“Much of the training done over the last 30 years has not worked as a prevention tool
—it’s been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability.” EEOC, Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, June 2016.

Employers, driven by lawyers, have been solving the wrong problem for the last two decades. Intention drives results and the main intention of workplace sexual harassment prevention training has largely been to defend claims rather than prevent problems. That’s a big difference. At Emtrain, we call that the litigation avoidance trap—meaning the more you’re focused on defending claims, the less you’re proactively solving problems.

It’s About Respect

The intention of workplace sexual harassment training should be to develop respect as a workplace culture skill. Sexual harassment varies based on people’s perceptions and their comfort with different types of actions. It’s overly simplistic to think people can simply read and acknowledge a policy or a legal standard and be skilled at creating a respectful workplace.

It’s easy to say we should all act respectfully. But what does that mean when we’re stressed and facing a big deadline? Or, when we are out of the office having fun with co-workers? Or, when our perception of “kidding”, “complimentary” or “sarcastic” is different than our co-worker’s perception?

No matter how good of a person we may be, our first reaction isn’t always to be patient, widen our lens and switch perspectives. Learning how to do that is what workplace respect is all about.

Not All Disrespectful Behavior Constitutes Illegal Harassment

Our general lack of skill in showing respect is exacerbated by the fact that people are not precise when they communicate. People use the term “sexual harassment” to mean all sorts of situations—from managers pressuring subordinates for sex to sexual jokes to co-workers being rude to each other. Those are three very different situations, yet many people would call all three sexual harassment. That’s neither precise nor good communication.

Further, calling a situation “sexual harassment” or calling a person a “sexual harasser” is adversarial and causes people to circle the wagons and be defensive. That doesn’t lead to behavior change or good outcomes.

Using a Shared Language As a Tool for Understanding

So how do we achieve behavior change? We achieve behavior change through developing our workplace respect skill and using a shared, more precise workplace language so people can identify and give feedback on actions in an objective, de-personalized way to trigger behavior change.

That’s why we developed The Workplace Color Spectrum® as a tool to do just that. The Workplace Color Spectrum® describes conduct as existing on a spectrum that ranges from respectful to toxic. Ensuring our actions are on the respectful end of the Workplace Color Spectrum® takes intention, patience, and lots of practice to successfully navigate different types of situations and different people with different points of view. Using the Workplace Color Spectrum®, many employees are now able to easily give feedback on co-worker actions and be a part of transforming their workplace and creating a healthier workplace culture.

Workplace Sexual Harassment Training Resources

Want to improve your workplace sexual harassment prevention training program? Contact us for a preview of our sexual harassment training program and check out these sexual harassment prevention resources: