7 Tips for Overcoming Resistance to Sexual Harassment Training
“I can’t wait for Monday’s sexual harassment prevention workshop!” said, no one—ever.
The reality is that while employees at all levels of an organization will agree that everyone deserves to work in an environment that is free of harassment of any kind, most people dread attending training on the topic. That puts a lot of pressure on the L&D professionals tasked with selecting and delivering the training.
The good news is we’re here to help!
It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a state that mandates training or not, sexual harassment prevention training makes sense. It can help organizations build a more professional, productive, and respectful workplace. And, in many states it shows good faith and helps serve as a proactive measure in a lawsuit.
Selecting and delivering engaging and meaningful sexual harassment prevention training, however, can be a daunting task considering the challenges associated with the topic.
Based on a survey of our customer base, there are 3 primary challenges L&D professionals face when they try to implement sexual harassment prevention training:
- Learner resistance.
- The belief that training is unnecessary because sexual harassment isn’t a problem in their team, department, or organization.
- The concern that training takes employees away from their jobs.
Let’s look at each challenge.
Challenge #1 - Learner Resistance
Let’s face it, there’s nothing intriguing, interesting, or enjoyable about the topic of sexual harassment prevention.
It’s not like customer service, which can be practical and fun, or a leadership course offering pithy insight. For some, it may even jog painful or uncomfortable memories.
The best way to overcome learner resistance to the topic is to select a program that is engaging and memorable. That means you should select training that:
- Is realistic and relatable
- Addresses the topic from the learner’s perspective
Tip #1: Avoid training that depicts stereotypes, clichés, or outdated, unrealistic scenarios.
Instead, select training that reflects your work environment and includes realistic scenarios that resonate with your employees. We’ve all seen examples of a male manager rubbing the shoulders of a female assistant. When learners see something so cliché, they inwardly roll their eyes and lose confidence in the content.
Tip #2: Avoid training that is extreme, melodramatic, or feels like a soap opera.
Likewise, avoid training that illustrates extreme examples as the norm. Some learners disengage from training that presents harassment as something so severe or extreme that they can’t imagine themselves or anyone they know in such a circumstance. Extreme situations happen, but learners may shut down if they can’t relate. Instead, select training that includes a variety of examples of realistic sexual harassment scenarios.
Tip #3: Select training that addresses learner protests.
Whether you realize it or not, there is a voice in your learner’s head that is talking during the training, dismissing points that are outlandish or unrealistic. Look for training that addresses what the learner may be thinking:
- “That might work in a training video, but in ‘real life’ that’s not what would happen.”
- “I don’t want to lose my job.”
- “What if I’m not comfortable speaking up?”
- “What if I didn’t mean to offend someone?”
Tip #4: Avoid training that is merely a list of do’s and don’ts or a litany of definitions.
Instead, select training that illustrates appropriate and inappropriate conduct and empowers employees to be accountable for a respectful workplace. Learner resistance sometimes comes from anticipating the boredom of sitting through do’s and don’ts, policies, and the legal definitions surrounding sexual harassment. While that needs to be part of a comprehensive training effort, sexual harassment prevention training should focus on what inappropriate behaviors and sexual misconduct look like, and how to stop them before they become illegal.
Adult learners want context: teaching them how and why it’s important is more effective than simply a list of definitions and rules.
Challenge #2 - Management and employees don’t see a need for sexual harassment prevention training since sexual harassment isn’t a problem in their workplace
That may be true for your organization in the present moment. But the reality is that every time a new employee is hired, or a new delivery person, new vendor, or new customer enters your place of business, there is the potential for offensive or inappropriate conduct to occur.
It is important that your managers and employees know what to do if they witness inappropriate behaviors or sexual misconduct, or if it happens to them.
Tip #5: Select training that describes all forms of sexual harassment, inappropriate sexual or gender-based conduct, and explains what to do if they witness or experience it.
Employees don’t always understand the full scope of inappropriate workplace conduct and what is or is not sexual harassment. Be sure to choose a program that explains both quid pro quo and hostile work environment sexual harassment and all its types (including 3rd party and bystander harassment), as well as what employees should do in each instance.
Challenge #3 - The Training Takes Employees Away from Their Jobs
True. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, training takes time – and a commitment from management that it is important enough to take employees away from their job. The reality is that sexual harassment prevention training is necessary and, in some cases, legally mandated. Look for a comprehensive program that goes beyond awareness training, making the investment in time worthwhile and meaningful.
Tip #6: Select training that can be delivered according to the needs of your organization.
Beware quick fixes and “check the box” training programs. Learners tune out and don’t remember a talking head’s narrative or a litany of onscreen directives. It may be cost-effective but not learner-effective.
Instead, for the least amount of job impact, select a comprehensive sexual harassment prevention program that has flexible time and delivery options:
- Instructor-Led Training (ILT)
- Pros: classroom training is interactive; questions and discussion reinforce learning points, and questions can be addressed on-the-spot. Can be modified to suit organizational time constraints.
- Cons: All employees are off their jobs at the same time
- Pros: Employees can train at the time best for them and the organization; self-paced; employees can be at different locations
- Cons: Questions aren’t addressed on-the-spot
- Pros: For organizations that only want the basics, streaming video provides content quickly; employees can be at different locations
- Cons: Questions aren’t addressed on-the-spot
- Pros: eLearning or streaming provides foundation; ILT follow-up builds on learning points, provides forum for discussion, questions are addressed on-the-spot. ILT follow-up can be modified to suit organizational time constraints.
- Cons: If there’s too much time between online or streaming and the ILT follow-up, retention is compromised.
- Pros: Live delivery; questions and discussion reinforce learning points, and questions can be addressed on-the-spot; employees can be at different locations
- Cons: Although live, webinars are not as interactive as ILT, and sometimes technology problems interrupt the training and interfere with learning.
Tip #7: Select training that focuses on building a culture of respect.
Make your employees’ time spent in training meaningful beyond sexual harassment awareness. A sexual harassment program that focuses on building a culture of respect goes beyond “check the box training” and helps change behavior.
A respectful workplace happens when learners are:
- Inspired to rethink the way they talk and act at work
- Are comfortable speaking up when they experience or witness inappropriate or sexual misconduct, and
- Commit to working together to eliminate inappropriate (or illegal) behaviors once and for all.
In an environment built on respect, people follow the golden rule: “treat others as you want to be treated” and that is a win-win for everyone. Research shows that workplaces which build and maintain a culture of respect experience higher morale, productivity, innovation, creative thinking, and problem solving.
Our proven, best-selling and multi-award winning Once & For All: Stopping Sexual Harassment program can help you overcome the challenges list above. Preview it in any of the versions available: