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How Can Sexual Harassment Training Be More Effective?

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Here are six things that you can do

How can sexual harassment training be more effective?

Sexual harassment training has come under fire following the wave of high-profile scandals that began last year and this shows no signs of stopping.  A question facing many HR professionals is, “Why isn’t sexual harassment training working?”

Perhaps a better question is, “Are you taking the right approach to sexual harassment training?” When done right, training is an effective way to raise awareness and change behavior, which can reduce and prevent incidents of workplace sexual harassment

Here are six things that you can do to rethink and strengthen your sexual harassment training:

  1. Make sexual harassment training a high priority.
    To have a positive impact, sexual harassment training should be a strategic priority – not just another item on a check-off list for new employees. Frequency and timing matter. Requiring that all employees participate in training on a regular basis – including the CEO, executive management and board – sends a strong message that sexual harassment training is worthy of everyone’s time and attention, and plays an essential role in maintaining a healthy, productive, harassment-free culture.  
  2. Focus on changing behaviors and attitudes.
    It’s generally agreed that when the goal of sexual harassment training is to help companies defend themselves against sexual harassment claims, it is not going to be successful in stopping hostile and abusive behavior in the workplace.  That was the model 30 years ago. Today, to be effective, sexual harassment training should focus on changing unacceptable behaviors and attitudes, developing awareness of the different types of harassment and retaliation, and ensuring employees know how to respond to and report misconduct appropriately.  
  3. Tell real stories, instead of lecturing.
    A common complaint about traditional compliance training is that it’s out of touch with a tech savvy workforce with short attention spans. A better approach is to replace boring, static content and legal jargon with authentic situations that employees can connect to emotionally. Effective anti-harassment training takes advantage of eLearning technologies to immerse employees in interactive video scenarios that can have a powerful impact and spark conversations long after the training is completed.  
  4. Incorporate bystander intervention and civility training.
    Encouraging and rewarding positive behavior and attitudes is essential in driving cultural change. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that bystander intervention and civility training can stop abusive conduct before it becomes illegal harassment by providing employees with specific skills on how to act with respect in the workplace and how to intervene when they observe unacceptable behavior.
  5. Encourage employees to report harassment.
    Effective sexual harassment training should underscore your organization’s commitment  to take all complaints seriously, and encourage employees to report any incidents of harassment. Training is also an excellent way to educate employees on your complaint process and reporting options, and reinforce your goal to make it convenient and comfortable for employees, in all locations, to report harassment and retaliation.
  6. Make sexual harassment training a crucial part of your anti-harassment/anti-discrimination program.
    In your written anti-harassment policy and communications to all employees, partners and third parties, emphasize that it’s everyone’s responsibility to complete sexual harassment training, and that your organization does not tolerate any form of verbal or physical sexual harassment or retaliation.

Traliant Insight

While there are no quick fixes to the pervasive problem of workplace sexual harassment, more organizations are now rethinking their approach to dealing with it, and are making sexual harassment training a priority for employees and at every level. Although every organization is different, a common theme is emerging: to be effective, sexual harassment training must be relevant and relatable to your employees and specific workplace, and be an integral part of your overall efforts to cultivate a healthy, positive environment, where employees feel respected by their managers and colleagues, and empowered to speak up and report harassment whenever they see or experience it.

For more information, view our course on Preventing Discrimination and Harassment.

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