sexual harassment

Sexual harassment has been in the news—again. And while the cases we’re hearing about are high profile, don’t think sexual harassment can’t affect your small business workplace. It most certainly can.

Recently TalentLMS conducted a survey taking a look at sexual harassment training. To find out more we talked to Christina Gialleli, Director of People Operations at Epignosis, the parent company behind TalentLMS.

What is the purpose of the survey you conducted?

Christina Gialleli: We wanted to investigate the state of sexual harassment training and how employees respond to it. For this reason, we surveyed only employees who have received such training from their current employers. Speaking with employees under anonymity on such an important matter allowed us to dive deeper into how they feel about it, how they handle incidents and if they have experienced any after the COVID-19 pandemic, and what they think the training is lacking.

Ultimately, we wanted to come up with data-powered insights into how to make anti-harassment training more impactful, relevant and successful. So to show that, instead of being a tick-the-box compliance duty, anti-harassment training can be a powerful ally of leadership, HR, and all employees in creating a safe and equal work environment with a healthy and positive culture.

How has COVID-19 and online working impacted sexual harassment in the workplace?

Gialleli: The pandemic fueled a massive shift in the workplace, with many employees who previously went into an office everyday being forced to work fully or partially remote. Unfortunately, the decline in face-to-face interaction didn’t result in a decline in sexual harassment incidents.

According to our recent survey results, over 29% of respondents said they have experienced unwelcome behavior over video calls, text messages, email or other online platforms since the start of the pandemic. Surprisingly, men reported experiencing online sexual harassment more often than women, with 40% of men saying they experienced sexual harassment through online channels, compared to just 17% of women.

How effective is anti-harassment training? More importantly, how often should companies offer training opportunities on this issue?

Gialleli: When it comes to educating employees on the fundamentals of sexual harassment in the workplace and how incidents should be reported, training has an overwhelmingly positive effect. The majority surveyed reported that their training made them feel more aware of how to report incidents, what their company’s policy is, what constitutes sexual harassment, and better educated about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And 86% of respondents also reported that their training informed them of their legal rights in the event that they ever experience unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace. Overall, training makes employees feel safer, more valued as an individual, more productive, and ultimately more likely to stay with their company. With that being said, training on this issue must be included in companies’ budgets and offered all year long for the wellbeing of employees and success of a business as a whole.

What are some effective strategies companies can implement to create a safe workplace as people head back to the office?

Gialleli: First, employers should start by addressing the ambiguous gray areas—incidents of sexual harassment that aren’t always black and white. When working remotely, it’s often difficult for employers to witness incidents of sexual harassment, and there are no bystanders to provide a third-party report. Revamping your training to address the gray areas that appear in real life can make a significant difference for those who experience sexual harassment—or witness it happen—whether in person or online. Second, employers should provide dedicated training on how to handle harassment that occurs through online platforms like Zoom and Skype. These platforms are here to stay, so showcasing examples of sexual harassment behavior that can occur online will help employees more clearly identify the behavior when it happens during the workday.

In addition, employers should replace outdated training materials with new content that reflects today’s complex working environment. While the lifespan of training materials can vary, it’s a good rule of thumb to get rid of any training videos that have existed for more than a decade. This is especially critical for entry-level employees who are entering the workforce in a remote or hybrid working capacity for the first time and will be highly influenced by the training they receive.

Lastly, employers should focus on sexual harassment prevention strategies to get ahead of incidents before they happen, as the results can have a significant impact. In fact, 90% of employees report being more aware of how to report incidents of sexual harassment after they receive sexual harassment trianing. By investing the time in proper sexual harassment prevention, employers will not only reduce the amount of sexual harassment that takes place, but also play a role in making their employees feel more productive in their role and more likely to stay with their company in the long-run.

How should a small business, which does not have anyone trained at HR, handle this situation? Who should be in charge?

Gialleli: The survey has showed that the equal percentage of employees feel equally comfortable receiving anti-harassment training from an internal training company—as from their HR departments. This means that small businesses who don’t have their own in-house expertise can rely on external resources for help.

One example is the training program that our survey partner, The Purple Campaign, offers. Another solution is, if the company uses a learning management system (LMS) it may include ready-made courses on harassment in the workplace. For example, our platform for employee training, TalentLMS, offers a library of expert-made courses on various current workplace topics, such as sexual harassment training, but also equality, diversity, inclusion, and more.

Training has great power—when done right. While there is still a long way to go in rooting out sexual harassment at work, making sexual harassment training a vital part of recurring training program is an effective and necessary first step. Done right, it can contribute to creating a positive, equal, and harassment-free work environment.

Harassment stock photo by Mihai Surdu/Shutterstock