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How can we fix our current approach to addressing workplace sexual harassment?

Workplace sexual harassment prevention
You know that hour-long video that employees are forced to watch every year? The one that says sexual harassment is bad? It’s not working.

Fixing a broken corporate approach to address sexual harassment requires something new — urging CEOs and managers to show employees that sexual harassment is unacceptable. That’s according to a Fortune magazine story.

Declaring that a halt to sexual harassment is a business priority requires setting goals, measuring progress and investigating whether steps are working.

A survey in 2018 found 38 percent of women and 13 percent of men said they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. The survey was an online poll of about 1,000 women and about 1,000 men, ages 18 and older, by nonprofit Stop Street Harassment.

The focus on what businesses should do differently comes as media titans, celebrities, CEO’s and others have lost jobs and gone to jail for sexual harassment. This has been attributed to the scrutiny and momentum of the #MeToo movement in many cases.

This was the definition of sexual harassment used in the survey:

“This term includes verbal sexual harassment (e.g., sexually explicit talk, homophobic slurs, repeated requests for a date after a person has said no), cyber sexual harassment (the use of text/phone and Internet to sexually harass), and physically aggressive sexual harassment (flashing or indecent exposure, being physically followed and being touched or brushed up against in a sexual way without consent). Forced sex acts are excluded from this term for this study.”

Ineffective training methods

Examples of steps that have proven ineffective are nondisclosure agreements and “check-the-box” sexual harassment training.

Those who sign nondisclosure agreements are legally bound never to expose who sexually harassed them. That can mean that because problems with the company culture are never addressed, harassers can continue to prey on others.

A positive step would be if CEOs and other officials publicly denounce the use of nondisclosure agreements in sexual harassment cases. That would help in setting new standards when it comes to what is considered common practice in dealing with this behavior.

Traditional training also isn’t the answer to fixing a broken corporate approach to address sexual harassment. That doesn’t mean traditional training lacks value to companies. Perhaps cynical way, courts often look favorably on perceived attempts by companies to prevent harassment.

To achieve progress in fixing a broken corporate approach to address sexual harassment, companies must examine training’s effectiveness.

One weakness in the traditional training, which often consists of a video repeated annually and employees signing off as having watched it, is this training actually can exacerbate gender stereotypes.

A finding from another study suggested a kind of backlash. Men with a high proclivity to harass could be more likely to after the training, because they may view certain sexual harassment as acceptable.

 How can employers improve sexual harassment prevention training?

The New York Times described training about sexual harassment that can be effective:

  • Empower the bystander. Employees shouldn't be limited to roles as either harassers or victims. Encourage everyone to speak up or intervene, tactfully, when someone is being harassed.
  • Encourage civility.
  • Train seriously and often. Effective training lasts at least four hours and is in person, interactive and tailored for each workplace.
  • Promote more women.
  • Encourage the reporting of sexual harassment.
  • Make consequences for being a harasser proportional. Harassers shouldn’t be automatically fired. Discipline should depend on the offense.

Contact Andrus Law Firm in Utah today for help with sexual harassment in the corporate world.

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