Make Sure Your Sexual Harassment Training Program Actually Works

The #MeToo movement continues to shine the spotlight on corporate America regarding the treatment of women in the workplace, and, as specific allegations continue to emerge and be validated, rightly so. It’s important that sexual harassment training programs are customized for your workplace, and present scenarios employees could encounter in their specific roles.

It’s important to convey to employees that the company takes harassment and discrimination seriously, and is serious about eliminating it from the workplace. No employer wants to be seen as “going through the motions.” In complying legally with training requirements, employers want to make sure the programs they use specifically define sexual harassment, and give a wide variety of examples, so that all employees, no matter their education level or responsibilities, are clear about what is and isn’t allowed.

Setting clear boundaries may be necessary. There should be no physical touching in the office, for example, outside of a handshake. We’ve seen time and again that “friendly hugging” is often intended subconsciously as something more, and is unwelcomed and makes others feel uncomfortable, even those witnessing the exchange. There should be no off-color jokes, and no discussion of a sexual nature, or of one’s dating life. Even inquiring about one’s weekend plans or activities can be misinterpreted as prying into one’s personal affairs. Employees should be cautioned about commenting on personal appearance, or drawing attention to how someone looks on a given day.

In addition to identifying banned behavior, training should make clear what happens when an employee does feel uncomfortable or feel workplace boundaries have been violated. This is where customization comes in. Clearly identify reporting channels, both for those subject to possible discriminatory behavior, and those witnessing it. Train employees how to speak up for themselves, and to speak up for others. The goal is to raise everyone’s awareness.
Instead of just showing what not to do, show employees what TO do, and especially how to acknowledge, apologize, and correct their behavior, on the spot, if they are told that something they did or said made someone else uncomfortable. The more employees can see the proper behavior in action, the better they will be able to model it when the moment comes.

Lastly, ensure that upper management, at the highest ranks, personally complete the training. We’ve heard time and again that culture starts at the top. Make sure corporate leadership is talking the talk and walking the walk you want them to follow.