to fail and that they won't be punished for, for those things.
So that's one component. And I think I would add to that a place where people can feel safe to speak up and that they won't be punished for speaking up and doing so. And that's sort of this perfect ideal of like the perfect organization where no matter what's going on and no matter who you tell.
Everything goes well for you, right? And that's, that's aspirational. That's what we want. But in the meantime, I think the best bridge to get there is to have some type of technology or resource that's, that's helping to build that trust within the organization and making it safe for people to speak up.
And I think that's how you create a psychologically safe workplace. Over time is hearing from employees, not punishing or retaliating against them taking their feedback into account closing the feedback loop by telling them, Hey, here's what we've done in response to your feedback. And maybe the next time that person has feedback, they don't care to do so anonymously because it went so well the first time.
Brandon Stover: [00:13:56] Well, let's talk about your guys' solution of all voices and how it helps to create this decent workplace that you're doing.
Claire Schmidt: [00:14:03] like I just mentioned a big part of what we aim to do for our customers is to. Our company's leaders build trust with employees. So that sort of positive feedback loop that I just mentioned, that's one way to build trust because you show people that you're listening to them. And you, you understand as a result of that trust and, ultimately loyalty that I think comes from feeling really heard by your company and seen and valued.
Then you start to get into like engagement and retention and productivity and all these things that companies are really focused on. I think, especially now as it's harder than ever to, to hire new talent there's been a real shift in focus on retention. And I would contrast that a little bit with, you know a year and a half ago, right at the start of the pandemic and layoffs were happening.
And employees were really scared of being laid off and might have felt more nervous about speaking up. I think now they have the freedom to kind of go wherever they want and find work. In a lot of different places. There are a lot of people that are hiring right now. So how can you be proactive about making sure they feel valued and heard?
And and we think that our platform is a big part of that solution.
Brandon Stover: [00:15:19] Yeah, how's it different than some of the other solutions that we talked about earlier, those hotlines where those cultures.
Claire Schmidt: [00:15:25] we're focused on on being there as a resource for employees at all times, right. As opposed to a survey we allow them to come into the platform and share what they want to proactively, rather than saying, you know, Hey, here's your annual culture survey? How happy are you and your company, how likely would you be to recommend working here to a friend?
Like some of those questions are pretty generic. And I think pulse surveys do have their value. And we actually do have pulse surveys within our platform, but I see them as a way to show employees that you're being responsive to them. So let's say like 10 employees say, Hey, our new health insurance is horrible.
Like we should have this benefit or we should have that benefit. There's a lot of feedback coming in about benefits. You can actually turn that into action by saying, okay, well, open enrollment is coming up in three months. And so in preparation for that, we want your perspective on our benefits and our health insurance.
And that's an easy way to show employees you're listening to them and taking action. So that's, that's kind of one element. And so that's, I would say the way in which we're most different from the other platforms on the whistleblower side is incredibly easy to use. We have really, really high employee engagement after the fact.
So one frustration we've heard about some of the other platforms is that an employee will share their whistle or report. And then the company will have a bunch of questions in response to the information that was shared and they never hear back from the employee again. So we tried to meet. The engagement rate as high as possible from employees by making it really simple for them to keep interacting. And that's, that's how our messaging feature kind of came to be.
And then we have a bunch of other features wrapped into the tool. So our intention is really to be an all-in-one employee relations management system, employee feedback management system. So the way that it works is an employee might report something through the tool.
And then on the backend, there's all these, you know, there's analytics, there's messaging, there's all these things you can do with it, both at an individual level and at a holistic way. And then we're starting to make recommendations about actions that you can take based on the type of feedback that you're getting through the tool.
There's also a case manager. So let's say an employee does feel comfortable coming forward and, and, you know, scheduling a zoom call with you, or for those who are in person sitting down across from you as a member of the HR team or the legal team, you can actually input that into the system as well and track and manage and collaborate on it in the same way that you can on employee reports that are anonymous.
And the reason for that is, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of turnover or layoffs happening and some of those are happening on HR teams. And so when someone would leave the company suddenly all of that kind of institutional knowledge they had about what was happening within the employee base would leave.
And maybe they were in the process of investigating things or or helping, you know, resolve an issue for an employee. People were having to search their emails, search their slack messages, there needs to be a cloud-based solution for this that's incredibly secure of course, and and has lots of like role-based permissions and stuff like that.
But so that you can have continuity when dealing with employee relations issues.
Brandon Stover: [00:18:54] Yeah, I think your insight before about, you know, having technology and data around, this HR and relationship management is extremely important and very much underserved. We have data about our marketing. We have data about our sales, but we don't have data about our own company and culture.
