“Google’s sudden interest in workplace ethics startup coincides with the ousting of its AI ethics researchers ”
Workplace ethics and behaviour are an integral part of any organisation for it to flourish. There are a wide range of problems in a firm, from the occasional infraction to a significant breach of policy. Taking quick action to deal with bad behaviour is critical to maintaining employee safety, increasing cooperation, adhering to industry standards, and limiting lawsuits. Banking on the idea to fix this issue of workplace misconduct, London based Vault platform not only developed a suite of SaaS tools that resolves this issue, but it even caught Google’s attention as well.
Backed by Google’s Gradient Ventures as the lead investor in a whopping $8.2 million Series A investment along with Illuminate Financial, Kindred Capital and Angular Ventures. The 2018 founded Vault platform is on the path of revolutionising enterprises of any size to manage internal ethics and integrity issues. In 2019, Vault had raised $4.2 million in seed funding led by Kindred Capital, Angular Ventures, and other investors.
In the past Google has acquired and invested in many startups that have proved to be profitable for the organization. But this time it is different. Gradient Venture’s investment comes at a time when top AI ethics researchers left Google blaming it on unethical practices. So much so that an investigation was carried out on Google’s labor practices by the United States National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).While this investment may seem like a seemingly calculated move on Google’s part. Vault offers a set of SaaS tools to large and enterprise-sized companies along with staff tools to report an issue. Data and analytics are integrated into the platform to Support customers’ broader audit and compliance requirements.
According to an interview with TechCrunch, CEO Neta Meidav stated that Gradient Venture was interested in AI’s potential to further improve Vault’s SaaS-based reporting tool. Alongside their overall mission to modernise legacy reporting tools such as hotlines for employees to try to surface behavioural risk at the workplace.
To help encourage staff to report concerns they may otherwise hesitate to, for various reasons, Vault’s existing platform’s feature ‘GoTogether,’ consists of an escrow system which enables users to report errors to their respective internal organisations and only where they are not the first or only person to report on the same person.In an effort to expand the feature’s capabilities, Vault is looking to incorporate NLP (natural language processing) so that it can be used to help surface potential problematic conduct that could impact a whole team or division.
“The surprising fact is that Vault sits on AWS servers, and not on Google Cloud.”
The Vault Platform also helps in dealing with whistleblowing incidents while remaining compliant and effective. It helps establish a secure channel for employees to be open and honest without fear of retribution, either anonymously or in-name. If the misconduct investigators would like to speak with a whistleblower privately but wish to maintain their anonymity, they may do so without jeopardising their job security. In December 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) implemented new rules to its whistleblower programme, aiming to increase both the rewards and the level of transparency for the process. It is expected that the incoming EU Whistleblower Protection Directive will increase demand for “TrustTech” compliance solutions, as it mandates large businesses of more than 250 employees to have a whistleblowing solution in place by the end of December 2021. Whistleblowers are entitled to between 10% and 30% of monetary penalties under the SEC programme if their tips result in a successful enforcement action and the penalties exceed $1 million. In the Panasonic Avionics consultant corruption case, the Whistleblower was awarded $28 million.
What truly sets Vault apart is that it does not simply digitise an existing legacy process. It focuses on leveraging technology to empower employees to come forward and speak up in a safe way. While the platform is aimed at enterprises, its early customer base includes a slew of scale-ups, including names such as Airbnb,Lemonade, OVO Energy, G2 etc,. Vault is planning to further expand its team following the close of Series A as the next phase of its growth.
But Vault is not without its fair share of competition; in the wake of the pandemic, work ethic and behaviour have taken a different direction along with incidents of sexual harassment, bullying, and discrimination which has shifted from being hidden to out in the open. People are inspired by movements to report unethical workplace behaviour more so than ever. As a result, many companies have found themselves having to adopt a multi-stakeholder approach that goes beyond just legal compliance and includes the needs of both shareholders and society. Start-ups like AllVoices, Hootsworth YC-backed Whispli, Spot etc., are all playing the same field. As mandated workplace reporting procedures continue to rise, competition is going to keep increasing as well.
The migration of the workforce from offices to virtual chat rooms is slowly convincing companies to lean on third party applications to monitor the virtual workplace. While companies should be involved in employees’ well-being at a workplace, monitoring apps doesn’t provide an end to the problem, it does help in mitigating it to an extent. It might not be a complete solution to the rising problem of workplace ethics but for better or for worse startups like Vault might expose more vulnerabilities at the workplace.
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Ritika Sagar is currently pursuing PDG in Journalism from St. Xavier's, Mumbai. She is a journalist in the making who spends her time playing video games and analyzing the developments in the tech world.