Question: Do we vilify men in harassment training?
Think about that for a moment. Do we use more man-on-woman examples? (Probably.) Do we need to change this? Yes. Harassment training is for everybody because everybody could harass. According to a recent poll, one in seven men has experienced harassment at work. So, we can’t ignore men and their experiences just because so many women have similar experiences.
It is possible (and maybe even likely) that we’ve created an environment surrounding harassment training that we’ve alienated men or have come across as attacking them. If this is the case, we should be criticized. And, we should do better. Here’s how I think we can do this:
Know our audience. Every training should be customized to the workplace. If the scenarios don’t feel real, the training won’t have an impact. Because we have men in our workplaces, we can’t exclude their experience (and fear) from our training. We should address it, and give a workable framework on what we expect from them.
Start with respect. Often in trainings, I hear the statement, “I can’t even compliment a woman anymore.” This comment comes from a man, usually over 40, who is sitting with his arms crossed, angry that he even needs to be in the room. I turn to him and say, “There’s a difference between ‘That dress is very nice on you’ and ‘That dress hugs you in all the right ways.’” He nods, and if I’m lucky, he chuckles a bit. I then say, “We’re here to talk about that difference.” That difference is respect.
For all of you labor lawyers cringing at this, listen up! We live in a society where respect is under a near constant barrage. We can’t operate in workplaces where respect and integrity aren’t at the core of what we are. Without respect, we don’t get innovation. So, we should make respect the cornerstone of our training. Our employees want respect. They expect and deserve respect. Starting our training talking about respect is what we must do. If every conversation was respectful, we wouldn’t have harassment.
Have diverse examples. Women-on-women harassment happens. Men-on-men harassment happens. So, we should have diverse examples. Some of my best examples – examples that result in the most discussion – are man-on-man and woman-on-man. We want to have a discussion and a bit of uncomfortableness. Because we learn when we experience and are at least a bit uncomfortable, the discussion has any chance to really make a difference.
Use the whole scale of harassment. Include examples of calling someone “sweetheart” or “man candy.” Talk about staring, dirty jokes, and racial epithets. You can talk about kissing, hugging, and even assault too, but ignoring the subtle stuff ignores where most harassment starts. We don’t want this.
Ask, “what would you do?” We should put our employees in the uncomfortable position of asking them what they would do. You may be surprised by the responses. Then, we should explain what we want them to do. We don’t have to change their personalities to get between a harasser and his/her victim, but we should at least explain who we want them to tell.
Harassment training should mirror the tone of our workplaces. It should set expectations and be meaningful for employees and managers. It should make our employees contemplate their conduct without making them feel bad.
One more point: Ladies, we don’t get to objectify men at work. I’ve heard the argument that men have objectified women for a long time, so women should get to objectify men as a matter of fairness or even that they like it (uff da). But like India has to grow green while we polluted for decades, we have to do the right thing. We can’t objectify them either. Enjoy a Magic Mike movie, but you can’t bring the poster into the office. Ok?
This evening, I get to talk about trends in harassment training. I’ve very excited (and a more than a bit nervous) about this. Eliminating man-bashing will be one of the trends along with bystander and civility components, manager focus, and welcomeness elimination. Any others you think I should talk about?