In a study by the Association for Talent Development (ATD), 71% of HR professionals said their company conducts sexual harassment prevention training. Meanwhile, 92% of U.S. adults believe changes need to be made to eliminate sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, with 44% saying better sexual harassment training is the key.
So, while most organizations already have anti-harassment training programs in place, statistics show that they just aren’t cutting it.
Clearly, we still have some work to do.
Why sexual harassment training is broken
Traditional sexual harassment training programs and policies are ineffective because they focus on the wrong issue. Aimed at reducing a company’s legal liability, most training now is centered on the compliance aspects of sexual harassment—not on changing the organization’s cultural dynamics.
But sexual harassment isn’t a problem rooted in compliance—it’s an issue rooted in the misuse and abuse of power. Having employees watch a 30-minute video on how to file a complaint if they experience sexual harassment isn’t going to stop harassment from happening in the first place. To do that, organizations need to cultivate a culture where inclusion, diversity and equity are valued and respected. Sexual harassment is a cultural problem and, as such, the training—from the methods to the content to the targeted outcomes—need to reflect that.
So, how can HR and talent leaders make sexual harassment training more effective in creating a harassment-free culture?
Improving the effectiveness of sexual harassment training
Here are four actions you can take immediately to improve your sexual harassment training program, making it more adept at actually preventing and eliminating workplace harassment:
Expand the list of topics covered
Sexual harassment training should be more than a one-hour course aimed at helping employees and managers identify sexual harassment. Since sexual harassment is a cultural issue, the curricula should also include training on topics like diversity, inclusion, and how bystanders can effectively speak up when they witness sexual harassment.
Another important issue to educate employees on is unconscious bias. In order to effect change and curb harassment, it’s vital that employees recognize how the hidden biases we all carry can impact workplace decisions. White men, for example, are typically in more senior roles within an organization, given more promotions and higher salaries. In fact, of the CEOs who lead the companies on the Fortune 500 list, only 24 are women. But are men innately better leaders? Of course not! That’s unconscious bias at work. And by giving employees learning opportunities to understand and manage implicit biases and gender-based stereotypes, HR leaders can help create a more inclusive workplace culture.
Incorporate informal and formal content
We’ve all worked for companies whose sexual harassment training consisted of archaic videos filled with over-acted and slightly contrived scenarios. Giving employees access to engaging, informal learning content can be a great supplement to your formal training courses, helping you modernize your approach to learning.
Especially in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, there are a ton of great resources on the web. From podcasts to blogs to articles and TED Talks, incorporating informal learning resources into your sexual harassment training program can make learning more relevant and engaging. And with a talent development platform that supports informal learning, HR leaders can even add informal learning tasks directly into employees’ development plans.
Deliver a personalized learning experience
A comprehensive EEOC report on sexual harassment released in 2016 found that “Training is most effective when tailored to the specific workforce and workplace, and to different cohorts of employees.” To be effective, sexual harassment needs to be personalized, interactive and ongoing. Having a new hire watch a standard video or sign off on a written policy as part of the onboarding process isn’t enough to impact cultural dynamics.
The issues an entry-level employee may face are different than that which a senior manager may experience. And the issues in financial services firms aren’t the same as those found in retail environments. Custom learning paths available to employees within a learning management system (LMS)—with content that is tailored to the organization’s specific industry, as well as each employee’s job role and function—allow HR leaders to make training more applicable and relatable. And by making sexual harassment training an ongoing process—rather than a new hire “check-box” exercise—an organization can demonstrate its top-down commitment to creating a harassment-free workplace.
Close the gap between learning and performance
In too many organizations, learning and performance are still treated as standalone disciplines. But connecting sexual harassment training to your performance management processes will help instill the company’s values and expectations in the daily behaviors and habits of employees. Tying learning activities to performance appraisals also gives HR and managers visibility into coaching and development opportunities.
Employees should be reviewed by managers, peers and direct reports on behavior-based competencies, such as their ability to handle conflict and how equitably they treat others. If an employee is found to be lacking in any of these competencies, HR or their manager can assign specific, targeted learning activities in a talent development platform to help coach and develop the employee. And unless an employee exhibits a high degree of competence within these fundamental areas, they should not be eligible for a promotion within the organization.
The Future of Sexual Harassment Prevention Training
It’s hard to believe less than 40 years ago sexual harassment wasn’t even illegal; it was only in 1980 that the EEOC first formally defined sexual harassment. And we as a country have come a long way since then from a legal perspective.
Nearly all organizations have some sort of sexual harassment prevention training and several states even require mandatory training. In California, for example, all organizations with five or more employees or contractors must provide sexual harassment training to all employees by January 1, 2020.
And while these legal standards are absolutely critical to creating a foundation for inclusion and diversity, HR leaders now need to take the next step. We need to be change leaders, driving a shift in the attitudes, behaviors and values that contribute to an environment that allows harassment to occur. By elevating our sexual harassment training programs—and increasing our focus on culture, not compliance—we can make training more engaging, relevant and, ultimately, more effective.