In the last 12 months, there have been a flurry of sexual harassment complaints and stories from women in the tech and financial fields, news media, and schools. You may be wondering, what is going on? Isn’t the workplace and society as whole more respectful? Don’t people get it that bullying and making sexist comments are not appropriate?
This is disheartening because I’ve facilitated training in the prevention of workplace harassment for 30 years. My hope was to run out of work in this area because it would not be needed anymore. Not the case.
Let’s get one thing straight. Harassment prevention training is not the cure all to rein in workers’ behaviors and attitudes. Training can adequately inform employees about the company’s harassment policies, and increase their knowledge about harassment. Changing people’s attitudes or behaviors, let alone eliminating harassing behavior, is extremely difficult and takes more than just training.
So, what may influence people’s attitudes and behavior to act respectfully?
- Having knowledge about harassing behaviors and how they impact others.
- Understanding what causes harassing behavior.
- Relating the behavior to personal situations resulting in a “light bulb” moment.
- Confronting one’s biases and prejudices through one-on-one coaching.
- Consistent role modeling of behavior by management.
- Sustaining a culture of respect by everyone starting with management.
- Holding people accountable for their behaviors pursuant to policies.
- Helping employees learn about other cultures, customs, religions, and gender roles.
Of course, cultivating respectful behavior begins with teaching our children. By the time we are adults, changing behavior or attitudes is far more difficult.
I’m going to close with a story of a 5th grade student who wrote about bullying. The student was one of many that I worked with on reading and writing projects while volunteering at a local school. She and her parents have given me permission to print her writing and tell her story.
I Dream of a World . . .
I dream of a world where people don’t make fun of people because they are black or white, or because one is good at sports and the other is not. I dream of a world where we are all friends. You can help by telling someone how you feel and ignore the bully because with a bully-free world we can all have a brighter, better day.
The student told me that she was bullied, but she got it stopped after telling another student who told a teacher. The teacher took action and did the right thing.
I use this story during my harassment prevention training sessions. I’ve had people cry after hearing her story. I’ve had people come up to me later and share their stories of being bullied or harassed as a child. All that people want is to be accepted for who they are and to be shown respect through others’ words and actions. Sounds simple doesn’t it?