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3 ways to make anti-harassment initiatives a priority

In the years between Anita Hill’s testimony to Congress and the empowering outrage sparked by #MeToo, workplace and sexual harassment became ingrained in the public consciousness.

Employees today can better distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate workplace behavior, and businesses know that it’s in their best compliance interests to take harassment seriously.

Yet in 2019, a couple years after the height of #MeToo and nearly three decades since Anita Hill’s testimony, harassment remains a huge problem in the American workplace. Consider this Marketplace-Edison research: 46 percent of women surveyed who said they’ve been sexually harassed ended up leaving their jobs or switching careers. This statistic is devastating because it means about half of harassed women lose the battle against someone else’s bad behavior.

(We should note that sexual harassment affects all employees; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC] statistics show that 15.9 of charges filed with its office were made by males—a number similar to what the Marketplace-Edson survey found.)

Today’s organizations must make anti-harassment a priority of their corporate compliance strategies. If your efforts are coming up short, here’s some advice for getting back on track.

An imperative to end harassment

Morally, the goal to end workplace harassment is obvious: No one should work in an environment where they are bullied, belittled, uncomfortable, pressured, scared, discriminated against, and unsafe. Beyond the human factor, harassment erodes productivity—and, subsequently, profits—and puts organizations at tremendous risk.

New York state recently enacted one of the strongest anti-harassment laws in the country that redefines the standard for what constitutes harassment in the workplace. Previously, misconduct for harassment had to be “severe and pervasive” to be a violation (and expose an organization to liability), but now the threshold is lower—anything that goes beyond “petty slights and trivial inconveniences” can run afoul of the new law. This tougher standard is a good place to start strengthening compliance, and it can be incorporated into training so employees know that behavior once considered just really annoying may now be defined as harassment.

Building a culture of compliance

Many organizations have implemented anti-harassment policies—a good and important step, but often a measure that doesn’t change the culture of the company. Such policies must be more than simple declarations that harassment won’t be tolerated or feel-good guidelines that are never practically and effectively enforced.

Strong anti-harassment initiatives are backed up by action. Effective policies empower employees to speak up while protecting them from actual or perceived retaliation. These policies are fully supported and perpetually demonstrated by the C-suite, thus further contributing to the culture of compliance and safety that benefits employees. A strong commitment to preventing harassment also includes training—which the EEOC highly recommends as an important preventative measure, organizations should take to protect their workers.

Training that transforms

Great training that strengthens corporate compliance and builds a culture that doesn’t tolerate harassment requires two important features.

  • First, such training uses interactive, relevant scenarios and adaptive learning to fully immerse users in the experience. Employees don’t feel as if they are being lectured, and the course automatically adjusts based on how users are responding to the training. The end result is a sort of muscle memory for the brain that helps employees not only know the difference between the right and wrong ways to act, but also recognize harassment when it’s occurring with coworkers.
  • Second, great compliance training produces and benefits from rich data that, when analyzed, can identify weak anti-harassment spots, diagnose why those gaps exist, predict future areas of trouble, and inform strategy and solutions. For example, behavioral intelligence might reveal which departments or branches are struggling to understand certain concepts. With this knowledge, organizations can prescribe additional tactics, including more training, awareness, just-in-time guidance, micro-learning, and greater due diligence by managers and HR.

Many states require or highly recommend anti-harassment training, but even if yours doesn’t, education combined with a commitment to stopping bad behavior is a wise strategy to boost corporate compliance. Organizations should be proactive not only because it’s the smart thing to do for their business, but also because it’s the right thing to do for their employees.

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