We Need to Overhaul Sexual Harassment Training
Can we start with the old white guy instructors?
Today, I was talking to a friend who recently had to go through a training at his work on sexual-harassment. He found it exceptionally annoying and felt nobody got anything out of the training. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t felt the same way about the same kind of training.
Most people would rather fake a collapsed lung than sit through another session about what isn’t appropriate in the workplace. Like, writhing on the floor, willing to pay for an ambulance level of avoidance.
We need to overhaul this. There’s a few reasons why current sexual-harassment training seminars don’t work.
We keep stating the obvious
It’s the same information over and over again. There are certain things you shouldn’t have remind people are inappropriate to say or do in the workplace.
It’s not news in any way that slapping a coworker on their ass at work is not appropriate behavior. No one is having an “a-ha” moment with that. Yet, we focus on reminding people of this. Notwithstanding, the kind of people that would slap somebody on the ass in an elevator at work don’t care what is told to them inside of a seminar.
Being given this magical information isn’t going to automatically change some kind of wiring in their body that will make them immediately recognize what they’re doing is wrong.
Women as the victim focus
The second issue is that sexual-harassment training frequently focuses solely on the woman as the victim. The friend of mine who currently went through training showed me a handout from his company. There were two items on the list of 10 “don’ts” that were behaviors addressed only to men. One was that a man should never be in a situation where he is alone with a girl.
I find it how absolutely aggravating the handout actually referred to women as girls.
If I would’ve been there, I probably would have been fired for doing things like raising my hand and asking questions like whether these rules applied to women over the age of 18 as well as girls under the age of 18. Did we plan on hiring fifth graders that we needed to refer to the employees as girls?
Men are undoubtedly victims of sexual harassment, as well. They are often victims of a double standard that assumes women are harmless creatures in the workplace.
The reality is that many men feel uncomfortable in the workplace as a result of actions or statements made my female coworkers. I’d be willing to bet that most men don’t speak up. They’re taught that being the victim is something reserved for the “weaker sex” that can’t defend themselves.
We need a new round of instructors
I’m certain the terminology that frustrated me stems from the fact that they had an old white guy teaching the seminar. The minute I saw the handout, I knew. I’m not being ageist. I’m merely pointing out that the majority of their time in the workplace has been a very different world than the one we live in now.
I think in order to have effective training in this area, you need to have an instructor that appears to be a member of most employees’ peer group. It lends credibility. Not only that, but it makes them relatable. A training taught by a man in his early 30s is going to come across very differently than one taught by a man in his 60s.
The disease is ignored while we treat the symptoms
Most sexual harassment training focuses on the what, but not the why. You can tell a group of men that they shouldn’t put themselves or a woman in the position where they are they only two people in the room. But, if you ignore the reason why and how this can be an issue, it’s a disservice.
Men and women in the workplace need to understand how the other experiences the workplace and why threats are real or perceived. It’s a broader conversation that we’re not having because most training focuses on talking at employees instead of with them.
I have been in plenty of work situations where men in the room have made comments of a sexual nature, in general and not necessarily directly at me, that have made me horrible uncomfortable. I had a boss that sat next to me in a meeting and made mention of the “secret vault” of pictures he had on his phone of his girlfriend.
You could tell him nine ways to Sunday that such comments aren’t appropriate but unless you can get him to understand why it makes a woman’s skin crawl, it will never sink in.
If we’re to create safe environments for people to work, we need to start with deeper conversation. We shouldn't’ treat sexual harassment training as a way to protect yourself from getting fired or sued. Stop glossing over real issues with handouts, slides, videos and lectures. We need to get to the why. We’ve come a long way, baby, but we have so much farther to go.