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Better Companies

The Problem with Sexual Harassment Training

Hint: it protects companies more than potential victims

On Friday, Jena McGregor at The Washington Post published an analysis on why sexual harassment training programs that surged in the late 1990s, after two Supreme Court decisions, have done little to create more inclusive workplaces for women.

The best quote from McGregor's article that sums up why sexual harassment training is flawed is below. As Debra Katz simply says, these trainings are viewed as band aids that provide cover, but don't get to the root of changing a company's culture to prevent conditions where harassers feel empowered.

"It was sort of a get-out-of-jail-free card to companies," said Debra Katz, a Washington lawyer who represents plaintiffs in sexual harassment cases. After the 1998 decisions, she said, "there was like a cottage industry of trainers who went in and provided training. Most of those efforts were geared toward trying to protect themselves from liability as opposed to creating a sea change in the culture."

McGregor's article is filled with more possible reasons, including research that shows how sexual harassment trainings reinforced gender biases through materials that made women look like they had less power at organizations. Another fun fact from McGregor's piece is that only "five states have a mandate for harassment training for private and public employees (another 22 require it for some or all public-sector workers), according to the National Women's Law Center." Sexual harassment training is not nearly as prevalent as assumed.

So what can we do beyond pushing for broad cultural changes across corporations? That's a larger conversation that I'll break down in future blogs. In the meantime, watch Claire from HR cut to the core in a SNL skit below. She provides the best sexual harassment training I've seen to date (and no, that isn't a joke).

Claire from HR's Sexual Harassment Training


More articles on why sexual harassment training falls short:

Washington Post: What's the point of sexual harassment training? Often, to protect employers.

Bloomberg: Why Can't We Stop Sexual Harassment Training at Work?

CNN: Paul Ryan Orders Mandatory Sexual Harassment Training for Members, Staff

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