And I've loved the example of being able to hear all this feedback, maybe about benefits and then turning it around into some action that you can do in sending out a survey and using it in that way. So now you're making data driven decisions, but it's actually benefiting the company and the employees.
Claire Schmidt: [00:19:28] we do this internally, so we're not just telling other companies how to act like I am the CEO of our company. I do the same thing. So I sent out a benefit survey recently just asking people like, Hey, for starting these, these different benefits, we could add, tell me what else I'm not thinking of.
And actually through that really found out that the employees at our company wanted a benefit that I wasn't even considering. I think we all have blind spots as leaders, and we only know what we, what we know which sounds kind of obvious, but if you're not asking employees what they need, what they want, how they're feeling and also giving them space to come forward proactively and ask for things. You're just not going to be making decisions that take their perspectives into account because you can't.
Brandon Stover: [00:20:16] anonymity is a really important cornerstone of all voices. What are some of the ways. All voices protects through anonymity that people may not think of
Claire Schmidt: [00:20:25] So when we were designing the, even the very first version of this product, I think we were a little bit different than some other some other companies like in adjacent spaces, because we were designing actually for the employee. So. The employee is not our buyer, right? Like if we had started from the perspective of let's design, the best possible tool for our buyer, I actually think it would look a lot different than it does.
But we were laser-focused on what would make employees feel comfortable using a tool like this to share something serious or even not so serious. And every decision that we made was filtered through that lens. So one example of this is early on, we were trying to figure out if this should be an app or like a web based application.
And you know, we hadn't seen both out in the market, right? Whistleblower hotlines are web-based and culture surveys are usually either like an app or they have an account model of some kind where you have a login, you know, your email address and your password, right. We felt like the way to make people feel the most confident that we weren't looking at their personal information, that their company wasn't able to see their personal information was to not.
Not take it in the first place, so to not ask for it. So we were trying to minimize the personal information we were asking employees to input. So what we did instead was instead of creating accounts employees just have to put in their phone number like a two-step verification process at the very end submit their report.
We encrypt that number. We don't see it, the company doesn't see it, but that's the way that we're able to follow up with them. When the company does respond to their report or feedback the nice thing about a phone number is like, if you think about an email address, that's just your name. So even if the absolute worst case scenario happened and, and someone, you know, there was a data breach or something, it's still very hard to get to.
A phone number leading to an identity. Like if you just Google someone's phone number, it's not going to say, oh, this is this person's phone number. So we felt like that was the, the most anonymity we could provide to them without compromising the need for follow-up and engagement. That, that was really important on both sides actually.
Brandon Stover: [00:22:44] Is there any situation that you can think of where anonymity would not be a good thing or appropriate for this?
Claire Schmidt: [00:22:51] there are definitely things that would be a violation of our terms of service. Right? If you were using the platform to say, I'm going to. place a bomb somewhere, right? Like that would be a very extreme example, but that's a violation of our terms of service.
And we would work with the authorities to, to you know, decrypt that data and, and we've made it very clear in our terms that you can't use our platform for that purpose. But other than that, no, I think that there's this sort of perception in HR that sometimes that anonymous feedback is not like as quality or won't be as honest.
I actually think it's the opposite. I think that's how people are truly able to be honest, if they don't face repercussions for, for voicing that feedback. So we actually believe anonymity is really important. The only thing I'll say is. It's really important for that first report or first piece of feedback.
So let's say you anonymously went into the system and said Claire has been harassing me and here's all the things she's done. That's just the starting point, right? That's not, someone's not going to walk into my office and fire me just because of that. That's just the beginning of a process with you where they have a back and forth conversation with you.
They tell you like this is serious, this needs to be investigated. Here's how an investigation might go. They'll ask you, you know, to come forward. If that is what would be the most helpful they might share an anti-retaliation policy. They might ask you for witnesses instead, if you're not comfortable sharing your identity.
the anonymity gives people the ability to come forward incrementally and to do so on their own terms. Once they feel like they'll be taken seriously and not, you know not mistreated or retaliated against
Brandon Stover: [00:24:40] I think the important part is, you know, the anonymous two-way messaging, because it allows them to be still anonymous and protect their reputation. Their identity, but it still allows the company to investigate and follow up so that it's protecting the one being accused. It protects their reputation before, you know, somebody just comes out and says something about another person.
Claire Schmidt: [00:25:01] absolutely. Exactly. It's protecting everyone in a way.
Brandon Stover: [00:25:05] A unique benefit of all voices is really allowing any employee that's part of any company, even if they're not on the platform to actually report something about that company. Which I think is really, really amazing for three reasons, because everybody is winning in this situation. So, you know, the company getting to learn about something that's going on in their company that they probably didn't know about beforehand. The person gets to have agency and describe what problem is going on. And then you guys are all voices. Get a little bit of a network effects by, you know, sending this report onwards to companies How have companies these companies reacted to when they've gotten these reports?
