Why Reframing the Conversation Around Sexual Harassment Training May Not Be A Bad Thing

Why Reframing the Conversation Around Sexual Harassment Training May Not Be A Bad Thing

“Why is it important to prevent sexual harassment in our workplace?”

A lot of employers require their workers to take sexual harassment trainings. Whether in the form of online video-and-quiz seminars, or in closed-door meetings to talk about problems in the workplace, it’s becoming more common to see this happen in the wake of third-wave feminism.

Anyone who’s seen Mad Men or other mid-20th century period dramas is aware of the kind of sexual harassment that can happen in a work environment. Men made passes at women during work hours, and those who felt uncomfortable in sticky situations did not feel they could report these incidents to someone who took them seriously. Such attention was either warranted or part of the job, which could be devastating to someone’s morale and mental health.

While sexual harassment training is not federally mandated, some states require sexual harassment trainings. In California, any company with over 50 employees must provide workers with at least two hours of training. Specifically, the University of California requires its workers (faculty, staff and student) to complete training every two years. However, with over a dozen sexual harassment cases coming out of UC Berkeley in 2016, it raises a question of if such training is effective.

According to the Journal of Organizational Behavior, it is possible to teach people about sexual harassment effectively, and offer other diversity trainings. A recent piece by The Guardian said otherwise, citing the cartoonish nature of some of the trainings.

The quality of trainings can vary. A red flag in some is stating that the reason for having a training is to ensure that workplaces comply with state laws, entirely ignoring the human side of why people should not sexually harass their co-workers. Training often does not start a dialogue about what constitutes sexual harassment and why it should not be done; rather, it simply serves as a pre-emptive slap on the wrist to be careful.

It could perhaps be improved by adding a human, interactive aspect to it. Students normally learn as well, if not better through online classes, but it’s easy to pass off something ‘boring’ and mandatory and not pay attention to it.

Imagine training that asks participants to talk about their fears in dealing with sexual harassment, or ask questions— no matter how ridiculous they feel it is. Opening up a comfortable space for people to talk or learn about sexual harassment would make it much easier to teach about it. Shying away from the “we have to do this” mentality and veering onto the path of “we want to make our co-workers comfortable and be a good person” in how we examine problems in the workplace could open up new doors in eliminating sexual harassment globally.