Despite years of training across organizations in the United States, including a growing list of states where such training is mandated by law, sexual harassment still exists. The rise of the #MeToo movement has accentuated this exact problem: Sexual harassment is still rampant in the face of widespread training.
I recently talked about the problem of ineffective sexual harassment training with Courtney Harrison, CHRO at OneLogin.
Little Hope When Leaders Don’t Take Sexual Harassment Seriously
When I asked Harrison, who has 25 years of experience with sexual harassment training, why sexual harassment is still happening, she identified several issues. Among the most important was one she had run into frequently: a lack of serious effort on the part of leadership. “It starts at the top,” she said. She continued that “if the leader has zero tolerance for it at the top” versus leaders who are not truly dedicated to the problem, then the issue is much more likely to be present.
But what about those companies that do have leadership dedicated to combating sexual harassment? Are they exempt from having sexual harassment incidents? Unfortunately, they are not. Harrison addressed the reason that sexual harassment persists in such organizations. She said that “believing that training, specifically online training, was going to solve the problems” created the illusion of a silver bullet. However, such training is rarely effective—especially if it’s the only training employees receive.
Mandatory Training Is Only as Good as Its Platform
A logical place where experts have attempted to stop widespread sexual harassment has been with legally mandated training. A growing handful of states do have mandatory sexual harassment training to one degree or another. Many, like Illinois, only require training for specific employees. Others, like California, require training to be provided by most employers. But that doesn’t seem to have helped as much as experts had hoped. Harrison says that “the biggest part of the #MeToo movement, where a lot of it has happened, is in California where it’s been mandatory for the longest. It’s kind of a center point, and they have been at it for a long time.”
A major problem with mandatory training, as Harrison sees it, is the way that training is delivered. She uses California as an example. Mandatory sexual harassment training in California must take a requisite amount of time, but it’s often delivered online. To enforce the mandatory amount of time, answers can only be given at certain intervals. So, after answering one question, you must wait a requisite amount of time to answer the next one. The designer “clearly didn’t understand adult learning,” says Harrison, who also believes users won’t take it very seriously because they must wait to answer.
Why Online Training?
The reason that so many organizations turn to online solutions is obvious: It’s easier. In a landscape where many workers telecommute some or all days and where contractors and remote workers are scattered across the country or even the globe, getting everyone in a room together seems improbable. Harrison feels that whatever the cost, whatever the logistics, “I don’t care where you live or what you do, this is so critically important” that getting your employees together is worth it. “I don’t think a silver bullet online course is going to solve this problem,” she says.
Physical Training Provides Promising Progress
According to Harrison, online training often falls short. She says, “When people really learn, it’s in person.” At issue is the relationship between the way that learning is conducted and the impact it has. Harrison explains that “10% or less of learning and development is in the course itself. The big learning comes from real-time challenges, real-time hardships, role models, and mentors having in-person conversations.” Online learning can make these aspects of training challenging without careful consideration of how to leverage the person-to-person value when training. Taking steps like ensuring that online training is less of a “check-the-box” survey and more of a group video chat is one approach to offsetting the potential downside of online training.
A Blended Approach Works Well, Too
Of course, it’s not realistic for many companies to conduct in-person training only. Between remote workers, multiple locations, and other coordinating headaches, online learning has to be a part of sexual harassment training for many organizations. While Harrison sees many issues with online training, she believes that it can have its value when combined with other types of training. “I see online as the baseline training, to get a foundation understanding of what is right and wrong per the law,” says Harrison. She continues, “the face-to-face, dialogue approach is more to fill in the gray area and understand the nuances of what can also be deemed offensive or lead to poor productivity or deteriorating relationships, before we ever get to the legal/termination extremes.”