December 20, 2017
By Kelsey Medeiros
Recent events have highlighted the need for organizational interventions focused on reducing sexual harassment in the workplace. Although not the primary focus of Ethics Advantage, reducing sexual harassment is certainly a part of designing an ethical organization. As I thought about what to write in this month’s blog post, it was difficult to ignore the events of the past few weeks. As I sat down to write, a New York Times article caught my eye.
The title reads: “Sexual Harassment Training Doesn’t Work. But Some Things Do.” The author, Claire Miller, is undeniably correct. In its current form (e.g., check-the-box, CYA), sexual harassment trainings are far from effective at changing attitudes and certainly, behavior. But sexual harassment trainings are not alone in their lack of results. General compliance or ethics trainings instituted to meet minimum requirements typically suffer the same fate.
Ms. Miller argues that other efforts such as bystander empowerment and promoting more women to leadership positions are key. She also notes the importance of frequent training sessions that are “at least four hours, in person, interactive and tailored for the particular workplace.” These words would be wisely heeded by organizations seeking to reduce sexual harassment, but also improve organizational ethics more generally.
But what does an interactive training session involve? Broadly, research on training suggests multiple practice opportunities and targeted feedback are beneficial. Example practice opportunities include role plays and case studies. This practice allows trainees to not only apply the content they learn about, but also see successful and sometimes unsuccessful behaviors in action. Having a skilled trainer in the room who can then encourage discussion about what was done well and what was done poorly becomes key. Cases and role-plays later serve as a guide for how to handle and respond to similar situations in the future.
When thinking about how to respond to the many emerging sexual harassment claims, as well as ethics more generally, organizations should think about how to incorporate both practice and feedback into their training initiatives. Designing a training that simply checks the box is, frankly, a waste of time. It’s not until organizations start consciously designing training aimed at real attitudinal and behavioral change that we will have any hope of seeing real change in workplace sexual harassment and, ultimately, organizational ethics.
The Ethics Advantage Team