IT Employment

Poll: Does sexual harassment training really change attitudes?

Sexual harassment training is required in many companies. Do you think it actually changes attitudes?

In 2008, Alexander McPherson, a professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at UC Irvine's school of biological sciences, wrote an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times in which he referred to sexual harassment training as:

...a disgraceful sham. As far as I can tell from my colleagues, it is worthless, a childish piece of theater, an insult to anyone with a respectable IQ, primarily designed to relieve the university of liability in the case of lawsuits. I have not been shown any evidence that this training will discourage a harasser or aid in alerting the faculty to the presence of harassment.

I believe there is something to be learned from sexual harassment training, but it lies in identifying the subtler triggers like racy calendars or inappropriate discussions in the workplace.

I don't think anything is gained by the corny videos where the "actors" do everything except twirl their mustaches and tie screaming damsels to the railroad tracks. If anyone I worked with watched a video-of, say, a smarmy guy continuously putting his arm around a co-worker who has to tell him not to 55 times-and actually has a moment of comprehension then I would escort that person straight out the building just for being stupid.

What do you think?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

80 comments
fhrivers
fhrivers

...it's designed to cover a company's ass legally. Companies cannot change behavior, but they can discourage certain behaviors.

sir.ptl
sir.ptl

CYA it is indeed. I think people are deluding themselves if they think a little orientation is going to change someones behavior. If an employee doesn't know harassment is wrong, they have a deeper problem. I they don't care the orientation/training won't help either, it'll just make them more careful. To be effective you must change the morality and beliefs of the perpetrator. Good luck. Z

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

It is CYA for the company, but it also rightly puts the staff on notice that this is something that can get them fired. Both answers are right. However, the appropriate learning outcome is NOT that any one's attitude is changed; only that he/she modifies (if necessary) his/her behaviour in the work place. It's not thought police, it's behaviour police, and that's valid. In short, think what you want, but act as if you had manners.

Dknopp
Dknopp

This type of training is not going to change the clueless who do not think they are harassing ( or don't care )and they are, or the overly sensitive type who think everyone is harassing them. I think everyone just needs to chill.

PCcritic
PCcritic

As a member of the public service in Canada I had to sit through a one-hour video and attend an all-morning workshop on sexual harassment and respect / sensitivity training. They were essentially promoting the anti-male, anti-white prejudices of the female film-maker and presenters. Of course, nothing was done about the female secretary who hired a stripper to come to the office to celebrate a senior male employee's birthday. (True story.)

bratwizard
bratwizard

I'm reading along all the stories from folks who have attended the sexual harassment training seminars, but I haven't seen anybody mention whether or not the classes have actually improved their sexual harassment abilities... :-)

Regulus
Regulus

Your response parameters are too narrow. Thus your poll is totally unrealistic.

suzbeau
suzbeau

Unless used to show employees what should be reported. Cartoonish caricatures don't get the point across.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

It didn't start out that way, and we definitely need to know that it exists and how to counter it. But the people that need it are going to blow it off as "I don't need this" and it just pisses off everybody else. It's another good idea that's been abused. I knew it had gone too far when we were told in one USAF Human Relations class that incidental glances can be interpreted as sexual harassment. The woman next to me (a Lt. Col.) asked, "Do you mean to say that if I watch an attractive male walk past, it can be sexual harassment?" and was told yes. Her response was a muttered something about not even being allowed to be human any more...

najwalaylah
najwalaylah

There are two governing principles, one voluntary on the part of the company but highly desired, and the other an ineluctable law of existence: 1) Behave decently or get gone. 1) Haters gonna hate. I don't even care if anyone's attitude changes. I only care about not having their rigid but laughable attitudes shoved in my face.

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

These "seminars" do nothing but move the behavior underground and make its expression more pernicious. I knew one guy like this who went to the seminars to find out where the line is so he could act out right up to the line and still get away without getting in trouble.

