Workplace harassment disproportionately affects women with 60 percent of women reporting discrimination related to gender and 33 percent due to their race. When women face workplace harassment, many need help understanding their options and creating an exit strategy. The problem is that they often do not trust their company’s human resources department.

Support from independent human resources is invaluable in these situations. Cierra Gross, founder and CEO of Caged Bird HR, works to improve employees’ lives and work experiences worldwide. Her clients receive advice on possible options and outcomes of an HR-related event in a zero-risk environment. Employees can plan out their next move with an HR professional who can help them think through and consider options they may not have even known were available.

Services include support for resume writing, job offer negotiations, performance improvement plans, HR investigations and exit strategies. The company also offers a free support library that offers email templates, quick reference guides, trainings, webinars and more.  

“Anyone in the United States with a job has access to HR professionals that do not work at their company,” Gross told 21Ninety. “We provide a safe, retaliation-free space for employees to share their experiences and get technically sound HR advice.”

The Role of Internal HR

In principle, human resources is responsible for assessing reports, conducting neutral and impartial investigations and determining policy violations. Gross explains that although impartiality is crucial for the involved parties, it’s important to recognize that human resources’ allegiance lies with the company. 

“Neutrality may not always be a priority,” she said. “HR professionals, driven by legal obligations and company interests, may conduct investigations with inherent biases.” 

When examining the human resource department’s processes, it’s important to consider factors, such as the accused individual’s position within the company and the potential impact on the organization. It is also essential to identify any conscious and unconscious biases.

Prior to founding Caged Bird HR, Gross worked in a corporate human resources department. She conducted more than 30 investigations during that time without receiving any formal training on the process. Gross shares that there was a significant gap in training and incentives to address issues of racism, discrimination, bias and their potential impact on employee interactions and policy violations. 

“Many HR professionals enter the field with the intention of helping employees,” Gross said. “Yet, corporate HR structures often hinder these aspirations.”

Black Women’s Experience in the Workplace

Many women do not report incidents of bullying, harassment or discrimination in the workplace. When Black women reach out to Caged Bird HR, Gross said that 30 percent have not reported anything to their internal human resources department because of the fear of retaliation. 

“HR has often been perceived as prioritizing the company’s interests over employee well-being,” Gross said. “There’s also a noticeable absence of accountability for workplace harm.”

How Toxic Workplaces Impact Health

In March 2024, 99 percent of employees who reached out to Caged Bird HR reported depression, anxiety or increased stress. They have also heard reports of infertility, hair loss, sleep deprivation and negative impacts to their interpersonal and romantic relationships.  

“The work we do [at Caged Bird HR] is increasingly important because we get insight to the issue from several angles,” she said. “We see into the attrition that is happening.” 

They also help employees see when an attrition event is likely to occur before it happens, by leveraging data, human resource expertise and the experiences of other clients. The team educates their clients on how to course correct, protect themselves and plan a beneficial exit.

Increasing Awareness About Independent HR

Gross shares that the goal is to reach as many people as possible because as the world saw with Antoinette “Bonnie” Candia-Bailey. Bailey was a wife, daughter and Lincoln University of Missouri employee who took her own life after reporting bullying. Her story proves that there is much more at stake than a job.

“Most employees don’t have any understanding of their rights or HR in the workplace,” Gross said. “There are people out there right now who are experiencing something they know in their gut isn’t right, but they don’t know what to do about it or who to talk to.”