Let’s face it. We’re in a different place than we were just a few months ago when it comes to both the substance and emotions surrounding the topic of sexual harassment. Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo were game changers for both female and male workers alike. Not only did they result in people being more willing to discuss sexual harassment openly and draw attention to both past and current offenses, but the recent launch of the EEOC’s online reporting portal makes it easier than ever for employees to file complaints when they feel they’ve been victimized. As in other situations, a new landscape requires a new strategy. In this case, it also requires a stronger sense of urgency to address the topic of harassment training head-on and in a meaningful, comprehensive fashion.

Here are 4 important guidelines they may help your organization:

    1. Frame the conversation around the bigger picture of respectful workplace cultures.
      One of the problems with much of the sexual harassment training being offered today is that it is delivered as a “check the box” requirement intended primarily to safeguard employers against lawsuits. As such, it typically comes across as either a punitive or CYA exercise that employees and managers are forced to endure just so their organization can say, “Yep, we did training. We’re good to go now.” A much better approach is to start with the broader goal of creating a respectful and highly productive workforce and then exploring how harassment in all forms becomes an obstacle to getting there.
    2. A strong anti-harassment policy is your best tool.
      Having worked with numerous organizations in both the public and private sectors, I am continually amazed at how many of them have either minimal or just plain weak policies in place that address how sexual harassment and discrimination are to be dealt with and what the consequences may be for violators. Worse yet, some organizations have policies in place, but only marginally or selectively enforce them. Your best bet is to have clearly written and communicated policies in place that describe and forbid ALL forms of harassment against any person for any reason. Period. If your training is designed merely to articulate and remind people what the law says, then you are inviting trouble and can expect potential offenders to start mentally calculating just what they can get away with that isn’t illegal or likely to get them fired. Enforced policies that are designed to create a safe, harassment-free climate for all employees isn’t just legally advisable, it’s good business sense.
    3. Consider your training mode options carefully.
      The training delivery mode you select for your employees needs to be carefully considered with all requirements clearly mapped out and inherent limitations discussed. Many organizations can and do offer online training because it is typically less expensive per employee, can be deployed relatively quickly to large audiences and is trackable down to the individual employee. If developed in a way that 1) makes the content feel relevant, 2) forces participants to genuinely think and reflect on the issues and 3) gives specific guidelines for both reporting and investigating complaints, online training may be the fastest and best approach for deploying training.On the other hand, face-to-face training tends to be more effective at both offering greater content depth and providing the inspiration to change behaviors. The reason is two-fold. First, it is more interactive and allows a skilled facilitator or presenter to genuinely engage his/her participants in a nuanced conversation that may address unique situations not originally envisioned by online training creators. Secondly, research shows that face-to-face conversations with real people sharing real experiences is much more likely to elicit an emotional connection with the topic and a subsequent willingness to examine and change personal behaviors when necessary.
    4. Be sure to follow your state’s specific requirements.
      While the guidelines issued by the EEOC and U.S. Department of Labor are pretty straightforward, many states have their own requirements governing both protected classes and prohibited behaviors, but also the training itself. California law, for example, defines several additional protected classes (such as gender expression) than federal guidelines that impact all employers with 50 or more workers in the state. It also requires a minimum of 2 hours of harassment and discrimination training every other year for any employee in a supervisory or management role. Be smart and stay abreast of the laws that govern all states in which your organization has employees.

The new landscape around sexual harassment that we now find ourselves navigating is not only long overdue, it also represents a tremendous opportunity to recalibrate workplace culture.  In 2017, there should be no reason why employers tolerate workplace behaviors that threaten, intimidate, demean or otherwise make any of their employees feel vulnerable when they come to work. It’s awful for morale, antithetical to inclusion and catastrophic for productivity. If there ever was a perfect opportunity for organizations of all types to proactively focus on creating and maintaining safe, inclusive and productive cultures, this one comes with gift wrapping and a bow.