3 steps to impactful sexual harassment prevention training
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
#MeToo has had a significant impact on organizational awareness of pervasive harassment issues. The number of states implementing sexual harassment prevention training requirements continues to increase, as does the number of progressive organizations offering training regardless of external requirements.
But does all this training do anything to address the problem? Here are three steps to increase the chances it does.
Make it so, No. 1
The first and most critical step is to provide training regularly, to all staff, and tie it directly to internal policies against harassment. (If the organization has no policies against harassment, then step one should be creating them and step two should be providing training to support employee understanding.)
There is a proliferation of online options, workshops and any number of attorneys and consultants willing to provide interactive sexual harassment prevention training with options to fit any budget. Whether or not our organization is required to provide training, we should find a way to offer it and make it mandatory for all employees.
While not all training options are good, we cannot use that as an excuse to delay providing training. Instead, there are two important points to remember.
First, bad training is still in most cases better than no training. Second, even the best training is not sufficient for ensuring a culture free from sexual harassment. Offering training is just step one in a multistep process.
After providing training, a great way to make sure it has an ongoing impact is to reiterate the lessons learned. Whether each employee takes a class online, independently or everyone is in a group session, training provides a common vocabulary for discussions around harassment prevention.
As leaders, we can refer back to these terms and lessons to support a culture of understanding and open communication around harassment.
For example, reiterating key concepts from the training before a corporate event to help employees understand their rights and obligations related to harassment keeps employees informed and the lines of communication open should an issue occur. The idea is that employees must feel they have a way and are supported in raising potential issues.
Providing training as a tool and a common vocabulary around harassment-related issues lay the groundwork for a harassment-free workplace. However, some workplaces may fail being harassment-free because the employees may be indifferent to harassing behaviors.
In other words, a team may technically exhibit behaviors and use terms that could be considered harassment but for whatever reason, they have embraced it as part of their culture and thus it seems no one is offended.
The problem is that the behavior still has to stop. Customers, employees on other teams or vendors may witness the behavior and feel uncomfortable with it. Or, a team member could have a change of heart and no longer enjoy comments to which he may have previously been indifferent.
Thus, to help ensure training is effective and the lines of communication remain open, we must consistently apply expectations across the organization.
The bottom line is harassing behavior is not acceptable in the workplace. To increase the chances that sexual harassment prevention training can have a positive impact, we must offer it regularly to all staff; embrace and continue the conversation it starts; and acknowledge that, even if it seems no one is bothered by potentially harassing behavior, it is still not acceptable in the workplace.
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