Who here provides sexual harassment training for managers and employees? Who here thinks their training prevents sexual harassment in their workplace? Who here is confident that their managers know what to do to prevent harassment? Who here is confident that sexual harassment could never happen in your workplace because you have a policy and you’ve trained?
Let’s be honest. No one is confident that your workplace is 100% harassment-free simply because you have a policy and have provided training. (Heck, if that’s how training and policies worked, we’d never have poor performance or discipline issues.) We know that harassment can happen in spite of our policies and trainings. We even read articles that suggest harassment training can have a negative effect the workplace. So, should we stop training? No. Absolutely not.
Don’t lose hope in training. Lose hope in bad training. Here’s what makes training good:
It’s live. A live training invites conversation. Conversation invites questions. We want people to ask us questions. It is a rare video that actually sparks conversation afterward, so if you are going to video, make sure you check in with folks after they’ve watched it or that the video includes a live (studio) audience.
It’s couched in respect. We know that harassment has a lot to do with power dynamics in the workplace and/or a lack of respect. The training should reflect that. I joke that harassment violates a lot of the rules we learned in Kindergarten – keep your hands to yourself, treat each other nicely, say sorry – and to a large extent that’s true. If we treated everyone with respect, harassment wouldn’t be a problem. Spend some time talking about respect and what that means for your workplace. Hint: This is the civility piece the EEOC wants.
It’s customized to the workplace. Managers and employees need to see themselves in the scenarios posed by the training. It is important that the training be relatable enough that it makes people feel uncomfortable. We learn in the uncomfortable. A manufacturing facility needs a factory line example. Software companies need software development examples. A bank needs banking examples. A retail establishment has an employee-customer example. I can’t stress enough how important this is. For hospitality clients, I’m using this video.
We play a game from my favorite podcast where the audience or I can stop the video at any point and talk about what we saw. This video is so great because it has a gradual increase in severity until the big incident. It sparks a lot of conversation – great conversation.
The trainer asks questions. What would you do if you saw this? Would you step in? Do you have to? What does the company want you to do? What if this happened to you? These are the kinds of bystander questions that the EEOC wants to see in harassment training. Even if the audience is hesitant to raise their hands, they are answering in their heads and waiting to see what someone else might say. I’m happy with answering in your head because you’re answering. If the audience can see themselves in the scenario and are asked what they would do, they’ll remember that feeling when they’re actually in a situation.
Acknowledge the fear. There is a lot of fear about harassment. Men are afraid to compliment a female co-worker on her dress. Companies are banning hugging. A good trainer will tackle this fear head-on, explaining there’s a difference between “you look nice today” and “hey baby, that dress hugs you in all the right ways.” Spending time talking about the fear and how to handle it can make people feel more comfortable with their own conduct and be more willing to talk to each other.
Folks learn who to talk to. We don’t need the audience to remember the ins and outs of harassment law – we only need them to remember what is problematic and who to talk to. They need to know that HR is here to listen to them and if they’re uncomfortable with reporting the situation to HR, they can talk to any manager. So, HR (and a member of upper management) should be there so the trainer can point to them. “These are the people who will drop everything if you walk into their office with a concern about harassment.” Employees and managers need to know they are not alone with this, and the organization really, really wants to hear from them.
Training cannot be the only thing an organization does to prevent harassment. It takes a culture where employees trust managers and feel comfortable talking about these issues without fear of losing their jobs. That takes much more than training. But, training is an important piece of this.
I am doing a great deal of harassment training these days in response to #MeToo and #TimesUp. While I wish these movements did not have to exist, I’m happy organizations are spending the time and resources to do the training. Consider it for yours.