How to Design Training for Cat,
Who Has Experienced Harassment
Cat’s background significantly differs from Alex’s and Bill’s. She has experienced harassment in the form of unwanted sexual advances. She’s had names and racial slurs thrown her way. She knows that people are capable of staggering cruelty, invective, and abuses of power.
But she isn’t convinced anti-harassment initiatives lead to meaningful change. To Cat, the training feels cursory, the depictions of perpetrators cartoonish, the workplace policy language simplistic and hollow. After training, she returns to her workstation demoralized, if not concerned that her co-workers will take harassment even less seriously after completing the program.
To understand Cat’s frustration and fear, one need only pay attention to the news: stories of harassment are everywhere, and our society is just beginning to reckon with the myriad immediate and lingering psychological, physical, and emotional effects for those who experience it.
Or forget the mainstream news—pick up a local paper, such as The Modesto Bee, in which a contributor wrote not long ago: “Recently, I sat through a mandatory 2-hour online course about preventing sexual harassment in the office. Through the cheesy examples and terrible acting, I began to wonder: Do these trainings actually work?”
What Cat needs from her employer is harassment training that emphasizes action, as well as assurance that an anti-harassment initiative is just one component of a broader commitment to maintaining a culture where everyone feels safe, respected, and included. Cat should know what to do when she witnesses harassment: how she can de-escalate or disrupt the conflict, protect targeted co-workers, and help people address their own inappropriate behavioral tendencies.
In addition to training, Cat’s employer (and every organization) should take a close look at the composition of their management team and board of directors: Does the organization’s leadership reflect its employees, consumers, and community in terms of race, language, gender identity, sexuality, and ethnic background? Are promotions available to everyone regardless of identity, age, or physical ability? Does everyone feel included in the culture of the workplace?