TommCatt
TommCatt

Sexual harassment is condemned because it creates a "hostile work environment." All work environments are hostile. Otherwise we'd refer to them as play environments and everyone would show up early and "work" late. By hostile, I mean that work creates an atmosphere of stress, worry and concern. It is the nature of work itself, the process of making and meeting goals, managing limited resources and answering the unwavering demands of the marketplace. People tend to take pride in the proven abilities and accomplishments of their team. When a new person arrives, the rest of the team look upon him or her with two as yet unanswered questions: 1) Does he/she have the knowledge/skill/experience to handle the job?, and 2) Does he/she have the psychological fortitude to handle the pressure of the job? The "new guy" will not be fully accepted as a member of the team until both questions are answered. Answering the first is relatively easy. Pre-employment testing can go a long way but usually the person is given some technically demanding but low priority tasks to perform. That is, "make work." Think of them as post-employment testing. Actually, "make work" can provide some answers to the second question. If the new guy can't set aside his pride long enough to perform for "the team," well, that's information the team needs to know. Artificial stresses are normally added to the burden of the new guy. Even if proficient at the technical aspects of the job, a psychologically weak person is going to be a detriment to the team. This is especially true of physical workplaces, such as factory floors, construction sites and law enforcement/military where a lapse in judgment can come at the expense of safety to others. But it is a factor in any workplace. Even in an IT shop, if the new girl can't handle the "pressure" of a smile and being referred to as "sweetie," then there is a good chance she will not be able to hold up her end when a do-or-die deadline approaches and 16-hour, weekends included, work schedules hit. This is information we need sooner, not later. And don't for one minute think this is only a male to female application of pressure. I have survived nine weeks of generated misery from the drill instructors at a Marine boot camp. But the pressure a woman can bring to bear on a man is an entirely different level of hell. If he can survive that, he will unhesitatingly walk into a meeting room full of managers screaming for his blood. Besides, the workplace (the private workplace anyway, none of this applies to any level of government, where there is no looming pressure to earn a profit) does a pretty good job of policing itself. The boor seen in movies like "9 to 5" or sexual harassment training videos are rare in real life. They create inefficiencies most companies simply cannot afford. So when the new girl is "attacked" by the department boor, the team may just watch and see how she handles it. But once an accepted team mate, the team will come to her defense and let "Don Juan" know that "this one" is off limits. These are generalities, of course. There are always exceptions. When all else fails, we always have the option to seek employment elsewhere. I've had to do that. I'm sure most of us have.

ctombazian
ctombazian

There have to be some studies showing the impact of Sexual Harrassment Training programs-- improvement in employee satisfaction and engagement? Decline in claims of abuse? Increase in customer satisfaction and loyalty? Improved productivity? Lower absenteeism? Come on, polls to solicit opinions are somewhat valuable, but data would sure be enlightening!

vandalii
vandalii

For all our talk of being "sensitive" to inappropriate words and actions, which has resulted in a whole new branch of litigation and "training", I've yet to see any sort of regulation on appropriate dress in the workplace (other than clothing safety concerns) that I have to watch every year. It is true that each person is responsible for where their mind goes and what they do with their mouth and actions. It can be easier or harder . Somewhere in the past few decades, we lost track of modesty in general and work dress in specific. Would be nice if the women buttoned just one more button on their bodice and maybe lowered their hemline a couple of inches (or 8" depending on how short their short skirt is) to knee-length. I'm sure some might argue for a full-length burqa, but that doesn't make a lot of sense here in USA. I find I have to "bounce" my eyes a lot at work to avoid the up-down tendency we men's eyes have particularly with women insistant on "showing the goods". I dunno. Probably wouldn't change the sexual harrassment picture much for those already bent on being boors, but it helps us "regular joes" keep it clearner. I know I have greater respect for professional women who respect themselves enough to dress more modestly. Freedom with responsibility is a wonderful thing.

jmn2
jmn2

The military has a "zero-tolerance" but when a victim comes forward they become victimized again. If they file a "restricted" complaint nothing happens it just makes the victim feel better about the situation and allows them to be able to seek medical attention as needed (physical or mental). In the civilian world "zero-tolerance" means you have to deal with BS for 6 months before we will terminate the person responsible for the sexual harassment. Or at least that is my experience

g01d4
g01d4

I was requested to attend a seminar that people actually flew in for. I was very sceptical at first. The training was outsourced and the instructor was a former lawyer who had practiced in the field. The course was very good! It was geared towards management (i.e. the company) and focused on specific liabilities by citing several precedents mostly in sexual harassment cases. The sensitivity to these issues is typically cyclic. I think "identifying the subtler triggers like racy calendars" is heading towards one extreme. Though I was surprised to learn that certain "inappropriate discussions" can have repercussions even if they're *outside* of the workplace, such as a public place among other coworkers. While I may have been fortunate to have taken an interesting course, I think everyone in the workplace has an individual responsibility to learn their rights, regardless of whatever company they're working for at the moment decides to spoon feed them.