Claire Schmidt: [00:25:45] I would say it's been a bit of a mixed bag. So what we were intending and, and that doesn't mean it's not good. I still think it's really good to have it, but here's the thinking behind having this public facing tool available to employees first, right before we're working with their companies.
As we started building this, we were thinking about, okay, We have all these proactive, progressive companies coming to us and asking us for this before we even have a product, which is so great, because you can tell, like, they're the companies that really care about their employees and they want to go above and beyond.
But what is like, who is the last company that's going to bring this on? Right? Like, what's that company like and what is it like to work there and what are their employees experiencing every day? And we were thinking about that and realized like, those employees actually probably need this tool the most.
And so we need to find a way to at least make some aspect of this available to them. Even if their companies will never sign up for all voices. So what we do is they can come to our site today. They can report an issue. We will pass that along to the person they choose, so they can decide who they want it to go to.
Like, if it's a problem with someone in HR, we don't want to pass that along to that, that person not knowing the company and not knowing all the details. Right. So we ask them for the person they want to share it with. We send the report to that person. And we open up that two-way messaging portal for them.
So. Basically, they can respond to the person and say, Hey, we hear you and we have some more questions. Would you be willing to talk to me or would you be willing to keep talking here? And here's the questions I have for you about this issue? So it's really in a way, the core functionality of our product that they're getting access to for free.
They're not getting, you know, analytics and recommendations and all the other stuff that we have. And they don't have like a single dashboard with everything listed. They they'll have a separate link every time an employee, a different employee brings something up, but they're still able to communicate on that, like one-to-one level. there, a lot of them are receptive to that. Some of them. Don't ever respond. Right. And so we know we knew that that would be the case because we know that some of these companies are not really thinking of the best interest of their employees. I do think as the world is changing and as employees have a bit more power in the labor market, even some of those companies will start looking at solutions and looking at ways to hear from employees.
And so I think we'll be there sort of in the right place at the right time when they, when they need.
Brandon Stover: [00:28:35] I was just thinking of, if there was a possibility to have maybe like a HR advisor or somebody that if I'm an employee that isn't already on your platform, reports on all voices, you send out the report and you hear nothing back from that company. If you had an advisor on your side that could help walk through that with that employee about best options, they may have, you know, your issues not being resolved.
Here's some ways that you may go about it then.
Claire Schmidt: [00:29:04] Yeah, I think that's a really good idea. And I think that type of support is sometimes needed on both sides. So like someone might not be responding because they don't know how to respond. They don't have the training or resources or or power within the organization to take action on that. And so, My hypothesis is that we could actually have someone with that HR expertise on both sides, like counseling employees and counseling people who receive reports about what to do and best practices and not something we have a lot of like best practices and support built in for our customers.
But outside of that, we don't have as much.
Brandon Stover: [00:29:41] Well, can you give a few examples of some companies that have used our voices and the effect that it's had on their company?
Claire Schmidt: [00:29:48] I can definitely share some names of some companies that have used all voices. I don't want to speak on behalf of how their cultures have changed. I think we have a lot of like positive, you know, testimonials and quotes from our customers that we do share with other customers and share on our website and stuff like that.
But basically what I hear for the most part is this is such a needed resource. I'm hearing so many things that I was not hearing about before, and that is giving me the ability to a take action and address those people directly and, and hopefully save some people from leaving the company or getting frustrated and you know, going on social media or Glassdoor and posting something negative. Without this channel. I just know that I would have been missing so much and I'm able to take the data that we are getting and report it upwards and actually use it as a way to drive action. At the executive level around, like we were talking about policies and benefits and you know, for like remote work, sharing data back with the CEO or the executive leadership about making those decisions, I think has been really invaluable, especially during the pandemic.
We actually track our customer has Glassdoor scores at the start of our working with them six months in and a year in. And over 90% of them have had their class scores go up just by providing an internal place for people to share.
You know, things that might not be working or frustrations or challenges. Cause I think those people had previously gone to glass door in sort of an attempt to be heard and I think providing it in house and actually, you know, funneling the reports directly to people who can take action. Companies are avoiding having that kind of reputational damage happen on, on public platforms.
Brandon Stover: [00:31:38] Yeah. I think there's some issues that obviously need, you know, a lot of action to overcome, but I think there's also some issues that employees just want to have their voice heard on that issue. And so having a place that they can always go to that the company can respond to or act on pawn. I was fantastic because then they're not going to social media or glass store and trying to be heard.
Claire Schmidt: [00:32:00] Exactly. of course there's always going to be like employees, you know, gossiping with each other. And you know, some employees like venting about things in forums, like blind and the idea isn't to say, we want that to never happen again, but at least to provide a more constructive place for them to speak up, I think can pull some of that traffic away from those other places.
