While awareness training is a positive first step in curbing workplace sexual harassment, many believe that standard practices don’t go far enough.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated in a report regarding sexual harassment training that it “can increase the ability of attendees to understand the type of conduct that is considered harassment and hence unacceptable in the workplace.”
Kerry Alison Wekelo is the managing director of human resources and operations for Actualize Consulting, a corporate financial consultant. She thinks that sexual harassment training should be done at least annually, and that employees need to have the right mechanisms to be able to make a complaint. “I think that’s part of the problem versus just the training,” she said.
The volume of sexual harassment training and how employees learn from it could be seen as two of the most important aspects of prevention.
“Most of the sexual harassment training is either a video or a computer-based training program, and so I don’t believe that those are the most effective ways to train people on the topic,” Wekelo said.
Jennifer Sandberg, a partner at law firm Fisher Phillips in Atlanta, said the most impactful way to provide training is to do it in person. One flawed solution that some male employees have adopted is to avoid contact with female co-workers, Sandberg said.
“To the extent that men and women need to interact for women to be able to do their job, choosing not to interact with that female, a co-worker or more importantly a subordinate, if you keep them from doing their job you’re actually creating a discrimination issue,” Sandberg said. “Men need to be instructed or told we don’t not support people in the workplace based on their age, their race, their sex, their religion, their national origin. You can’t take half of the workforce and say, ‘Oh I’m scared of these people, I’m not going to interact with them.’ ”
The Harvey Weinstein scandal is the extreme side of sexual assault and harassment, but smaller actions can still be considered sexual assault, too.
“The Harvey Weinstein sexual assault thing, that happens in the workplace from time to time, but it tends to be things that are much, much more subtle at your average employer,” Sandberg said. “They [men] need to be potentially trained how to interact with their female co-workers,” Sandberg said.
According to a 2015 survey by lifestyle magazine Cosmopolitan, 29 percent of women who had experienced harassment reported it while 71 percent did not. Those numbers can change for the better, Sandberg said.
“Good policies, clear communication, training … following up and telling people to knock it off” can help prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, she said. “If you don’t take disciplinary steps when you see bad behavior, then you are undercutting your own rules, and so you’re message to employees has to be clear.”
Alexis Carpello is a Workforce intern. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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