schmidtd
schmidtd

I found some classes I have been given narrowly useful in understanding some of the technical aspects of the law. In some ways examples of what wasn't harrasement were more useful in understanding the laws. No idea if this changes anyones behaviour.

cwarner7_11
cwarner7_11

A number of years ago, a company with which I was employed mandated sexual harassment awareness training. The presenter of the training program (an outside consultant and female), insisted that if I smiled while greeting the female receptionist upon entering the office, and she found this offensive, then it was sexual harassment. On the other hand, if I did NOT smile when greeting the receptionist upon entering the office, and she found this offensive, it was sexual harassment. If I did not greet the receptionist upon entering the office and she found this offensive, it was sexual harassment. The only way to avoid possible sexual harassment was to never enter by the front door...The fact that this made ME uncomfortable was not sexual harassment, because I happen to be male. The net result was that I found myself avoiding any interaction with female employees out of fear that my behavior might be misconstrued. Note that I have never been accused of actual sexual harassment at any time in my professional career, but I found myself living in fear of such an accusation bring my career to an abrupt halt... When I went out on my own, I found that the only females working for the company were family members. I know of at least two cases where I found myself deciding against hiring a very well-qualified female candidate because of a concern over potential harassment complaints against me or other members of the staff. The only way to avoid such problems is a sexually-segregated workplace... Fortunately, I have found a society where such issues are more reasonably addressed, and I can once again enjoy contributions from team members irregardless of sex or sexual orientation. And, no, I don't see any problem with sexual harassment in this environment...

slfackler
slfackler

It didn't do anything as far as I can tell, except let them know how far they can go. I saw it get worse and if you go to management, they side with the supervisor doing the harrassing. They let me know every, he didn't want women in his unit. I get moved, he spreads rumors and I still got treated like crap.

GrizzledGeezer
GrizzledGeezer

...see relationships differently from men. No matter how hard you try to avoid offending a woman, she will eventually misinterpret something you say or do and complain about it. This cost me at least one job.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

Personally, I have never been through any such "training", but I know plenty of people who have. All of them regarded it as patronizing, a joke, and a complete waste of time. If you are one of the clueless louts that this sort of training is intended to remediate, odds are that it's not going to take. Relatively few people respond well to being talked down to, and then walk away thinking, "Hey, I'm a pig. It's so clear now!". On the other hand, if you are an ordinarily normal and civil person, you're likely to find such training as I described above, and are bound to resent the whole regimen and the organizations behind it. It reminds me of the "all men are potential rapists" mentality that was was a popular meme with the gender feminists when I was in school. Mainly, it was meant to address the stereotypical misogynistic jock attitude image that is not uncommon in campus atmospheres. The problem is that by labeling "all" men as "potential" creeps offends people who might otherwise be receptive to your message and mission. Treating all people as criminals is hardly productive.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

on the individual. I had a coworker who could make the most racy, sex charged statements to women coworkers and they liked it. I've seen him start on the most "straight-laced" women in the office, (IMO), and have them giggling like school girls at his innuendo. OTOH, I'm sure if I made the same comment, even in the same conservation, it would be inappropriate, chauvinistic and sexist. It is what it is. I guess I'll join SamFrench at the water cooler discussing Mystery Science Theater.

delphi9_1971
delphi9_1971

I think it's pure CYA, because anyone who is stupid enough to do something that is constituted as Sexual Harassment will do it regardless of training. However, if the company doesn't do something to show they're trying to stop or change the behavior, they appear callous at best and can be sued at worst. So it's CYA, but it's CYA that I think companies have no choice but to do. Really how else can you show your trying to address a behavior that you (as the company) really have no way of preventing?