Brandon Stover: [00:32:24] you started mentioning earlier some of the practices that you do in all voices. How has it changed your company culture or created a positive.
Claire Schmidt: [00:32:33] my vision back when back when I was a team of one what. Help companies create a more bottoms up culture in their workplace, meaning everything doesn't just happen top down. It's not all just like the person at the top dictates everything about what happens, you know, decisions that are made whether it's related to the product or policies or anything.
Right. And so I was always thinking about like, what would empower employees to speak up and how can I create that in our companies? So I think that, you know, the surveys that I do with our team is just one example of that. There's a bunch of different things that I do to make employees feel, you know, ownership over the day to day of, of their jobs and of the company more broadly.
So we have two, all hands meetings a week with our whole team, or now about like 25. On Tuesdays, every department kind of reports out about what's been going on with them, what's going well, they do any like shout outs. It's a different person from the team that shares every week, right? So I'm not running this meeting saying, now you go and now you go.
And that doesn't sound good. And this sounds good. Right. I'm just kind of letting them talk and I'll share what's going on from my perspective as well. But I am sort of like a part of the team. This. And that is really how I see myself. And then on Friday people take turns leading more of a like fun social, all hands.
And so, again, it's not me on Friday saying this week, we're going to do this icebreaker. And everyone looks at me. It's really about like letting people take leadership. And those all hands meetings are one example. But I try to do that in every aspect of work, like letting ideas come from the bottom up.
Obviously we use our own tools. So I'm hearing directly from employees if they don't feel comfortable speaking up we have a very like open collaborative community communicative culture. And I try to do everything I can to facilitate that. Including hiring people who I think will thrive in that culture.
And then, my priority is to keep that going as we grow, I think. You know, it's easier to do it with 25 people than 50 or a hundred or 200, but I do think there are things we can do to maintain some of those positive elements.
Brandon Stover: [00:34:49] Speaking to the positive side, you know, we've been talking about the negative things that may be reported through all voices, but I feel like there's some people that when they're in a meeting, they may not want to bring their idea up in that meeting because they're uncomfortable doing it. And so being able to go back to their desk and maybe, you know, write that up and send it I think would be very valuable.
So do you see that a lot in offices where people are sending positive things?
Claire Schmidt: [00:35:12] Absolutely. And I think some companies get that more than others. Some are really proactively asking for, you know, positive feedback and product ideas. It's funny when I started this company, I was like, well, nobody would care to be anonymous, to give positive feedback because that's a good thing.
So who wouldn't want to give positive feedback? And I realized that's not true at all. Like some people just don't feel comfortable sharing feedback in person, whether it's positive or negative or sharing it, you know, with their name attributed to it. So yeah, it's absolutely a place where people can go to share positive things.
I think one of my first customers, one of their first reports they got was literally someone selecting like other about the type of feedback and then saying, thank you so much for putting all voices in place. Like, I don't need it today, but I might need it someday. And that was back when we were really focusing just on like harassment and bias.
So overall, if you can provide a way for employees to share. Positive negative neutral input feedback, comments, questions. You will just have a much better understanding of in general, what is going on with your employees and how you can help them have a better experience and how in turn they can provide a better experience for others and can contribute more to the success of the company.
Brandon Stover: [00:36:34] what work still needs to be done in this.
Claire Schmidt: [00:36:38] I think there's a lot, I think from our perspective, one of the things we're working a lot more on right now is like solutions and recommendations around the types of issues that are coming up through the platform and building those into our tool. So one example of this is. A very small portion of the reports and feedback that are coming into the system actually turn into an investigation.
But then we've heard a lot about how challenging investigations are on both sides of the equation. So for the employee, it can be overwhelming and intimidating and stressful. And for, for the administrator, it can be, it's a lot of work. There's a lot of like legal liability if mistakes are made. And so in many cases, they're, they're hiring outside counsel just to prevent them.
Making one of those mistakes or missing something. And so we actually built a tool into our platform. It's an investigation support tool. So basically it facilitates the investigation in partnership with the administrator to make sure that the investigation is fair and timely and all of these things that we know matters to the employee. And then also to make it easier, as easy as possible for the administrator to take the steps needed to resolve it.
And so yes, we're sort of focusing more on the. The more serious issues right now, but you could even see for something like a culture issue that someone brings up, let's say let's say it's related to like the dress code or who knows, right. There could be a solution where you could have a code of conduct.
Maybe the company can have a code of conduct or the code of conduct didn't address that subset of issues, but they're starting to hear about it. So they can actually, in the future would be able to create a code of conduct within our system and share it out to employees. And once again, you're showing the employee, your voice is being heard and it matters.
