Does Sexual Harassment Training Work?
In a nutshell: yes... if done right!
We talked about the reasons why sexual harassment training is important here and here. If you want to create a positive and supportive workplace culture-- one that leads to a happier staff, and better staff retention, productivity, and creativity, it’s a no-brainer (and in some states, regular training is required by law). But too often companies are simply focused on compliance and liability, or “checking the sexual harassment training box”.
The irony is that trainings done with the outcome of checking the box (over creating a positive workplace culture) are proven to be ineffective. Unfortunately, many trainings currently fit this description and that’s why sexual harassment trainings often get a bad rap-- lots of boring legaleze with a focus only on compliance. Who wants a boring, ineffective program that wastes everyone’s time? You sure don’t, and your employees don’t either!
So, what DOES work in sexual harassment training?
Trainings should be regular
One and done is not enough when it comes to sexual harassment training. It is also not enough to entirely change the culture of your organization. Want to create a positive culture in your organization? It’s going to take time. And the more challenges you currently have, the longer it will take to undo your problematic organizational systems and the problematic assumptions and behaviors of staff. Several states now require that employees be trained shortly after their hire and regularly after that (a similar bill recently passed the RI House and is onto the Senate). But the bare minimum won’t cut it if you need to make real change.
Trainings should be conversational
Interactive (preferably in-person) trainings are best. Rote memorization of terms and off-the-shelf trainings are not going to cut it. Conversations with coworkers and quality responsive and adaptive facilitation are key in an effective training. While some of this can be achieved through an interactive online training, most employees would prefer an engaging in-person training.
Trainings should use real-life examples and roleplays
You will likely NOT be shocked to hear that the terrible, cheesy sexual harassment videos of yesteryear are totally ineffective (*ahem*). Employees want to talk about REAL situations that really happen. Videos with bad acting are distracting and make it look like sexual harassment isn’t really a serious topic. What works? Real conversations about microaggressions or subtle nuances in behavior that can set the stage for harassment. Employees can talk about those dynamics and work it out themselves. Then they can roleplay positive responses to actually have a chance to practice what it might be like to respond more actively/as an active bystander.
Trainings should be for both staff and management
Sexual harassment training, gender equity training, diversity and inclusion training… all of these need have support from the top of your organization. If management does not support these efforts (or even worse, model negative behavior themselves), change is never going to happen. Companies who do not have this support from the top should just sit tight and wait for sexual harassment complaints to come in, because if they haven’t yet-- they will (not to mention staff leaving due to a poor workplace culture). And not only will they be bad for the victim and overall company morale, they will be expensive and bad for you and your brand.
Trainings should be only one part of your solution
Yes, trainings are important so all of your staff are on the same page. But trainings are not effective in a vacuum. Policies, hiring practices, and longstanding workplace norms play a huge role in supporting the impact of trainings. Trainings are a crucial part of transforming your workplace culture, but they are just one part.
Now’s the time to get moving and run sexual harassment trainings-- the right way! Our culture and your employees are talking about it. Staff and clients/customers are moving towards organizations who care deeply about their workplace culture. Don’t let your company get left behind.