More than 250 people have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct since the start of the #MeToo movement, and while much progress has come in the form of awareness, there is still room for improvement when it comes to actively preventing and responding to sexual harassment in the workplace. In fact, HR Acuity’s “#MeToo in the Workplace: A Special Report” found that while 70% of organizations “have done something” in response to the #MeToo movement, only 15% “have dedicated resources to creating specific strategies to address workplace concerns.” In addition, 63% of organizations have not changed their sexual harassment policies.
Learning and development (L&D) professionals can set more organizations up for success in the #MeToo era by creating organizational cultures that encourage reporting, training leaders on how to respond to reports of sexual harassment and effectively managing new state training laws.
Create a Culture That Encourages Reporting
Workplace sexual harassment is rarely reported. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace report, “Three out of four individuals who experienced harassment never even talked to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassing conduct.” How can L&D professionals help create a culture that empowers employees to report harassment?
A good place to start is ensuring that the organization’s reporting process is clear and accessible to all employees and affiliates of the organization. A recent report by the nonprofit I’m With Them found that among the top U.S. companies by revenue, four did not have an easily identifiable anonymous hotline number on Google for employees to report harassment. Training professionals should continuously reiterate the organization’s reporting process to ensure employees know how to report harassment at their individual organization, whether it’s through a hotline or another anonymous reporting mechanism, an internal point of contact, or an online form.
One way to do so is to highlight the organization’s process for reporting during the onboarding process and continuing to mention it in training materials and employee newsletters. Leaders should also make it clear that they want employees to report harassment. “When an executive team says, ‘We want to hear reports of misconduct’ and ‘We don’t like misconduct,’ it affects whether or not employees really want to report,’” says Laurie Girand, co-founder of I’m With Them.
Virtual reality (VR) is one innovative approach to training that may empower more employees to report sexual harassment. Bill West, CEO of Regatta VR, says, “It’s 2019. This [harassment] shouldn’t still be happening, but it is, because existing forms [of sexual harassment prevention training] just don’t work. I think VR stands to break through that barrier — and I think that barrier is people don’t get it. Men don’t understand what the woman goes through. The man doesn’t understand how to make decisions.”
In addition to helping learners understand what it’s like to be harassed, or mistreated in any way, in the workplace, VR is helpful in highlighting situations that can quickly go awry and lead to harassing behavior. For example, one of Regatta VR’s new sexual harassment modules addresses a situation at a social gathering outside of the workplace in which a male and female employee are conversing … and alcohol’s involved. The scenario could go one of two ways: It could remain a positive, laid-back interaction between two employees, or the male employee could misread the female employee’s behavior and begin making unwanted advances toward her.
Providing these types of real-world scenarios teaches learners how to act appropriately in what some may perceive as a confusing situation. This training is especially critical for male leaders, as after #MeToo, an increasing number of male managers have reported feeling uncomfortable socializing — or even having one-on-one meetings — with female employees. L&D is critical in clearing up these gray areas so that all employees receive the mentoring — and the treatment — they deserve.
Train Leaders on How to Respond
How leaders respond to reports of sexual harassment is just as critical as employees’ coming forward in the first place, as their response will impact whether or not other employees will report harassment in the future.
All too often, however, leaders respond to a report of sexual harassment with a series of questions. In doing so, “You’re potentially, unintentionally, [suggesting] that maybe it didn’t happen, or maybe it didn’t happen the way you thought it did … That’s extremely painful for a survivor of sexual assault [or harassment],” Girand says.
Instead, L&D professionals should encourage leaders to respond with empathy by taking the time to recognize how the harassment impacted the employee on a personal level, not an organizational one. After all, “People aren’t thinking, ‘When that guy touched me, it was a violation of ethics.’ They’re thinking, ‘This is a violation of my body. This is a violation of my personal rights,’” Girand says.
It is also important to recognize how reporting the harassment in and of itself has impacted the employee. Deb Muller, CEO and founder of HR Acuity, encourages leaders to “remember that … the act of coming forward is difficult” and that, ultimately, “the majority of people coming forward don’t want the headlines, don’t want their Me Too moment [and] don’t want money. They simply want the behaviors to stop.”
Effectively Manage New Training Requirements
As numerous states have passed new sexual harassment training requirements since the start of #MeToo, L&D professionals must know how to effectively manage them to ensure their training programs are up to date. One way to do so is by dividing the training into different sections. Andrew Rawson, co-founder and chief learning officer of Traliant, says, “We divide the training up into three ‘buckets’: We break it up into those states that have content-only requirements, the states that have a content requirement plus a seat-time requirement, and New York is its own bucket.”
One challenge L&D professionals in large organizations may face is what do when a learner moves to an office in another state with differing training requirements. “Now,” says Rawson, “there’s this legal question: Can you just train them on the piece that they didn’t get the first time, on just the incremental part? If they already had training that lasted 45 minutes, can you just give them an hour and 15 minutes of additional training?”
Rawson says this issue has yet to be addressed by state governments, and lawyers have provided differing opinions on the matter. Therefore, L&D professionals should stay tuned for greater clarification from lawmakers and lawyers in the near future. In the meantime, it is best to play it safe and retrain learners according to the state’s new requirements.
The Impact of #MeToo on Corporate Training
After the Harvey Weinstein story broke (and numerous accounts of sexual harassment followed), many have argued that sexual harassment prevention training simply doesn’t work. However, Rawson says, “That’s like saying speed limit signs don’t work because people speed.”
In other words, there will always be outliers who will not change their behavior even after going through the most comprehensive, world-class training program. The good news is that sexual harassment prevention training stands to help everyone else by shaping them into powerful bystanders who can step in when these bad actors start to harass others. It helps well-intended but uninformed learners understand what is and isn’t illegal (or, better yet, uncivil) behavior.
Training professionals can help organizations succeed in the #MeToo era by creating a culture that encourages reporting, training leaders on how to respond to a sexual harassment report and effectively managing new state training requirements. In doing so, they’re arming their organizations with the tools they need to fight harassment and advocate for their most valuable asset: their people.