billfranke
billfranke

"I believe there is something to be learned from sexual harassment training, but it lies in identifying the subtler triggers like racy calendars or inappropriate discussions in the workplace." Sure. You can learn what will get you fired or disciplined at work, and maybe you can learn some social norms that Mom and Dad forgot to teach you when you were growing up, and if you're really, really sensitive, maybe you can learn that what you think is funny or cute or inoffensive makes other people's skin crawl. But sexual harassment training isn't going to change attitudes. At best, it will change behavior, and, really, that's all that matters because your behavior expresses your attitude. One of the major problems with defining sexual harassment is that the people who will accuse person A of being sexually harassing will accept exactly the same language and behavior from person B because he or she likes person B and thinks it cute when B says and does the same thing as that sexual harasser A. We all have double standards; we're all hypocrites about such things; and we all adjust our language and behavior to fit the audience we know we're talking to and acting on (but sometimes we fail and unintentionally offend because we make the wrong judgment). Yes, some language and some behavior will offend just about all the people all the time, but other language and other behavior will offend only those who like to take offense and those who don't like the speaker/actor. Everything in context. There are very few absolutes in life. Death is one. Maybe the only one. "Sexual harassment" is as easy to define as "justice", "equality", "freedom", "good", "bad", "delicious". All are matters of personal opinion. Except, of course, when they are codified in the civil and criminal laws.

nlozo
nlozo

We all learned that a change in attitude most certainly will affect your behavior. This works in reverse as well and certainly in sexual harassment. Say every day you drove to work and all you thought of was the negative, then your attitude toward work would be just that. But if you looked at the positive and changed your behavior, slowly over time your attitude toward work would change. For sexual harassment if you slowly nip the offending behavior, slowly you can change someone's attitude as well.

VirtualPro
VirtualPro

Would have been interesting to see results for each group.

m.secenj
m.secenj

In the continuous feed of new employees, there is no guarantee that these newbies' parents have given their children the necessary respect and/or moral compass values every employer expects from their new hires. Training is the last chance for the new employee to get the requisite interpersonal skill set, if harassment occurs later, it is one less defense that the offending employee has against being fired. Mandatory training for all employees is a two-fold benefit to the Employer: 1 CYA, and 2 Lay out the expected behaviour and the behaviour that will get an employee fired.

carl.johansson
carl.johansson

I agree but it is also an attempt to inform everyone of what is expected of them. I see above the comment about the training can be one-sided. I have seen this to be mostly true but recently noted the ladies are getting the "talks" regarding their comments. It comes down to when you hire a new employee, do you homework.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

It's not the person that doesn't know it's wrong that's the problem. The individual may have been brought up that way or may simply be completely socially inept. That person you have a chance of changing his behavior. It's the person that knows it's wrong and still does it that won't change.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

CYA is helpful to the org whether we like to admit it or not. It your org gets bit in the tush too many times it's not good for anybody. Learning what's acceptable behaviour is also helpful whether it changes your "true" attitudes or not. The thing to remember is each subgroup of people form their own unwritten rules of behaviour. You have to watch and listen to learn.

OurITLady
OurITLady

but don't you dare refer to me as "sweetie" unless and until we become friends and we are both comfortable with behaving in a more "personal" (or less formal) manner. And yes, I can hold up my end when the do-or-die deadline hits (and have more than once) and have worked a lot of 16-hour, weekends included, work schedules over the years. I don't have a problem with people I have worked with under those circumstances using pet names occasionally, when you've been through those kind of projects you tend to develop a better relationship. I do have a problem with what, under the circumstances you describe above, would be practically a complete stranger using anything other than a respectful term of address. Not sure I'd class it as SE the first time you tried it, our training class showed that for a first offense of this type you should make it clear the behavior makes you uncomfortable, it was only harassment if the behavior continued after that.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

...that everybody assumes those working for government have no sense of pride or professionalism? You mentioned Marine boot camp. Didn't you have any pride as a Marine? Weren't you a government employee? Why do you assume that those with different jobs don't feel the same way about their work and workplace that you did about being a Marine?

Dknopp
Dknopp

Where did you work - the renaissance festival? :o

vandalii
vandalii

Should've also mentioned men should wear clothing that doesn't expose every subtle (or not-so-subtle) nuance of their anatomy at work as well. Though studies have shown overwhelming that men's stimulation comes thru sight, shouldn't ignore those women for whom sight is their major source of stimulation...

santeewelding
santeewelding

I see at least a thousand comments in the offing.

