Why aren’t harassment training programs working?

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Megan McCord

Have you ever had to “shut down” a sexual advance in the workplace? A new poll from the Wall Street Journal and NBC found 48% of female workers said they had personally experienced sexual harassment at work (Time, Wile).

We’ve been doing harassment training sessions for years, so why has none of it clicked? It seems that across the board, HR professionals have dropped the ball on sexual harassment.

It seems that sexual harassment news stories are the biggest and most prevalent ones we see every day. From the #MeToo movement to sexual misconduct on college campuses, it is an issue that clearly deserves attention.

In training and development, it is more important than ever that HR professionals increase their focus on sexual harassment training for both their employees and other managers. Our own Vice President, Mike Pence, has openly come out with a statement saying that he would never be alone with a woman at work. In his SHRM article, Smith says that “Following the “Pence rule” in the workplace—when a man declines to be alone with a woman other than his wife—may stand in the way of men mentoring women, which some view as a necessary stepping stone for women’s professional advancement” (Smith). Not only can this fear of sexual harassment allegations lower the efficiency of a productivity of a company, but women are continuing to miss out on opportunities to advance in their careers from lack of mentorship.

I recently delivered a workshop and wrote a paper on the Do’s and Don’ts of Dating a Coworker, as well as a Harassment Training Program for male high school students entering the workforce. It seems that in almost every aspect of business, school, classes, etc., sexual harassment can come into play.

In the hit TV series New Girl, Jessica Day tries to lead her faculty in a sexual harassment workshop and instructs each of them to “shut it down” when a situation becomes uncomfortable or can be labelled as sexual harassment. One of the faculty members knows that she is secretly infatuated with an attractive new colleague and suggests that he helps her act out a simulation in front of the rest of the faculty. They act out a scenario where he walks up to her in the library and begins to give her a sensual massage. She is supposed to teach the faculty to “shut it down,” but forgets and waits too long to finally stop the massage. In doing so, she accidently touches his male “stuff,” not once but twice. At the end, she makes a comment that they should “fill out some forms.”

Clearly, the execution of this training program backfired. However, the idea of it is a solid one: Every business needs to conduct harassment workshops for all of its staff and employees, whether they work at McDonald’s, an elementary school, or Deloitte.

Although New Girl is a comedy and the scene is lighthearted, it does shed light on an issue that needs more of a focus in management than a crappy training workshop like this one. We need to revamp our training on sexual harassment, and ensure that everyone knows how to “shut it down.”

New Girl Clip


SHRM Article: “Men’s Mentorship of Women at Odds with the ‘Pence Rule’”


Time Article: “A New Poll Shows How Common Sexual Harassment Is in the Workplace”