And we are communicating this back to other employees with the hopes of, changing behavior for the better. Okay.
Brandon Stover: [00:38:40] Right. A hundred percent. Well, I'd like to dive a little bit into your backstory and you know, how this came to be. And you've had quite an impressive career at the intersection of social impact and technology. I'm working with companies like thorn and thrive market. How did you get started in this social impact career path?
And what skills did you need to learn to be given these options?
Claire Schmidt: [00:39:02] I started my career in consulting. So before thorn, before thrive, I was in management consulting for four years strategy consulting and. I actually think that was pretty foundational to what ended up happening later, because what I learned was the ability to get up to speed incredibly quickly on a new topic become expert in it, even though I was at the time like 22, 23 years old we were being hired by huge companies to help them make important strategic decisions.
And I had to show that I could add value and contribute in a space that, before that week, I had never heard of before or had known nothing about before. So I think that actually set the stage for me to then go in and do new things that all these like, kind of different junctures in my career.
So one example of that is thorn, right? I actually didn't know anything about child sex trafficking. Before I started working with thorn and I was there in the very beginning when we were just figuring out, like, what do we do? How do we address this issue? How, what does trafficking look like?
And one thing we noticed was that in the U S it was increasingly being facilitated by technology. Meaning pimps in many cases would post the children that they had trafficked on escort services site. and use those websites to advertise them as available for obviously what it was, was abuse.
And I think there was a real opportunity to go in and say, Hey, technology is a huge part of the problem here. We want to make it part of the solution. We're going to bring experts on board. We're going to build solutions that involve technology for police departments. And for companies who are having this kind of thing happened on their platforms, you know, unintentionally to try to resolve it.
And I think what I saw there was. Hey, I can go into a space and know nothing about it, and very quickly become expert on it and understand it. And I'm in partnership with a lot of other, you know, smart people try to find solutions.
And two, I realized that I really want to make a positive impact on the world. I want to be doing good in my career. I don't just want to be like selling more of something that doesn't appeal to me. And so I have to be passionate about whatever I'm working on is. When I went to thrive, it was the same thing. It was. How can you use this incredible infrastructure that this company had built to deliver food all across the country?
Right? It's an e-commerce company to actually specifically try to help low-income families have more access to healthy food and to help dismantle some of those barriers that, that were getting in the way. And so that was something really exciting to me. It was something that I was passionate about and still am passionate about.
And that's why when I started thinking about all voices and I was at the time vice president of tech and innovation at 20th century Fox, I felt so passionate about the mission and the. Potential outcome of actually helping employees speak up and be heard and, you know, not experience these difficult things at work in the future.
That was incredibly compelling to me. So it felt very similar to some of my other work in that, you know, I don't have an HR background. I, am really more of a technologist if anything. But I know how to identify problems and think through solutions and how to pull people together to do it as a group.
Cause I don't think anyone can, can solve problems alone.
Brandon Stover: [00:42:47] Sure. Yeah. each one of these spaces are like three different kinds of spaces. And you were mentioning that you weren't in an expert in any of them. What processes did you go through to get yourself up to speed in these spaces? So you could actually start creating.
Claire Schmidt: [00:43:01] I mean, I really love learning. And I think one of the things that has been the most helpful to me in every case is like getting on the phone or having meetings with people who are experts, right. There are people for any new space you may want to go into. There are people who've been working on it for 30 years, so you can go talk to so I, I have a lot of humility about coming into a new area and trying to understand who are all the people that have been working on this that could in some way, help inform the way I'm thinking about this.
with thorn, like I think we spent once we kind of decided on that direction, A really long time actually like flying around the country and meeting experts. And, you know, I went to like you know, a conference every year, specifically focused on you know crimes against children, which is like, it's not a fun conference to go to.
You need to it because you care about, you want to learn and you want to, you know, I met like forensic psychologists there and people who have worked on trafficking for, you know, 30 or 40 years and even just sitting with one of them for an hour is like a major download into a new space. So learning, listening, meeting people who have already been working in a space running ideas by them being humble.
I think those are all really exciting.
Brandon Stover: [00:44:24] mentors have been extremely important in your story. When you were young, you grew up with a family of change. If you know your father being a lawyer and your grandmother helping with sexual. But when you started all voices, you created this very strategic board of experts, Dino, to really help understand the problem.
So if I was exploring a complex problem like this, that I want to have an impact on how should I go about finding mentors and then establishing that relationship and making sure I'm learning the most that I can from them.
Claire Schmidt: [00:44:54] With the advisory board. It was a really interesting time, right? Because the me too movement had been kind of brewing over the summer of 2017. And I had started working on this in the spring of 2017. So was getting feedback and input during this time when it was a really popular topic to be thinking about and talking about.
