Meet The Tech Founder Working To Make Women’s Commutes Safer

By Bianca Barratt

In today’s workplace, it’s not unusual for employees to find themselves leaving work late into the night. Whether it’s due to working late shifts, attending events, or simply socializing with colleagues, walking alone in the dark – either to get to public transport or a final destination – is almost unavoidable. For women and other marginalised communities in particular, this means exposing themselves regularly to the possibility of harassment and even violence – in fact, according to the Office of National Statistics, almost 50% of women feel unsafe walking alone after dark in a busy public space compared to less than 20% of men.

For Emma Kay, this was unacceptable. Having experienced catcalling, harassment, groping and being followed throughout her lifetime, she was moved in 2020 to found and launch an app that brings together a suite of interactive tools aimed at keeping people safe whilst they walk. Three years on from that initial launch and almost a million users later, WalkSafe is now also offering a Pro version, giving employers the opportunity to better safeguard their staff en route to and from work.

A bolt on to the original WalkSafe app specifically designed for businesses, WalkSafe Pro allows managers to monitor (with consent) the journeys of employees. The platform provides 5 manager accounts per location, an SOS alarm, employees ‘in case of emergency’ contacts as well as the capability to link the SOS alert to a third party provider, such as internal security guards.

Simply put, employees insert the address of their destination to the app, which connects with their manager’s app. Managers are then able to see in real time the movement of that person until they reach their destination. If something happens – for example, that staff member doesn’t reach their destination, they are delayed in reaching it or they press the SOS button, their manager is immediately alerted and is then able to action help.

This comes after the reporting of more violent crimes in the UK, which has left people feeling less safe. “Fear was at an all time high after the murder of Sarah Everard and the team at WalkSafe kept hearing stories of managers across the UK walking employees to their cars or the nearby station after work,” Emma recalls, “and whilst this might be admirable, it’s not sustainable longterm. It got us thinking about how we could create something that would fulfil those needs whilst being cost effective and easy to use.”

This, it seems, is where the core issue lies. Late-night commutes are a common aspect of many people’s jobs, but whilst employers might like to prioritize their employees’ safety during these commutes, they often lack the necessary resources to do so. There are also concerns around responsibility, and whose it is if an employee is exposed to a potentially dangerous situation on the streets. In the UK at present, an employer’s duty of care ends as soon as their staff leaves the premises, but there are factors beyond legislation that businesses should consider before turning their backs.

Research conducted by WalkSafe shows that 46% of employees think their employers should take more responsibility for their safety when they commute to and from work and 65% of Gen Z respondents would be more attracted to a role at a company which has such initiatives in place. Emma is also convinced that these numbers will increase.

“Due to high inflation and the cost of living crisis, we believe these numbers will only continue to rise. These contributing factors mean more and more people are being forced to walk instead of taking taxis, and therefore need something to help them do so safely. Sadly violence against women and girls is still an epidemic here in the UK. If forward thinking companies implement life saving technology such as WalkSafe Pro into their company culture, this will increase staff retention and wellbeing.”

Calling the emergency services in the case of danger should still be the priority for employers, so initiatives such WalkSafe Pro, Emma says, should be seen as more of a “safety net” than a catch-all solution.

With businesses across the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors set to onboard the technology, including one of the UK’s leading boutique gyms, 1Rebel, Emma is on a mission to encourage more employers to take up the charge.

“Employers who care about the welfare of their staff can rest in the knowledge that not only are they morally doing the right thing, they will also be attracting the right people to their roles.

“We believe acknowledging dangers and providing cost effective solutions is better than pretending they don’t exist.”

There was a lot of pushback when the trend for quiet quitting emerged last year, but employers can’t have it both ways. If they want their staff to go ‘above and beyond,’ to take up the slack as they make recession-proofing cuts and engage with their colleagues in bonding activities that go on out of office hours, all in the name of showing enthusiasm, they also have to accept responsibility.

It costs more to hire people than retain them and if employers don’t demonstrate to staff that they take their duty seriously, they’ll lose more in the long run.