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Article No.: 17-12, December 1, 2017

Article Title: Sexual Harassment Training: Don't Waste Your Money

Author: Linda Gravett, Ph.D., CEQC, SHRM-SCP

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Because of the #metoo climate we find ourselves in today, my company has received several requests for training on sexual harassment.  I find that I’ve talked more people out of thisLinda Gravett photo training than confirming that this is what they need.  To be clear, sexual harassment training as part of the onboarding process or as a periodic update is absolutely needed.  However, if you’re looking for a “fix” for the explosion of instances of everything ranging from boorish behavior to outright physical abuse, I recommend that you save your money if you think a two-hour sexual harassment training program is the answer.

You may be thinking, “So, why wouldn’t sexual harassment training be the right solution to stem the tide of complaints?”  If your organization has mandated that people attend the same workshop on this topic for the past 10 years or you’ve just had a sexual harassment case filed, I think you’re wasting your money by throwing together yet another workshop because:

  •  Participants don’t want to be at a workshop just like the 10 they’ve previously attended, with the same old scenarios and videos.
  • Participants have heard the message so many times they believe they could give the training.
  • Knowledge does not equal behavior change. 
  • A real conversation about civility to other human beings is more on point.

How many times have you attended workshops on this topic, and others, during which you were thinking, “Bob (or Alice, or Jim) is the one that should be here.  I’ve heard this before…I get it.”  If this is the case, there’s no doubt you’ve tuned out and, even if cell phones have been banned, you’re still making a mental grocery list or thinking about what’s for dinner rather than paying attention.

Knowledge itself doesn’t change behavior.  Self-motivation to be different, to do different things, changes behavior.  If a person thinks it’s funny to pat a co-worker on the behind or give them a hug that lasts a little too long, awareness of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act isn’t going to move them to act differently.  The sensibility that treating another person like he or she matters, with respect, will guide behavior change.  An executive who acknowledged that he had behaved inappropriately with female staff members said this when I asked how he’d feel if someone treated his wife that way:  “She’d probably enjoy it – she’s plain as can be.”  After this exchange, I closed my notebook on my sexual harassment investigation with the comment, “I think we’re done here.”
 
Before people stop harassing others, I believe they must feel what it’s like to be treated less than civilly themselves. . . not to just understand the law or company policy.  If you’ve been demeaned, humiliated, or held back from complaining because of your need for a job you might feel differently about putting another person in that position.  You might be less likely to say, “It’s just a joke” if you’ve been treated like you don’t matter any more than an ant walking on the ground at someone’s feet.  This is where I think the real discussions need to focus.  So please – before you budget for another training session – consider how your time and money could be better spent.
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