So people were really interested in helping design solutions essentially, and thinking about what are possible solutions to this issue. So I think that helped, right. Timing is always a factor, but even if you know, something that you're working on or interested in getting involved in is not top of mind for most people, you can still find the people that it is really highly rated.
To and then, yeah, I would say like the first step is just getting to know them, like expressing your interest and what you're planning to do and how you might see them helping or supporting and what you can do for them. Like, in our case, we gave advisors equity in our company. So they actually had a stake in in this being productive and valuable.
So they were more able to like give me time and and support and make introductions to other people in the space and all of that. So I would, I would definitely recommend that if you have a, a for-profit like venture backed company to give them equity.
And if not, like we at thorn, we were non-profit. So we had a lot of people who were advising because they just really cared about the mission and they felt like we had A really interesting set of solutions at thrive, I think it was more similar to all voices where we had a lot of advisers who knew a lot about, in many cases about like the food space and food access and stuff like that.
So find your people, whoever the right people are, people that you like talking to and enjoy working with who, who know what they're doing and know the space better than you. And then making it worth their time in some way or another to be involved. And, and continuing to build that relationship over time. And ask them like, what are you hoping to get out of this relationship? Or is there anything that I can do for you? I think that's really important.
Brandon Stover: [00:47:06] you've been quoted before in other interviews that you never wanted to be an entrepreneur. Why was this problem so compelling for you that you had to quit your job and go all in on it?
Claire Schmidt: [00:47:17] we talked about this a little bit at the beginning of this conversation, but we spend so much time at work and I'm a bit of a workaholic. I'm a bit, you know, somewhat reformed, I guess I would say. But I've had jobs where I've worked until midnight regularly, or 1:00 AM 2:00 AM. So that's your whole life in those instances.
And what really like struck a nerve for me was I read Susan Fowler's blog post about her experience at Uber. And I was thinking about like how unfair it is that a person in her position, like at her first day of work, her manager sexually harasses her. And she has to figure out what to do about.
I think it's really unfair that that person has to go sit down with someone they've never met report their boss hope that it doesn't backfire or that it doesn't negatively affect them in any way. And if it does backfire, they can't pay their rent Navy or they don't have money for food. And so this combination of like, we spend so much of our lives at work, we rely heavily on work for being able to do the most basic things like eat and sleep.
And on top of that, like there aren't really great structures in place for creating like safe, safe ways of speaking up. That combination to me just felt like I can't look away from it. It's like this, like a car accident that you can't look away from. It's like, it's so bad that I feel like there really needs to be.
Something better. And that's really what drove me. And, I had a great job at Fox. Like I, I was learning a ton. I was enjoying it. I was working with great people. And I was gonna leave and make no money and, and work really hard and kind of like push a Boulder uphill. I think the only reason I was able to make that leap is that I felt so passionate about the potential solution and its ability to make an impact that, like, it didn't really seem like a huge sacrifice.
It was hard to leave, but it also felt like the right thing to do.
Brandon Stover: [00:49:25] Was there any tools or frameworks that you use to help make this decision and take the leap?
Claire Schmidt: [00:49:31] No, I wish like, you know, like a pros and cons list or something. Ultimately, it was just like a gut instinct. Like it was what actually worked for me was I was resisting leaving and I was trying to figure out like, how can I do both? Can I create all voices as a nonprofit? And I'm on the board of the nonprofit?
Or what could I do? Cause obviously it couldn't have two jobs, two full-time jobs at once. So I started thinking about like, okay, could I hire someone else to run it? And then I just work with them. And I started like, as I went down that path of even just thinking about it, I felt so protective of like, no, I can't like no one else.
You know, I can't give this to anyone else. And I think that's what made me realize that I needed to just go do it. Like if I can't fathom hiring someone else to, to run this company so that I can keep my, my day job then obviously you know, it's like my baby. I knew then that if I couldn't think of even trying to find someone else to do it, that I, that I needed to do it.
Brandon Stover: [00:50:35] Well, you mentioned also in the decision of, you know, should this be a nonprofit or should it be a for-profit and you're running it? How did you balance that decision? Because that's something that any company that has social impact, they come up against it was, should this be no nonprofit because it's completely social impact or should it be a venture backed business?
How do you work through that?
Claire Schmidt: [00:50:54] I talked to a number of lawyers during this time. I talked to like people in the nonprofit sector and people in the for-profit sector running like tech companies. And ultimately what it came down to was like, okay, what is our north star? Our north star is to get this product into the hands of as many employees as possible.
That has been the mission from day one that is still the mission today. And what I heard through these conversations as I was grappling with the structure of the entity and what it should be. What I heard was if you want to like scale incredibly fast and scale, like a software product incredibly fast, then you need to have the capital to do so.
