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3 Steps for Effective Sexual Harassment Training

Sexual harassment can persist in the workplace—even if human resources isn't hearing about it. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission estimated in 2016 that 75 percent of all workplace harassment incidents go unreported.

Meanwhile, sexual harassment training is widely thought to be ineffective. Employees often scoff or giggle at PowerPoint presentations, cheesy videos and programs they do not feel apply to them. Sometimes, employees even react defensively to the suggestion that they need this training at all.

How, then, can you provide workplace harassment training to your employees effectively? How will you make them pay attention not just during training, but afterward?


1) Create compliance content that’s meaningful—and long-lasting

From a business perspective, liability is always an issue. But sexual harassment training is about creating a comfortable, safe, productive work environment for your employees. And while online training may seem efficient, the professional development publication Training Magazine warns that virtual programs often send employees the wrong message.

"Employees viewing these videos are getting a clear message that they have to do this for compliance, which sends a message that the company really is not committed to doing anything beyond the minimum," writes Neal Goodman, Ph.D., the president of Global Dynamics, Inc.

Communicate to employees—through both words and action—that this training is not just a formality. The right learning management system can help with highly targeted compliance courses and insight on completion and engagement, you’ll be able to see what types of content resonates effectively with employees, and what needs to be tweaked.

Training also should not end when the program is over. Remind employees every so often that the issues discussed during training are still on your mind and should be on theirs. These reminders can come in the form of occasional emails about standards, the distribution of case studies or even the redistribution of a "best practices" memo.

2) Connect compliance with company culture

When compliance is connected to company culture, certain employee behaviors will feel second-nature. The company will also be more likely to attract employees who align with its standards and values.

"Harassment training is most successful if seen as an extension of an ethical corporate culture, where you will learn how to create an inclusive corporate community based on a collaborative mindset," Dr. Vicki Magley of the University of Connecticut says, according to Training Magazine.

Making this connection will foster a positive environment overall, as opposed to teaching employees how to simply handle each situation when it arises. Make it clear to employees that complying with company standards is not optional; it's mandatory. To be a part of the company, employees must act accordingly.

3) Target gaps in the employee mindset

Sexual harassment courses are not just about teaching employees to look out for themselves; it's about training employees to react when they witness incidences of harassment, too.

Shannon Rawski, a professor of business at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, told The New York Times in 2017 that bystander training offers employees the opportunity to assume a role other than harasser or victim. The Times cites a study that found soldiers who received bystander training were significantly more likely than others to report having taken action when they saw an incidence of harassment or assault.

The harassment training program should also include education about other types of harassment, including harassment based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion, Goodman says. This allows for "a broader understanding of hurtful behaviors, actions, jokes, etc.," he writes.

Ready to take your sexual harassment training to the next level? See how Cornerstone OnDemand’s Learning Suite can help.