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

Was he attractive? It seems like "cute" guys get away with more unacceptable behavior.

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

That Gypsy's HOT! And Pearl?! Woohooooooooooo! (Sexual harrassment on the Satellite of Love)........

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

SH is in the eye of the beholder and no one else. Once you get away from very extreme examples, like the stuff in the "training" videos, it becomes way too subjective for my liking. When persons A and B can say the same things to person C and D, respectively, and one interaction be SH and the other not, solely because C takes offense and D doesn't, there is another problem afoot.

vandalii
vandalii

Wonder how many of the "Critical training" responses were from those fearing for their Sexual Harrassment training jobs ;-)

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

Workplace SH training is supposed to exactly those two things: CYA the employer and lay out acceptable WORKPLACE behavior. What a person does when they are off the clock is neither the employer's business nor concern, except in the limited exception of bringing on the job, i.e, coming to work drunk, stoned or hung over.

JamesRL
JamesRL

If done properly, this kind of training can bring valuable information to the organization. Some people, even management, think that sexual harrassment is harmless and they can ignore it unless it escalates. But even low levels of harassment can lead to team issues, loss of productivity, loss of valued employees and so on. If people "get" that, they wouldn't be so inclined to look the other way.

vandalii
vandalii

...was about the stress uniquely found private business: profit. Gov't work has important, critical aspects as well, however the concensus is that the civil servant is much less likely to be fired than, say, an engineer that can't hit his/her dates. Pride and professionalism is needed in all arenas (except maybe politics where harrassment is a virtue?).

vandalii
vandalii

No, just have (and use) a wider vocabulary than the average geek ;-)

Keighlar
Keighlar

I wouldn't even know where to start with tearing him a new one. :)

ricardoc
ricardoc

Unacceptable by whom? By his description it is pretty clear that the girls "accepted" his behavior. And therein lays the problem, what might be acceptable by some might not be by others; what might be acceptable from someone might not be from another person. If someone willingly allows a person to make racist or sex charge comments who am I to stop or report it because I think it is harassment or because if I try the same then it won't be tolerated from me. It is the target of the action who can only say when she/he is being harassed or what is acceptable or not.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

although I'm not a judge of the attractiveness of men. He was way overweight. Not that I'm physically attractive either, I'm not. What he had though was the gift of words. He knew when to push, when to back off, then when to push again, "all in fun" of course. IMO that is more attractive to women than the physical.

ricardoc
ricardoc

It is all about how is perceived by the "target". I've lived for long periods of time in three countries with completely different cultures and the perception of what constitutes "sexual harassment" varies a lot. Some of the talking and acting towards a person considered harassment in one culture are craved by either sex in other countries or considered the way people normally interact. In some cultures being completely super polite and not ever saying something sex charged to a co-worker, makes then get the wrong impression and sometimes increase the sexual aggressiveness towards you. In multicultural societies like Canada and US the problem with sexual harassment and the perception of what it really is becomes a real problem for interpersonal relations, to the point that if you try to start a conversation with someone in a bus they look at you like you are some kind of creep. I would say that the best method to deal with what can be called sexual harassment is to leave it to the affected, because only they can feel/say when they are being harassed. A person should have enough will to stop anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, especially if there are bosses and authorities to which you can report it. But another party mediating or intervening in the way two people interact is a risky decision, it might even backfire and you will be left with neither person saying thank you.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I actually have less stress than when I was in the military. The vast majority of workers aren't stressed about profits; they have no input into the decisions that determine profitability. They are worried about the same thing I'm worried about: keeping their jobs.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Reminds me of a pregnant woman who filed a complaint of Sexual Harassment against me because I opened a Broken door for her. Defiantly the worst case of Sexual Harassment that I've ever heard of I don't know how her knickers stayed on. [/sarcasm] Leaving things like that to people who claim to be adversely affected leave anyone at the mercy of a _Pissed off Person who wants to throw allegations around just so they themselves feel better at that point in time. I still fail to see how saying Good Morning to someone and telling them that as the sliding door is broken I'll open it for them is any form of Sexual Harassment. However as her hubby was in the Navy and she had just been told that he wouldn't be back for the birth earlier that day like [i]10 minutes previously[/i] could in any way imply that she was in a bad mood and willing to complain about anything. ;) Col

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