And luckily like the VC industry was at the time, really interested in this problem because the VC industry itself had been going through the me too movement and individuals were being called out. So they were really interested in, in what could potential solutions look like, and they were already thinking about it.
And so they were willing to invest and you know, that capital that I got up front of a little more than a million dollars. That's what allowed us to even build the product in the first place so that we could start testing it and getting employee feedback. And ultimately like putting it in the hands of companies pretty much, as soon as it was built companies who had already signed, you know, paying contracts before even seeing the final product,
Brandon Stover: [00:52:23] Amazing. from your last four years of building all voices, what has been the most difficult challenge that you've had going from quitting your job to growing all voices to what it is.
Claire Schmidt: [00:52:32] when I raised our pre-seed round it was this really unique moment, which was like, we were in the midst of the me too movement. We, because of that and some excitement around like the solution.
We had some commitments even going into a fundraising process. So there were people who had already raised their hands. Spencer Rascoff, who was the CEO of Zillow at the time was like one of the first investors and Adam Miller. Who's the founder of cornerstone on demand. So these two incredibly like expert investors who understand the space had already like raised their hands and said, yes, we're in. So, so my pre-seed round was pretty quick to close.
That was just really enough for us to like get off the ground, get the product built, create like an enterprise grade product that we could put in the, you know, our first customer, one of our first customers was GoPro.
Right? So it wasn't just to a company with 10 employees that was doing a free beta. So we needed to build something that was incredibly high quality. So for the first like six months, it was just product and engineering and me and. I kind of naively thought, okay, well, look, we have these big companies.
We need some more money in order to grow and sell into more companies. It should be equally easy to raise my next round. And what I found was by the time you get to like, whatever your second round is called, let's say your seed round. In my case people are actually really looking at like metrics and there's a certain set of, of data that they want to look at and they want to see, you know, growth and they want to know what your average contract sizes, and they want to know about churn and all these things in it.
You know, we, we're still so early. So I kind of underestimated how, my pre-seed was really raising on an idea and telling that story. And I actually think at the seed stage, the story matters a ton, but if you have data, they want to look at the data and they want to understand it. And so I just think I went into the.
That fundraise like a little bit under prepared and overly optimistic maybe. And it was really hard because it took way longer than I thought as a result. And so I was just incredibly stressed for a few months that like, it wasn't going to close in time and we were going to run out of money and, you know, I would have to go back to our customers who had signed contracts with us and, and tell them like this isn't going to work out.
And for me, that was just not an option. And so I made it happen and, and it all worked out. And cross-cut who has been a huge supporter of ours. They're a VC firm here in LA. They let our round and they were fantastic to work with. And so I'm really happy. Everything kind of worked out the way it did, but it was definitely a stressful time.
And I would say. If I could have done anything differently, I would have like paid attention to those metrics sooner and known exactly what I was going to be asked for. And then started the process a little bit earlier before I, before I needed it.
Brandon Stover: [00:55:30] Would you also advise maybe in your pre-seed round raising a little more than you think, because you're selling on that idea rather than the metrics?
Claire Schmidt: [00:55:39] Yeah. If you can. I definitely want, I mean, a million dollars sounded like so much to me, but it doesn't go that far with what we're, what we were building. So yeah, I would've raised more earlier use that money to get to a higher, you know, revenue run rate and thus a higher valuation and then had a lot more leverage to raise another round.
Brandon Stover: [00:56:03] How did you stay emotionally resilient through this challenge?
Claire Schmidt: [00:56:07] the biggest lesson that I had to learn was like, you are not your company. And now I think this is like getting around and people are, are acknowledging that and, and realizing it earlier. But it was so hard because we got a lot of like early press because of the me too movement. We in November, like we were the only ones like raising our hands and saying, oh, actually we have a solution to this already.
Like we've been working on it for the last six months or whatever. because of that press, everything was like 20th century Fox, executive steps down and, starts all voices. And it's so hard not to have your identity start to become intertwined with this thing that you're building. Right.
But this is a company and it's its own entity. And and it is separate from you. It's separate from me. And I had to really understand that and, and internalize that in order to not be like on the rollercoaster ride, like, I don't want to have the like high, high highs and the low lows that are just inevitable in this bumpy process, because it is a bumpy process.
So if I'm able to separate my identity from what's happening in my company's journey and have my own experience, That I'm not riding the roller coaster I'm watching.
And so when something tough happens like let's say a customer says, you know, we unfortunately and this has happened before, like we unfortunately got acquired and we've asked, but our acquired does not want us to keep using all voices. I don't have to take that personally. They're not saying I don't like you and I don't want to work with you anymore.
