Corporate Learning and the Mission to End Workplace Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment

Whether you work for a small business, mid-sized start-up, or a large corporation, chances are that sexual harassment training is high up on your CEO’s agenda these days. With so many scandals in the news, companies are open to evaluating and redesigning their sexual harassment training, leaving the door wide open for us to evolve our approach to these training solutions.

The only way we can bring about this evolution is to shift the focus of sexual harassment training from forcing learners to memorize rules, laws, procedures, and consequences, to providing learners with what they need to promote and sustain an organizational culture of respect, tolerance, inclusivity, and civility.

Simple, genuine goodness is the best capital to found the business of this life upon. It lasts when fame and money fail and is the only riches we can take out of this world with us.
– Louisa May Alcott

How many employees remember the details of an actual policy? And what value does remembering the details of that policy bring? What your employees will remember is a human story – especially one that they can empathize with. And they will find value in a training solution that builds off of that story to set expectations and offer specific guidelines on “what to do if this ever happens to you.”

Embed Realistic Narratives

Nothing about sexual harassment is funny. There is no game to play, and there are no points awarded. Gamification and game-based learning have their place in training and development – it’s just not here.

Learner engagement will come when you design your training solutions around realistic, character-driven scenarios that prompt your learners to make choices as to what they would do if they were involved in those situations. These may be difficult choices to make, and, yes, our learners may feel uncomfortable at times.

Realistic means establishing empathy, and authentic examples of situations that may arise within your industry will have more impact than generalized scenarios. Examples may be different for flight attendants, restaurant workers, banking professionals, corporate executives, and so on. Learners will empathize with characters and situations that they can relate to and are more likely to recall the associated guidance provided when they encounter a similar situation.

I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.
– Maya Angelou

Realistic, character-driven scenarios can be used for more than highlighting harassment incidents and opening up conversations – they can showcase how your organization values and supports a respectful and civil culture.

Develop a Culture of Conversation

Moving away from memorizing laws to shaping behavior requires open dialogue at, and across, all levels of the organization. These may be difficult conversations at times, and we need to create environments where open and honest questions (and responses) are welcome.

It is time to let go of the “check your understanding” quiz and provide learners with opportunities to anonymously ask questions and share their experiences without being graded. Whether you are using video-based scenarios or live role-play, the interactivity you build into sexual harassment training needs to be conversation based.

As you develop those character-driven scenarios, think about the conversations you want your learners to have and what you want them to come away with from those conversations. Do you want your learners to reflect on their reactions? Do you want them to share their experiences? Do you want them to raise their personal concerns?

Learning is a result of listening, which, in turn, leads to even better listening and attentiveness to the other person. In other words, to learn, we must have empathy, and empathy grows as we learn.
– Alice Miller

Moderating these conversations is key. Avoid leaving your learners on their own to discuss difficult topics. Conversation-based sexual harassment training requires an expert on hand who can guide the discussion in the right direction, answer tricky questions, and model effective feedback. A guide who can help your learners develop the means to take action when they face a sexual harassment situation and who knows where to turn to for help when they are unsure about what action to take.

Provide Pragmatic Strategies

Sexual harassment training can no longer be about following the letter of the law. It needs to be about giving our employees the means to address a problem when it arises to avoid further escalation, within both specific and ambiguous workplace situations.

Key takeaways from training need to include clear guidelines on what to do when our employees feel uncomfortable or are unsure about what actions they can and should take. They need to know what they should be keeping an eye out for, how they can safely intervene, and who they can talk with confidentially when they have questions.

Leadership and managers at all levels need to know how they can model appropriate behavior and provide feedback and guidance to their teams. And everyone needs to know how they can contribute to fostering that culture of respect and civility.

Openly Validate a Harassment-Free Ethos

The ethical essence of our organizations needs to be modeled in the scenario-driven narratives and conversations we build into our training. We need to publicly show and openly validate that sexual harassment is something that our organizations take seriously.

As learning and development professionals, we have a unique opportunity to broaden awareness of how the words we say, and the actions we take, have a direct impact on other people and the company as a whole. We need to understand that we will never be able to address sexual harassment with a poster hanging in the break room or a one-hour training event.

We have a choice about how we behave, and that means we have the choice to opt for civility and grace.
– Dwight Currie

We will make a difference with sexual harassment training when we cultivate an understanding of when to ask for help, who to ask for help, and how everyone can help. We will make a difference when we empower our learners to tap into the fundamental ethical essence of our companies and align their actions with an organizational culture of respect, tolerance, and civility.

For more information on sexual harassment training contact Mark Dorosz

By Mark Dorosz (VP Compliance Learning Interactive Services)