“So, how would you rate your current sexual harassment prevention training?”
Cue long pause, awkward stare, and maybe a shrug. Over the last several weeks, I’ve journeyed from San Diego to New York and back again, attending multiple conferences and events targeting the learning and development industry. I’ve opened many conversations with this question and have been saddened, though not surprised, by the response. The fact is, we don’t often think about appraising this training for quality or impact, nor do we hold it to the same high standards as our other corporate learning offerings such as leadership, diversity and inclusion, and team-building. So why do we tolerate mediocre training for a topic that’s so important?
Sexual harassment prevention training was initially born out of the result of two major court cases of the 1990s and was primarily viewed as a way for organizations to limit liability and demonstrate compliance with state and federal laws. Unfortunately, the resulting training hasn’t proved effective in actually preventing sexual harassment. And, as it exists today, this critical training fails in two important ways:
- It actually reinforces gender stereotypes through the consistent portrayal of powerful men and weak women, and
- It can alienate learners who don’t identify as either “victim” or “harasser,” leaving them nonplussed, believing that they don’t play a role in keeping a workplace free from sexual harassment. (For a thorough look at that research, check out a fabulous piece by Claire Cain Miller.)
For decades, we’ve lumped this important training with other compliance training and have been satisfied to deploy it (no matter how bad the content is) and collect attendee signatures, believing that we’re prepared for whatever lawsuit may come. Because ultimately, the typical sexual harassment prevention training is about proving compliance. The goal is just to have a training, period. No one’s thinking about creating a learning experience that leads to real change.
I think we can all agree: that’s not enough.
Yes, companies need to demonstrate compliance and document that employees took the training. But while we deploy this training, we must also provide a meaningful learning opportunity that builds trust, inclusion, and productivity. The training has to work.
That’s why Grovo has created a very different brand of sexual harassment content. In addition to meeting the compliance requirements, it also targets critical mindsets and behaviors to catalyze meaningful change.
- We’ve targeted the root cause of harassment by incorporating elements of unconscious bias training in the program. This facilitates the necessary pause for employees to look inward and assess their own bias before learning how to detect it in the workplace.
- We’re promoting an active bystander approach, which research shows will both demonstrate the relevance of the training and empower employees to call out instances of harassment when they occur.
- We’re gearing everything toward the building of inclusive teams and inclusive cultures. Because we know that the small exclusions that are the by-product of hostile work environments are what cause major long-term damage to the productivity and agility of corporations.
Like many of you, I too have had the difficult experience of creating and delivering sub-par sexual harassment prevention training. I remember talking through the confusing legal language around “quid pro quo” and “hostile work environment,” popping in the bizarrely awkward and cringe-worthy video, and gathering signatures from employees. Even back then I wondered what actually changed on account of this training. And now, I’m in a position to do something about it.
I recognize that a redesigned sexual harassment prevention training is a small part of impacting a company’s culture. And I also realize that real change doesn’t happen after one training. But I do believe change is possible when you give people real, impactful learning opportunities that help them take accountability for their workplace culture, spot problematic trends, and find the words to speak up.
So here’s my request. Take a look at what modern sexual harassment prevention training looks like. We’ve made 10 of our newly released lessons available for free, because we believe it’s important for anyone and everyone to learn how they can prevent and respond to sexual harassment. If you like them, please share them with others. Let’s work together to finally stop sexual harassment and create workplaces where everyone is safe, included, and able to thrive.