Do sexual harassment programs work?

Sexual harassment became a hot topic in employment law during the early ’90s due to the televised testimony during a controversial Supreme Court nomination. The issue came to the forefront again with the emergence of the #MeToo movement in 2017.

Many employers have implemented sexual harassment programs to eliminate this problem in their workplaces, but do these programs work?

The research says “no”

A recent study indicates that the training programs and grievance procedures that companies have implemented in the past several decades to address the issue of sexual harassment are not working. Study results suggest that these programs may increase worker disaffection and turnover.

Employers can do better

Research has found that traditional harassment training leads to a reduction in female managers and an increase in victim-blaming behavior by male coworkers. Researchers believe that the mandatory and accusatory nature of traditional training causes this outcome.

To avoid this, employers can explore alternatives, such as bystander-intervention training. These programs treat trainees as allies of harassment victims, rather than potential perpetrators. The training encourages bystanders to engage in behaviors such as interrupting sexual jokes, calling out catcallers and distracting coworkers from engaging in inappropriate behavior.

Another option is manager training. The benefit of manager training is that it frames harassment as a challenge that all managers must overcome. Similar to bystander training, it treats trainees as allies who intervene in wrongdoing, rather than the wrongdoers.

Sexual harassment is a serious issue that occurs in some form in most workplaces. Employers and employees can better combat this problem by exploring innovative new training techniques.