The Harvard Business Review recently posed the question: “Has sexual harassment at work decreased since #MeToo? There have been some positive trends. #MeToo has raised awareness of sexual harassment and its prevalence which has provided employees with a sense of community and feelings of confidence to be able to address and report incidents of harassment.
1. Keep the Conversations Going
It’s been more than two years since the #MeToo movement gained momentum, and still, reports of sexual harassment in workplaces around the country are commonplace. This is clearly an issue that remains top of mind for employers—and employees.
Conversations should be ongoing to stress not only company policies related to harassment but also the creation and support of positive workplace culture. Senior leaders and managers can set the stage here both by supporting and communicating policies and by demonstrating through their own behaviors what respectful behavior looks like. Having clear policies—and standing behind them—as well as offering a strong harassment training program goes a long way toward preventing harassment of any kind in the workplace.
2. Provide the Right Kind of Harassment Training for Employees
In the past, many corporate harassment prevention training efforts for employees have taken a very legal and blame-focused approach. That type of approach hasn’t resonated well with employees and, in fact, has in some cases actually worsened the problem.
Instead, employers need to shift their focus from too much emphasis on the law (yes, the law must be covered, but the way it’s covered can make a difference), victims and perpetrators to a focus on “targets” (those who are the subject of harassment) and “imperfect allies” (those whose behaviors are inappropriate in support of a positive culture).
Positively framing your training by emphasizing the benefits of an inclusive and accepting culture, and clearly defining the types of harassment and other behaviors that are inappropriate can help change the narrative around harassment.
3. Train All Employees to be Active Bystanders
Employees can be powerful allies in any company’s quest to quell sexual harassment in the workplace. But they need harassment prevention training so they can be armed with information, resources, and support to effectively serve in this role. Not all employees will be comfortable directly intervening in situations where they observe harassment. There are, however, other alternatives that can help employees speak up or act to address incidents of harassment. Harassment training would give all employees different tools they can use in order to be active bystanders.
For instance, an employee observing a situation could create a distraction or intervene in a non-confrontative way, perhaps by simply interrupting the conversation: “Hey, Chris, do you want to go grab a cup of coffee with me?” Or, they might seek out and talk to the person who was the target of the behavior later. “You know, I observed that interaction with Pat just now. Is everything okay?” And, of course, employees should be encouraged to report incidents to management or HR and aware of appropriate steps to do so.
We all want to work in environments free from harassment, where productive interactions can take place that serve to create a culture of mutual respect. With proper harassment prevention training, employers can prevent sexual harassment in the workplace by raising awareness, being explicit about expectations, and arming employees with the tools and information they need to be effective bystanders.