Sexual Harassment -What are True Deterrents?

Sexual harassment is big news right now. From Congress to Hollywood and everywhere in between, employees are reporting harassment at the hands of managers or colleagues in greater numbers.

Even when sexual harassment is technically not illegal, it’s important to prevent the behavior. Talented employees leave, your company’s reputation suffers and other employees get the idea that it’s acceptable when no action is taken.

Traditional Sexual Harassment Training – Does it Work?

Most of us have either conducted or attended sexual harassment presentations. (Side note: I’ve always thought it’s strange to say that you’re conducting a sexual harassment session. Wouldn’t it be better to say you’re presenting an anti sexual harassment seminar?)

The big question is whether they prevent the actual behavior? After employees go through a session and sign on the dotted line, are they less likely to abuse co-workers?

According to the New York Times, the type of overview guidance that most corporations provide serves to relay what sexual harassment is and gives targets a path to report, but the same training reinforces stereotypes, heightens discomfort and doesn’t fulfill its aim – to reduce sexual harassment.

Education only goes so far. Corporate cultures need to change to empower every employee and to endorse mutual respect between colleagues. So, how does an organization foster this type of atmosphere?

Prevention is Everyone’s Responsibility

 Everyone in the organization must be on the same page to prevent sexual harassment.

The company must tell employees that it’s everyone’s duty to intervene or report when they witness sexual harassment. Studies show that this technique works very effectively and some organizations have already replaced traditional sexual harassment sessions with interactive intervention education.

The training does not encourage harsh confrontation with a harasser. Instead, employees are empowered to do something to sidetrack the abuser. Something like making a loud noise or calmly asking the harasser whether they realize how their behavior was viewed by others.

College campuses have adopted this method to prevent rape and sexual misconduct.  The New York Police have a slogan: “If you see something, say something.” Letting a colleague be harassed is not okay.

Reporting this type of behavior gives others courage to do the same. So, it’s essential to encourage complaints when harassment occurs. The US Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) advocates immediate, confidential and impartial investigations of every complaint, no rush to judgment, clear guidelines about harassment and zero tolerance for the behavior.

New Recommendations

According to new recommendations from the EEOC, the right corporate culture can reduce incidents when leaders communicate the organization’s values to workers consistently, clearly and often.

Studies show that when civility and respect are the top priorities of a company, and when women have the same opportunities as male counterparts (hired, promoted into power positions and compensated equally), sexual harassment decreases.

A Prevention Culture

The best technique to prevent harassment is for corporate leaders to treat every employee, regardless of level, gender or ethnicity, with respect, then train everyone – and train them often – to do the same.

Harassment guidelines must be clear and strong, and be communicated often. Enforcement and training must apply to every level of the organization. There can be no retribution due to a complaint.

See the EEOC’s entire document at

When every employee is treated the same – with respect and equality – we can finally leave the Mad Men era and enter one where every employee feels safe and able to contribute.


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Tamera Shaw is a freelance writer for Insured Solutions based in Louisville, Kentucky. She writes fiction and enjoys amateur photography. She happily shares her life with husband Ron, daughter Cate and sage cat, Sophie, who grudgingly shares her home with the newest member of our family – Nieko, our new kitten.


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