Every day, it seems, we read reports of workplace sexual harassment. Many of these news or social media pieces attribute the events to lack of knowledge about what’s right or wrong, macho entitlement, or, worse, the stigma of women as inferior beings who are supposed to accept what is happening.
As learning and development professionals, it’s time to reflect on our role in business initiatives beyond delivering training and supporting organizational communications. It’s time for us to see ourselves as owners, advocates, and sponsors of company initiatives to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace because we are the experts on how people learn and communicate. It’s up to us to design and implement solutions that have the desired impact on employee behavior.
Based on the recent statistics and reports that are being published, what we have done so far is not having the intended effect. Why? Most training initiatives are focused on the basics and not on prevention, and many times they’re not taken seriously. They become one more thing we “have to do.”
Now is the time to change this and create training that works. Before planning future initiatives, though, review what you have as a starting point:
• Does your company have a sexual harassment policy in place?
• Is the company enforcing the policy?
• Does the company offer sexual harassment training? If so, how often, for whom, and how effective has it been?
• Are the trainings and communications aligned with the learning styles of employees?
• Are employees at all levels (employees, managers, supervisors, senior management, boards of directors) required to take the training at least once a year?
• Is the training tailored to your industry, culture, geographical location, language, and needs?
• Is the training updated every year with relevant real-life examples?
• What other industry-specific measures does the company take to prevent sexual harassment?
Your company’s sexual harassment policy is the foundation for all initiatives. If your company does not have one, partner with human resources and management to develop one and make sure that it is enforced. The policy must be included in all sexual harassment trainings, whether these are part of employee onboarding or regularly scheduled trainings. It also has to be communicated throughout the company to increase and sustain awareness using all available media, such as posters, electronic bulletin boards, newsletters, and banners, among others. In addition, the policy must be enforced at all times, thus reinforcing the message by taking appropriate action.
In our practice, we have found many examples of companies that opt for off-the-shelf courses on sexual harassment, whether online or face-to-face. These courses tend to offer general information, are not based on the company’s policy, and are not targeted to address the particular needs of the business and its industry. Therefore, we urge you to review them carefully to ensure that they meet your company’s needs and are appropriate for the level of risk your company faces.
Sometimes sexual harassment training is not mandatory across all levels of the organization. We often find shorter versions of the training available for certain groups, such as senior management, under the guise that they are busy or do not have time to attend regular sessions. All employees, regardless of role or tenure need to be aware of this issue and its consequences, however. Further, when supervisors and managers attend trainings with their teams, regardless of having to take a different version also, they become role models and, implicitly, communicate and reinforce the importance of this issue for them, their teams, and the business.
Courses are often designed and delivered under the assumption that all participants will learn and retain information in the same way. Often seen as an issue of compliance unless an incident forces the organization to take remedial action, these trainings do not receive the attention they deserve when it comes to targeting different learning styles and using delivery methods that engage learners in meaningful ways, even if the content is rather similar every year. Many times, these courses become presentations rather than learning experiences or, if they are delivered online, “click and check the box” where participants just go through the motions with little or no personal investment in retaining the information. No wonder such courses have low levels of impact.
All employees need to understand what is sexual harassment, what their options are if they are victims of it, and what the company will do about it. However, supervisors and managers have the additional responsibility of handling complaints and enforcing the company’s policy.
Based on our practice, we recommend including the following in your training design:
• what respect means in the company
• what are examples of courtesy
• what behaviors are not allowed
• how to address sexual content in conversations, situations, or incidents
• how to report sexual harassment incidents promptly
• how to manage sexual harassment complaints
• specific actions to prevent harassment in the workplace
Remember: Sexual harassment training should not be limited to an event that takes place once a year. It’s about prevention, safety, and avoiding risk—and it’s about the business.
© 2018 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.