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Has sexual harassment training helped to reduce workplace issues for staff and employers?

This new and somewhat worrying report from the EEOC has called into question even the most basic of responses to harassment

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has concluded that sexual harassment prevention training is routinely unsuccessful and in some cases even damaging. There is little or no evidence that current training courses make any difference and much of the training delivered over the last 30 years has not worked in prevention as intended.

The authors of the report commented: “We were surprised by the research. This training is not effective at changing behaviours.”

Opinions suggest that consistent discipline for harassers and those seen to be aware of the harassment could be far more effective than current training. And responsibility must be shared; if you are a manager and you are made aware of or know of a harasser or harassers, you are as responsible as the perpetrator(s).

Several studies were undertaken with differing conclusions. Researchers found that sexual harassment training courses blur the lines between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour whilst somewhat reinforcing ‘gender stereotype’ behaviour. This increases the probability that the victims will be overlooked or, more worryingly, won’t speak out at all.

Training needs re-assessing in its approach to prevention. The report strongly suggests that gender diversity in senior positions could have more of a lasting impact on behaviour than the current approach to training.

Significant re-evaluation of attitudes to the prevention of harassment and equality is required, rather than a one size fits all approach to training across the board. Current training is said to lack discussion on vital topics including, inequality and the dynamics of power, race and gender.

Indeed this form of training was shown only to highlight discrimination in academia. It has been labelled “ineffective” and “cartoonish”, with one law professor commenting that “sexual harassment training protects the company, not the employee.”

“The training we do is laughable” added a Professor of gender and women’s studies.

Existing courses have been criticised for provoking a ‘backlash’ in men, leaving them resistant and resentful of the training being given. The very policies that should be enforced in these groups are now not being heard. Some participants have been overheard making sexist jokes and laughing at those wanting to learn within the training setting. As such, current efforts may be provoking a form of bullying rather than delivering an equality learning experience.

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