They're saying your company is no longer going to work for our company. And the same thing is true of like any interaction you have any like fundraising experience. Like if you don't take any of it personally, and you're able to just like observe it and, and understand it. I think it's a much, much healthier dynamic.
Brandon Stover: [00:58:04] Well, I'd like to talk a little bit about, the future of where our world's going. Work shifts more remotely and becomes more decentralized. How are you thinking about company culture and how it gets re-imagined?
Claire Schmidt: [00:58:16] this is so interesting because also we are remote company. So I'm experiencing a lot of these things firsthand as well. And thinking about how do you continue to develop the culture of the company where we can't all just like get together for a happy hour. And I think I think one thing is can there be really intentional ways built into your year where you try to get people together?
Because I do think in person, maybe it doesn't have to be the whole company. Maybe it's groups of people. Being in person with people does form like a really strong bond, I think. And even if you're only able to do that once a year or twice a year, I do think that it makes a difference. But that might only be one day out of the year, right.
Or three days out of the year. So how do you try to create that same like comradery and collaboration and you know, meaning I think like all the time and we're still figuring it out. I don't think we're doing it perfectly, but I think it's like applying a filter at hiring where you hire people who are, who exemplify those qualities, who are kind and collaborative and finding ways.
Building that filter into the recruiting process itself so that you really can get a sense for that before someone starts. That's one, one thing that I think companies that really care about their culture need to be really thoughtful about is, is the hiring process. And then I think setting up opportunities for employees to take leadership in helping to build the culture is really important as well.
So I mentioned like our all hands meetings I think there's, there's way more than that, right? Given I think everything from like giving employees areas of ownership around culture, To you know, carving out time that employees have previously all, all of their time allocated to, you know, furthering the mission of all voices.
Maybe it's carving out some of their time for like planning social activities or or initiatives or projects that are really good for like team bonding. But I think if you're in a remote first world, you have to get very creative about ways to help people form bonds and build community within the organization.
And that can be done through work and that can be done through kind of work adjacent things. And that can be done through ultimately getting together in person and, and helping to solidify those bonds.
Brandon Stover: [01:00:51] Well, before I get to my last question, is there a call to action? You'd like to leave our listeners with.
Claire Schmidt: [01:00:56] Anyone listening has an ability to make an impact on the workplace for better. So that can be anything from thinking about your own interactions with people and how you're treating others and how you're showing up to work and engaging with people. It could be using all voices to share feedback with your company about something and providing them an insight that we, they may not have had before that could make your workplace ultimately improve and get better, not just for you, but for every single person there.
And if you are an HR leader, The first step is really like, think about the current systems that you have in place for employees to share feedback. And a lot of times we hear like, oh, we have an open door policy and that's our system. And I would just say like the open door policy that you have is so great for some of your employees.
And there are others that will never take advantage of that. And you may never hear from them until they've already left their jobs or maybe even something worse. So I would just say like evaluate the current, the current mechanisms you have in place, kind of put yourself in the shoes of an employee and think if I experienced something tough or challenging or concerning or even just have positive, positive feedback or an idea what are my options today as an employee?
And could they be. Better off if they had an additional resource.
Brandon Stover: [01:02:29] Well, my last question is how can we push the world to evolve?
Claire Schmidt: [01:02:33] listening is so important in every aspect of life. And I think more than ever, we are talking a lot and maybe not listening as much. I mean, perhaps you and your job are doing the most listening of anyone, which is great. But I really care about all voices because I believe that it gives companies.
A a secret weapon that they didn't really tap into or aren't really tapping into without it. And that really stems from listening. It's giving people a place to speak, but the, the second piece of that is listening to them. And I think listening in the workplace, listening outside the workplace, right, we're in a very divided time in our country's history.
Everything is very heated and tense. I think with social media and the bubbles that we, that we sort of intentionally put ourselves into or unintentionally put ourselves into we're doing probably a worse job of listening than ever before. Passing judgements on people before we even really understand their perspective.
And so I guess listening in, the workplace, listening out of the workplace, I think those are. You know, in many ways the key to, to helping our world evolve.
Brandon Stover: [01:03:54] Yeah, listening to understand other people. Well, Claire, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Claire Schmidt: [01:04:01] Thank you so much for having me.
Brandon Stover: [01:04:03] Thank you for listening to the evolve. Podcasts links to everything we discussed today are available in the show. Notes. Transcripts are also available in the show notes and everything can be viewed on our website at evolve. The doc world that's evolve the.world.
My one ask for you is to share this episode with others. If you know someone who is interested in social impact, social entrepreneurship, or just making a difference in the world, please share this episode. The challenges in our world need all of those who can contribute to existing solutions or create entirely new ones. so please share the show with those kind intelligent people who are just like you until next time my friend keep evolving.