Rethinking Sexual Harassment Training

By Austin Baker

If you have not seen the Saturday Night Live skit featuring “Claire the HR lady,” you need to watch it. (Actually, it is NSFW so before you Google it from your desktop, remember your policy and wait until you get home!) She walks in, flustered with a CVS receipt plastered to her neck, because she had to eat her lunch there as she is overworked and nearly burnt out. And now she has to remind people how to act again. Weren’t we supposed to get this training at home? It’s no wonder she was exasperated.

It’s no surprise to HR that sexual harassment is as prevalent as it is, but we can’t deny the current wave of public scandals that are raising the awareness of improper behavior and emboldening more and more individuals to come forward. Individuals in organizations are having conversations about all that is going on and it is our job as HR professional to lead and facilitate these discussions.

HR has been doing training around this for years, so we definitely need to look in the mirror on this subject and ask “what more can we do,” or better yet, maybe we should be asking different questions altogether. If we were to rethink sexual harassment training, what new approaches should we take? Here are a few primers to consider.

Is our training perpetrator focused or victim focused? Jeff Weintraub, a highly experienced employment attorney for Fisher & Phillips, says, “Sexual-harassment training over the years hasn’t been as effective as it should’ve been, as it’s been focused on a list of don’ts and on dealing with the harassers.  I believe that the key to eradicating sexual harassment in the workplace is for management to focus on and support the victims of sexual harassment.  The #MeToo movement has been sparked by victims coming forward—this just might be the beginning of a real solution.”

Are we tying the training to our values? Values aren’t real until they are tested and lived. Sexual harassment is an important litmus test for healthy workplace culture and boundaries. What actions are taken when it is reported, and how people are hired and fired should be related to the values of the organization. We need to start from the top down in adhering to our values, otherwise we will be wasting our time.

Are we providing any guidance about how to talk about this at work? Amy Gallo recently wrote a great article in the Harvard Business Review about how to talk about sexual harassment at work. She helps both genders rethink how they share and express their views by asking us to reduce our biases, and to open up and think about our responses before the conversation even begins – because there is a decent chance that the conversation will happen if it hasn’t already.

Is the training engaging in the right way? All too often training programs are individuals talking to a subject rather than truly engaging. Make sure the training is creating a psychologically safe environment for people to engage instead of mentally check out. Are we, for instance, infusing emotional intelligence and awareness into the conversation and talking about how our brains work and how to help control our impulses – or are we just listing do’s and don’ts on a stale slide presentation?

How gender diverse is our management and core structure? Studies show that proximity creates empathy and acceptance and male-dominated power structures over the long term can contribute to a harassment-tolerant or even promotional cultures. For example, some well-researched individuals contend that promoting and hiring more females into the core of the business – addressing the traditional gender imbalance that exists in many companies – can reduce the instances of sexual harassment. Addressing traditional gender imbalance purposefully isn’t only good business, it can tangibly contribute to more positive and healthy workplace environments.

It is time to rethink sexual harassment training, but we need to be looking for the right questions to ask. Otherwise, we will be in the same place as we are now, with not much to show after all these years of rote, “do’s and don’ts”-oriented training.

About the Author- Austin Baker is the President of HRO Partners a Human Resources Consulting, Managed Services and Technology Firm with an emphasis in Benefit Administration and Enrollment. HRO Partners is a fast-growing provider of Benefit Enrollment Solution that works with many strategic vendor partners. In the past year HRO Partners has saved their clients over 220 Million with their innovative benefit strategies and managed services deployments. Their team boasts more than a 96% average satisfaction score with employees and their clients. For more information, call Baker at 1-866-822-0123, visit www.hro-partners.com or connect with the company at www.facebook.com/hropartners, http://www.linkedin.com/in/jaustinbaker or http://twitter.com/jaustinbaker