Does Sexual Harassment Training Need An Update?

Lectures that emphasize what not to do in the workplace can backfire.

By Alexandra HartDecember 14, 2017 9:47 am

As more high-ranking men are dropped from prominent positions due to sexual harassment allegations, workplaces are taking a hard look at policies and training around the issue. But what if current harassment training practices are doing more harm than good? Some research suggests that they may be. And if what employers are doing isn’t working, what does work?

Claire Cain Miller explores these questions in a story for the New York Times section The Upshot, where she reports on gender and the future of work.

Cain Miller says typical sexual harassment training amounts to a lecture about company policy. It doesn’t prevent or change behavior, and can sometimes backfire, as people react with uncomfortable jokes or awkwardness. Such training can also reinforce stereotypes and gender roles.

“It’s because of two Supreme Court cases in 1998 which basically said companies protect themselves from liability in harassment as long as they explain their policies to employees,” Cain Miller says. “So they don’t have to do anything to prevent harassment, or to make people behave well. All they have to do is explain their policy to employees.”

Cain Miller says harassment training reinforces negativity. An alternative is “kindness” training, or other instruction aimed at telling employees what they should do, rather than what they shouldn’t.

“What researchers have found is it creates a culture of respect,” Cain Miller says. “When coworkers have that respect for each other, harassment is less likely to occur.”


Written by Shelly Brisbin.