Creating positive and lasting change: behind the scenes at Culture Shift

Culture Shift is a platform that allows people to confidentially and safely report workplace bullying and harassment, empowering them and, more importantly, making them feel safe and happy.

In an age when businesses and institutions are under more scrutiny than ever to create positive and lasting change, Culture Shift’s platform is playing an important role in addressing workplace bullying and harassment.

Launched in 2018 by co-founders Gemma McCall, Stuart Bradley and Carl Sadd, the technology platform can be used across a broad range of industries. We invested in the business in March 2020, and since then the team has grown quickly to develop the platform and the business further, expanding from a team of five to 16 people.

We caught up with CEO Gemma to explore Culture Shift’s achievements over the last six months and hear how the firm set about finding a partner that would help them support other businesses in tackling problematic behaviour.

Meeting demand

Tell us a bit about your background and your business?

When we started Culture Shift, we were a small team of people who already had full-time jobs running our branding agency. From early on though, we were able to collaborate with the University of Manchester to build software that we were proud of – a revolutionary reporting platform that removed barriers and empowered people to confidentially and safely report workplace harassment. We picked up a few more key clients, and the appetite for our product – combined with the knowledge that organisations were taking these issues seriously – gave us the confidence to launch the business.

We wanted the software to empower people who may have otherwise been hesitant to report wrongdoing, as well as to offer them support and make sure that employers had the data at their disposal to recognise trends and cut abuse out early on.

Pre-investment, we were able to bring on more than 50 customers, with many of them in the higher education sector, but because the demand was so great, we knew we wouldn’t get as far as we wanted on our own.

Is this what led you to seek the support of an investment partner?

Essentially, yes. We started exploring options to help fund our growth – especially as we looked to target the professional services sector – and it quickly became apparent that Praetura Ventures would be the perfect fit.

Why did you choose to partner with Praetura Ventures?

The whole process of finding an investment partner was very new to us – and quite stressful to be honest! But so many people we met recommended Praetura Ventures and backed up their ‘more than money’ mantra that I’d seen in the market. When we were introduced to Pete Carway, investment manager at Praetura Ventures, I could see why the team had gathered such a good reputation. In our first meeting, Pete showed a genuine interest in what we were doing, and he was really passionate about helping us see through our vision – something we hadn’t seen from anyone else.

The team at Praetura Ventures truly cares about our goals to tackle workplace bullying and harassment and bring about positive change. It isn’t just about the bottom line for them.

Amplifying the message

How has the current crisis affected the business?

 You couldn’t have written it – we achieved a huge milestone in securing the right investment partner one week, and fast forward to the next, we were all in a national lockdown. Fortunately, we were able to work from home effectively and, with the support of the team at Praetura Ventures, our plans weren’t massively impacted.

Our work during the crisis has taken on a new form, and our platform has become even more critical. With more people working from home, they may feel isolated and experience new challenges, so a support platform is even more valuable. There’s also been a huge cultural moment as well. Business leaders and senior teams really want to create positive and lasting change for their entire organisation.

You’d think that being away from the office would stop workplace harassment, but bullies always find a way. If anything, the work we do is more important now as the harassment is harder to see when we’re not all in the same place. Having a platform for individuals to have access to support is more vital than ever.

How has the team at Praetura Ventures supported you so far?

Having the team at Praetura Ventures behind us has been an enormous help. We were very early-stage as a business when our partnership started, and the guidance that came with the investment was as key as the money itself. We’d join monthly board meetings to update on what’s happened and how we can navigate the tricky times. The whole team was available to us throughout and were great sounding boards, something that’s been invaluable in uncertain times.

The plan after we secured investment was to grow the team and amplify our story to audiences far and wide. Naturally, we became wary as the crisis hit, but we were really encouraged to stick to our plans. Over the last six months, we’ve trebled the size of the organisation from five to 16, hiring four department heads. Kate Norton, Praetura Ventures’ HR director, was instrumental in that.

The team has been helped enormously with putting in place the policies and procedures we needed to scale, and it’s helped us achieve our goals even faster than we would have otherwise. As just one example, Kate worked closely with us to review our HR contracts, business policies and procedures, and advise us on introducing new, streamlined processes. The team also supported us with (virtual) conferences and training with the entire business, sitting in on the sessions to share best practice from a HR perspective.

What does the future hold for Culture Shift?

Now, our main aim is to continue our expansion, especially into new sectors.

We also want to build out our platform with more tools to help remove barriers to reporting abuse, as well as look at how else we can tackle harassment by influencing a positive shift in workplace culture. Our goal is to make a meaningful change in industries, using data to inform how we introduce change and make it last.

For HR tech in general, I’d like to see firms use the data they have in an intelligent, proactive way to help prevent harassment. If we can recognise and understand early indicators of abuse, we can make sure we stop it at source and cut harassment out altogether.

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