Publishing: Five Tips to Create Meaningful Sexual Harassment Training

Sexual harassment issues are not new; we all know this. The #MeToo movement brought much-needed recognition and attention to the problem and no industry, corporation or institution is exempt from increased responsibility to address women's treatment and equality in the workplace.


Publishing and Sexual Harassment


In October 2017, Publishers Weekly (PW) published an article addressing sexual harassment within the publishing industry. The article was timely for a number of reasons, and soon after its publication several prominent male top executives from a number of publishers resigned amid a swirl of sexual harassment allegations. 


Publishing has a higher percentage of females in the workforce than most industries (80%), but despite this sexual harassment remains a problem at all levels of publishing. 

All of this leaves publishing learning & development, human resources and training executives scrambling to update and implement relevant, effective and productive sexual harassment training programs for their workforce.


Historically, sexual harassment training has not been very effective, treated with awkward discomfort by trainers and trainees alike. It was often perceived as something to 'get though' and not a potentially powerful tool to reduce instances of sexual harassment.


How Can Learning & Development Promote Change?


The silver lining to the #MeToo movement is that nobody is debating, anymore, whether sexual harassment training is needed. The question now is how to make it impactful. How does a publisher create and implement programs that produce meaningful, long-lasting results?


We're all in agreement about what doesn't work, so what does? What is a learning & development professional to do? 

  • Executive Culture Changes: First and foremost, publishers need to create a corporate culture - from the top down - of tolerance and civility throughout the organization. Leaders' attitude towards sexual harassment is important, and not just being anti-sexual harassment (as most people would claim they are) but demonstrating - proactively -  behaviors and actions that create a tolerant, supportive and equal environment for all employees. 

  • Training Culture:  All too often training is reactive, with an emphasis on what not to do, rather what to do. Consequences if an employee fails to adhere to sexual harassment guidelines need to be clear and consistent, for sure, but employees are clamoring for examples of what they can do not simply to avoid sexual harassment but to prevent it. Providing specific, situationally focused training that gives employees actionable tools they can use on a day-to-day basis goes a long way towards improving corporate culture surrounding equality and tolerance.

  • Empower ALL Employees: Historically it has been too easy to turn a blind eye towards sexual harassment, especially for employees not directly involved but who witness inappropriate behavior. There is no such thing as a bystander when it comes to sexual harassment, but many employees don't know where to begin. They are fearful of getting people in trouble, don't know if what they witnessed was actually harassment, feel embarrassed or bashful, and/or don't even know who or where to report incidents. Training (and thus empowering) all employees, at every level, on what to do even if they witness sexual harassment, and how to address peers as well as superiors brings the entire organization together to improve company culture.

  • Regular, Consistent Training: Having one day-long training once a year to check a box for reporting purposes isn't effective in shifting employee attitudes and behaviors. Training should be done on a regular, consistent schedule throughout the year and should be interactive and engaging. Avoid long training sessions (more than 4 hours) because people can't meaningfully absorb information for longer than that. Don't talk at employees, talk with them. Encourage people to be respectful, open, honest, and solution oriented. Instead of creating multiple scenarios of people doing the wrong thing, use scenarios that demonstrate correct behavior as well. Make exercises participatory and interesting - not checking multiple choice answers on a long document. Utilize current technology - like video training and online exercises - to keep people engaged and interested.

  • Organizational Changes: Promote more women. Evaluate your organization's corporate structure and actively seek promotional opportunities for women inside and outside the organization. Encourage input from female executives at all levels, and get educated about their experiences and feelings. Sexual harassment training can be too focused on avoiding litigation, and dialogue around sexual harassment has become riddled with fear and avoidance as a result. Encourage women to be active participants in corporate and cultural change.

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