A recent article about a study on the effectiveness of sexual harassment training caught my eye. The article (link here) explains: “Some researchers believe trainings have no positive effects, tend to be more about legal cover than meaningful prevention or may even have unintended consequences – raising serious concerns about the way colleges and companies heavily focus on training as a solution to harassment.” If true, this would mean most organizations are, at best, throwing money away on training and, at worst, potentially encouraging disputes.

Like most things in life, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. No doubt, many companies offer perfunctory training with low budget videos or silly examples of inappropriate behavior. If you are wasting people’s time to check off a box on the compliance checklist, everyone will know it. The last thing you want is to have employees ridiculing the effectiveness of the training or viewing the subject as one not taken seriously by the company. The question should not be whether to train or not (you should!) but how to implement training that is practical, timely, and aimed at the appropriate audience.

Here are some tips on how to craft an effective sexual harassment training program:

  1. The training should not just cover sexual harassment! Harassment based on any protected classification is unlawful, and focusing on sexual harassment will only make male employees feel targeted or defensive.
  2. Employees and management should be trained separately. First, the training should be aimed at the appropriate level, and supervisors need to know different information than rank and file employees. Management won’t ask questions in front of their subordinates (and vice versa). Make everyone more comfortable by splitting up these groups.
  3. Hire a qualified and experienced speaker. Playing a videotape or having every employee watch a PowerPoint on a website is cheaper (maybe) but will likely be viewed as a waste of time. Hire someone who is actually interesting and who can give practical examples of what to do/not to do.
  4. Keep it simple – employees (as opposed to management) don’t really need to know the law. The relevant standard is company policy, which is often much stricter than the law. For example, employees don’t need to know the elements of a prima facie Title VII claim or the Latin origin of quid pro quo harassment – they need to be reminded to be careful when texting coworkers of the opposite sex and to be understanding of diverse employees who may not look or talk like them. Similarly, they need to understand the company’s complaint procedure and why it is important – not whether they have a good case to take to a plaintiff’s lawyer.
  5. Make the training interactive, and let employees become invested in the discussion. Ask what they think – you might learn something.