The Fight to End Sexual Harassment Comes to Corporate America

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By Mark Dorosz
VP of Compliance Learning, Interactive Services

Amidst the wave of sexual harassment scandals rocking entertainment and politics, big business is taking a pre-emptive strike to get its own house in order.

Microsoft ended 2017 by announcing it will stop using forced arbitration agreements to settle sexual harassment cases behind closed doors – instead, employees will be able to take their case to public court. A federal law banning the practice of forced arbitration looks set to follow suit in 2018.

With sexual harassment cases gaining so much traction in the media and with the advent of social media campaigns like #MeToo and Times Up, workplace harassment policies are no longer the exclusive domain of HR Directors. Everyone from CEOs to board members are looking at what they can do to end to sexual harassment in Corporate America.

A training and awareness campaign is a meaningful way of highlighting this issue and changing behavior in your organization. Training must be rich and high-quality to reflect the importance the organization places on preventing sexual harassment. There is a plethora of boring, low budget options, but if people see that your organization has invested significant time and effort in preventing sexual harassment, they are more likely to take it seriously.

Here’s what your company can do to prepare for 2018

Treat your employees like adults

Forget sexual harassment training videos that look like they’re lifted from a 1980s PBS afterschool special.

Making training real and using relevant examples will make it more memorable and increase the chances that the message will stick. For example, if your employees predominantly work in a manufacturing plant, set your scenario in a manufacturing environment.

Nicole Tarasoff, Compliance Program Manager at LinkedIn explains:

“Working in the tech space, I can’t roll out a course that very clearly focuses on a work environment or industry that isn’t ours. All that does is send a message to our employees, “Yeah, it happens, but it doesn’t happen here”—when, in fact, it can happen anywhere, to anyone.

Training isn’t supposed to be a check-the-box exercise. It’s supposed to be a meaningful learning experience. When companies are respectful of employees’ time and learning objectives, it makes for a more valuable experience.”

Know local labor laws but train to a global standard

Everywhere from Bangalore, India to the State of Maine has unique sexual harassment training requirements.  As job roles become fluid and business teams work across borders, an employee’s classification as a manager of people can change from day-to-day, which can impact their legal responsibilities. When it comes to training, convey the principles and spirit of the legislation.

Remember, the majority of employees want to do the right thing

In the current media firestorm of daily resignations, it’s easy to forget the vast majority of employees want to do the right thing.  Deploy your training on the expectation that your employees want to build a workforce where everybody feels safe and you’ll gain allies.

Tarasoff at LinkedIn advises:

“There are bad apples out there for sure, but most of us want to come in to work, do a good job, and be a good person. I think it’s so important for training to take a holistic approach and narrate from a place of empathy. We aren’t trying to teach you this stuff because we think you’re inherently bad. We want to help you recognize more nuanced behaviors and feel comfortable speaking up when something doesn’t feel right.”

Get tone in the middle right

We often think of charismatic CEOs like Jack Welch and Steve Jobs shaping the culture of a global enterprise – in reality, an army of middle managers shape culture.  While senior leadership needs to be on message, give middle managers the tools to spread the message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. This could come in the form of video vignettes, job aids, posters, infographics or email template kits.

Sexual harassment prevention means everyone

Harassment knows no boundary, can be perpetrated by anyone of any gender or background – we therefore need programs that engage the entire workforce and address the broad scope of sexual harassment. Your sexual harassment program should speak to the entire employee base regardless of age, gender, seniority or where an employee is based.