An online survey conducted by Stop Street Harassment found that 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men ages 18 and above reported experiencing sexual harassment. 38 percent of women reported experiencing sexual harassment at the workplace. Amid the rise in sexual assault allegations in workplaces, sexual harassment training is being implemented at more locations. While implementing sexual harassment training in the workplace is a good idea from afar, it may not be very effective in preventing sexual harassment. Instead, bystander intervention programs would be more effective as they teach participants how to interpret and intervene in real world scenarios of sexual harassment, promote equal social status between women and men in the workplace, and teach how to appropriately interact with colleagues.
The Shortcomings of Sexual Harassment Training
Sexual harassment training provides basic information about what constitutes sexual harassment in legal terms and how to report it. Some of the training uses the terms “harasser” and “victim” which has led workers to reject the training as being applicable to their workplace environment. The training is also more often focused on removing liability from organizations by making sure that employees and supervisors sign documentation indicating that they received the training. Also, with programs that only involve a PowerPoint lecture, workers can easily tune out. Some male employees have reacted to sexual harassment training in negative ways such as being more likely to blame victims of sexual harassment and being less likely to report sexual harassment that they witnessed. Even if most paid attention and absorbed the information, the training usually focuses on what not to do in the workplace and not on how to treat people within the workplace.
Power and Sexual Harassment
Women are often portrayed as victims and men as harassers in positions of power. This portrays women as vulnerable, making it difficult for women to see themselves as being of equal social status to men. Along with this, gender stereotypes of men having superior workplace status in comparison to women at the job not only reflects the reality of a larger proportion of men in higher status positions, but it also normalizes it. A research study conducted by Halper and Rios (2018) found that men with high power status and a fear of being seen as incompetent were more likely to engage in sexual harassment. Another study also found that men who were once powerless were more likely to harass when put in a high power situation. Sexual harassment training is not very effective for men who tie masculinity to power status because power is associated with the term, harasser, in training. The best way to deal with the prevalence of sexual harassment is remodeling sexual harassment training to take on a bystander intervention approach.
In bystander intervention training like those implemented in colleges and universities, people are taught how to intervene in situations that could turn into harassment. Different types of interventions are taught, such as ways to interrupt, confront the perpetrator, and/or support targets of sexual harassment. It aims to teach how to assume responsibility for harassment witnessed in the workplace so that workers are more likely to intervene and addresses the connections between sexual harassment and gender inequality among other things. Rubin Thomlinson Workplace Training and Consulting provides bystander intervention programs that include lectures, group exercises, discussions, and other forms of interactive learning to reach a wider range of staff with different learning styles and workplace environments. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is launching two training programs, one for employees and one for supervisors that “[focus] on respect, acceptable workplace conduct, and the types of behavior that contribute to a respectful and inclusive” workplace.
Making training programs more frequent, applicable, and realistic would be more effective. Communication between employees and employers about what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior will make workplaces safer. Communication and a sense of community between individuals in the workplace as opposed to just protocols is something that people are in dire need of to build healthy work relationships. Promoting a culture of looking out for one another in the workplace would make employees more willing to become active bystanders.
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