Sexual harassment prevention has become a hot topic for the training industry, partly because of recent events in the news and partly because of recent changes in laws. In California, Governor Jerry Brown just signed a law that requires regular training on the prevention of sexual harassment and abusive conduct in the workplace. It goes into effect January 1, 2020 – just over a year away. New York State also now requires annual harassment prevention training, and the deadline to meet the requirement has recently passed.
States are passing more stringent laws regarding sexual harassment training. And, more companies are also choosing to adjust their policy to deliver more extensive sexual harassment training to employees.
Right now, many workplaces consider sexual harassment prevention a box to check during onboarding and never address it again. Newer laws that are being developed ask workplaces to make this training recurrent and more intensive. But sexual harassment prevention shouldn’t just be a box to check for any company. It’s a pervasive issue in American workplaces that disproportionately affects women and creates toxic situations that range from mere discomfort to intimidation, manipulation, and physical and emotional trauma.
Workplaces that address the comfort and safety of their employees as well as their skills and productivity are more likely to have healthy, productive workplaces that enjoy the benefits of confident and well-balanced employees. Workplaces that fail to address it may lose the perspective and talents of great employees and create a work environment rife with possible issues or even lawsuits.
Whether you already have a program in place that you would like to update, or you want to develop a new sexual harassment prevention training program, here are some things to consider in the process:
1. Address nuance
Training that addresses only the more obvious examples of sexual harassment has a couple of disadvantages. First, employees may not see the point and become disengaged, especially if it’s more of the “same old, same old.” They will complete the training unchanged.
Second, you might not cover more nuanced situations that make people uncomfortable in the workplace. For example, many people may understand that uninvited touching is inappropriate, but do not understand that sexual jokes or certain comments on appearance may also cross a line.
Harassment can be a problem when people don’t have examples of appropriate ways to handle situations more complex than the most obvious. In these cases, training won’t be effective if the trainer isn’t comfortable working through the nitty-gritty and having difficult conversations about confusing areas and interactions.
2. Adapt the training to situations your workers can relate to
Think about the type of environment that your workers are in on a daily basis. Those who stand at a cash register will encounter very different situations than those who work at a cubicle. When talking about examples or situations, make sure rules of thumb for conduct apply to what the learners’ everyday workplace is like. How learners should deal with sexual harassment from customers or clients may differ from how they should deal with it coming from a peer, or from a supervisor.
3. Make it personal
Sometimes understanding why it’s so important to refrain from certain behaviors for the sake of promoting a work culture that prevents sexual harassment requires real conversations and empathy. One trainer tried an exercise that involved sending men home to ask the women in their lives about their experiences with sexual harassment. When they returned, they were much more engaged and empathetic. Talking about things that actually happen to people you know can make you understand a problem much more thoroughly. Creating a safe space for people to talk about their own experiences will go a long way in making learners feel like this is something they need to address in their day to day lives, rather than a distant problem that doesn’t affect them.
Individuals may feel that sexual harassment prevention training does not apply to them because they don’t harass themselves, but making it personal can help individuals see how they can stop enabling cultural attitudes that contribute to an environment that permits harassment. It will also better prepare them for responding well if they do see or hear something negative that has occurred.
4. Decide how to measure the success of the training
At eLogic Learning, we’re big fans of making sure that you decide during course planning how you will measure the success of the course. Understanding what goals you want to achieve via the course will help you plan a training program that suits your company. If you are aware of problems that already exist in your company or gaps of knowledge, then make your goals related to what you witness in your own company culture.
One way to set a baseline for these goals is to conduct a survey on beliefs about sexual harassment in the workplace before creating any training. This will help you understand what the training should focus on, and will enable you to measure how those beliefs change after the training.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a sensitive topic, which makes it uncomfortable to address head on. Workplaces often slide past the topic in an attempt to avoid the discomfort, but that kind of attitude only further enables toxic workplace culture. Hopefully these tips will help you find the motivation to open up a conversation about sexual harassment that will benefit everyone.