workingmums.co.uk speaks to Emma Kay, founder of WalkSafe, the personal safety app, who is up for an award at this year’s everywoman awards.
Just over two years ago, when she was pregnant with her second child Emma Kay was sitting round the family dinner table discussing her experiences as a woman, having to constantly think about her personal safety when walking home. Living in a big city, she says she has faced unwanted attention from men since she was 12 and having to walk home from school. Her husband and his brother who had grown up in the countryside were shocked to hear what it was like for her, and for many other women.
From that conversation a family passion project sprang up – WalkSafe. Along with other members of the family, Emma’s dad, a former police officer, is chairman. Emma’s own background is in marketing. Her brother-in-law is a tech expert.
Very quickly the passion project – an app which provides safety information in order to help people plan safer routes homes – exploded as a result of high-profile cases, including the murder of Sarah Everard. “There was a sliding door moment when I was called to do a tv interview. I had never done anything like that before. I knew that if I did it everything would be different, but I could have decided not to. I did it and from that moment on it took off,” she says. Emma has done a lot of talks on gender-based violence and her app was downloaded half a million times in just 10 days. She now lives, eats and breathes WalkSafe and her dedication and drive has seen her be shortlisted for this year’s everywoman Tech Innovator Award.
She says: “So many men do not get how it feels to be a woman and what we go through.” That’s even after #MeToo. Emma is keen to encourage male allies, but says it is much harder to reach the men who don’t engage with the issue or continue to blame the victims or play down violence. “It’s not all men, but it affects all women,” she states.
Emma has also been working with employers to raise awareness about personal safety issues for staff, particularly young people working late or early. She thinks many employers turn a blind eye to the dangers some of their staff may face. She says she is used to confronting people who don’t take the issues seriously. She says three years ago she was laughed at for bringing up issues of personal safety, but that has changed due to recent high-profile cases.
WalkSafe’s products include The WalkSafe+ app allows users to share their journey plan with loved ones. WalkSafe Pro is for employers which enables employees to share commuter journeys or just their time of arrival and sends automatic alerts if employees do not arrive home on time. The website states: “For industries such as hospitality, late night walks home can be completely unavoidable, and a safety initiative like WalkSafe Pro can make employees feel safer at work, improving staff happiness and retention.”
“It means employees can get help straight away if they are at risk,” says Emma. “It’s a cost effective way to protect your staff. A no brainer. Some employers don’t care until something awful happens. Then they get it. We are trying to get to them before this happens.”
She adds: “They do worry about health and safety issues, but personal safety should also be a mandatory issue whether someone is a cleaner or an executive.”
WalkSafe also offers personal safety webinars and a safety map which plots venues like pubs, bars and restaurants where staff have Ask for Angela and safety training or which are LGBTQ+ safe as well as places where you can recharge your phone. Earlier this year it worked with Budweiser on a campaign, ‘Get every Bud home safe’, which aimed to help people identify safer routes home and highlighted crime-dense areas to avoid, the goal being to make going out to the pub a more attractive experience. It is also collaborating with local councils and Business Improvement Districts to bring together data on safe spaces, particularly in relation to the night-time economy. The first initiative in Bradford aimed to drive footfall to businesses that had had safety training, for instance, in addressing drink spiking. Emma says she wants to encourage and signpost businesses to get more training in personal safety issues.
WalkSafe has also worked on mapping crime hotspots through bringing data together, although Emma says simply looking at numbers of crimes committed doesn’t show the whole story.
Future plans include developing a facility for app users to log low-level public offences, such as cat calling and harassment in or outside venues, so that that can be fed back to businesses.
It is also working with universities to identify safe spaces on campus and plot the position of security guards who can help in an emergency.
While it has been a whirlwind since the app was set up in terms of demand for the app, WorkSafe is hard work keeping up to date with technological advances. WalkSafe has a high-end developer, who Emma calls a “tech wizard”, who ensures the app can keep evolving in line with those advances, particularly in relation to user experience.
Emma acknowledges that the last two years since launch have been very hard and draining due to the speed of its success. And she says it can be lonely as a founder and particularly tough as a mum who is endeavouring to put her children, aged two and four, first. Her own mum helps out with childcare four days a week. She works from home most of the time, but has been travelling a lot recently to promote WalkSafe.
Emma is seeking another round of investment to expand so she can bring in more help and have more time to make longer-term strategic decisions.
She says it is hard to find time to look back and see how far the app has come. She thinks demand will only increase – particularly in the darker winter months and with fewer people having the money for cabs. And she says more and more employers are coming on board with WalkSafe Pro, which has recently received endorsement from a long-standing security company. “More and more employees want to feel that their employers care about their safety. Generation Z are so vocal. Our research shows that they feel their employer needs to care about them,” she says.
*The everywoman Awards take place in London on 6th December.