Sexual Harassment Training Do’s and Don’ts

Sexual harassment is a tough topic in the workplace.  And most organizations are not doing enough to prevent it.  That can lead to some very unfavorable business results.  Learn how to proactively talk about sexual harassment.

Just mention sexual harassment training, and you will likely elicit a wide-eyed awkward response.  A necessary, yet scary topic in many organizations today, sexual harassment training is top priority following recent political and social stories.  As a society, we are grappling with how to detect and prevent this behavior.  If our team members are being harassed, they likely do not feel safe at work, and are not doing their best work.  Preventing this behavior is not only is the right thing to do for humans, it’s the right thing for business.

So, what is sexual harassment?  Defined by the EEOC as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature,” these behaviors have an adverse effect on organizational health.  Yet, most training is meant to comply with EEOC requirements, with limited success.  It tells us what not to do, yet not what to do.

The recent New York Times article cites challenges with traditional training approaches as:  making people feel uncomfortable, prompting defensive jokes, or reinforcing gender stereotypes of masculinity as powerful and femininity as vulnerable, therefore, potentially making harassment worse.  The root cause of these negative behaviors is encouraging sexual harassment in the first place.

So, what do experts recommend?

  • Empower the bystander: Male allies call out bad behavior.  Often the bystanders witnessing sexual harassment, they can be the ones to teach men how to treat women, and set the example of what good looks like for other men to follow.

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  • Encourage civility: Rather than focusing on what not to say, focus instead on what to say.  Rather than remain silent and hope for the moment to pass, act from a place of empathy, asking the perceived harasser, “why did you say that?” goes a long way.
  • Train seriously and often: Instead of the once a year or new hire orientation check the box activity, demonstrate accountability throughout the year.  Provide tools, strategies, and resources for leaders to help their teams set positive examples for others to follow.
  • Promote more women: Statistics show a high correlation between women in leadership roles and lower sexual harassment claims.  Although most harassment goes unfiled, the EEOC reports that 85% of claims are filed by women.  Women leaders demonstrate a true commit to equality.
  • Encourage reporting: Do not punish the victim, instead, let his or her voice be heard.  This can mean empowering leaders to engage in difficult conversations to build trust and seek out genuine challenges holding the team back.

In our research for ONE, and in our collaborations with executive teams wrestling with what to do now, we recommend these pivotal strategies:

  • Channel Empathy: Encourage men to channel the women they empathize and women leaders to start the dialogue with the benefits.
  • Share Your Story: Facilitate open cross-gender discussions through coaching and intentional conversation planning.
  • Speak Up Together: Amplify women and men’s voices inside organizations through platforms that promote speaking up with peer groups, mentoring, and permission to call out bad behavior.
  • Integrate Work & Life: Educate women and men to do the fair share and practice healthy self-care.

At Pivot Point, we want male allies and women leaders to be successful.  That is why we have a new line-up of professional development services tailored to your unique needs.  Our ONE workshop series focuses on channeling empathy, sharing your story, speaking up together, and integrating work and life.

Interested in learning more?  Follow our blog series, download your Male Ally Action Plan, and order your copy of ONE at