April is Sexual Assault Awareness month and it brings an opportunity to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault and its impact on our society. Recently, in public discourse, our society seems increasingly more willing to acknowledge and address this blight, propelled by movements such as #metoo and the manifestation of several high-profile cases. Yet there is still more work to be done to ensure that our workplaces represent the inclusive, equal, and safe places we envision – free of the impact of sexual assault and harassment. To get there, we’ll need to eradicate the pervasive and often subtle behaviors that impact too many people every day.
I have been fortunate, in my own career, to have worked in environments where I could learn, thrive, and grow. I’ve been mentored by both men and women, and benefited from the insight of experienced and engaged managers. However, as I reflect on my experience, through the lens of professional maturity, I recall specific, unsettling, instances that I either just accepted or wasn’t able to recognize as a young female professional.
I recall a conversation with a supervisor in a college job, warning me to avoid a certain salesman who was not to be trusted alone. I remember her earnest clarification that I would be fine, and her honest belief that, in relaying this information, she had adequately done her job to maintain a safe environment. I remember a back room in an office where rogue copies of pornographic magazines were kept and when I inquired, I was told that I didn’t have to look at them. I remember cringe-worthy conference calls in which male colleagues shared off-color and sexually charged jokes as a way to “break-the-ice,” usually followed by awkward laughs and long pauses.
As I reflect on these seemingly innocuous, though persistent offenses, I recognize that I was spared the full weight of their potential. Yet, consider their compounded impact–how it affected me, my colleagues, women, men… everyone. Sexual harassment in all its manifestations impacts everyone in the workforce. It chips away at the integrity of a workplace, replacing honesty with subterfuge, and psychological safety with confusion, anxiety, and even fear. I wonder how frank discussions around the prevention of sexual harassment, the promotion of inclusive workspaces, and the honest acknowledgment of unconscious bias could have eradicated those hostile environments. And I wonder how a meaningful learning opportunity could have empowered me to say “Hey, enough!”
Now, as the Chief Learning Officer of Grovo, I have prioritized the review and refresh of our sexual harassment awareness and prevention content to further the impact of this momentum. It’s time to shift our expectations of what sexual harassment prevention training can accomplish. It’s tempting to check the box on compliance training and call it done. But consider, have we done our due diligence in ensuring it’s the right training at the right level for the right impact? In this refresh, we’re focused on empowering employees to call-out the symptoms of hostile work environments. We’re building in scenarios that help to facilitate an “active bystander” response to harassment. We’re making meaningful connections to address unconscious bias. And we’re engaging with leading experts in the field to learn how managers, by addressing sexual harassment head-on, can build lasting, inclusive cultures and strong teams.
I believe that the responsibility to create safe work spaces falls to each of us, both men and women. And I believe that the provision of engaging and impactful learning opportunities is a solid first step to making meaningful change. As we showed a week ago, when we made 20 of our Unconscious Bias lessons free for everyone, we are committed to delivering content that helps real people make meaningful changes.
When it comes to sexual harassment, we’re steadily making that meaningful change as a society with increased awareness and dialogue, but we still have a ways to go. Let’s do it together.