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To Combat Harassment, More Companies Should Try Bystander Training

HBR – Brigid Schulte: “Ninety-eight percent of companies say they have sexual harassment policies. Many provide anti-sexual harassment training. Some perpetrators have been fired or fallen from grace. And yet more than four decades after the term “sexual harassment” was first coined, it remains a persistent and pervasive problem in virtually every sector and in every industry of the economy, our new Better Life Lab report finds. It wreaks financial, physical, and psychological damage, keeping women and other targets out of power or out of professions entirely. It also costs billions in lost productivity, wasted talent, public penalties, private settlements, and insurance costs. So what does work? Or might? Sadly, there’s very little evidence-based research on strategies to prevent or address sexual harassment. The best related research examines sexual assault on college campuses and in the military. That research shows that training bystanders how to recognize, intervene, and show empathy to targets of assault not only increases awareness and improves attitudes, but also encourages bystanders to disrupt assaults before they happen, and help survivors report and seek support after the fact.

Researchers and workplace experts are now exploring how to prevent sexual harassment in companies by translating that approach. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in its 2016 task force report encouraged employers to offer bystander training, for one. And New York City passed a law in May requiring all companies with more than 15 employees to begin providing bystander training by April 2019. It could prove a promising, long-term solution..When bystanders remain silent, and targets are the ones expected to shoulder responsibility for avoiding, fending off, or shrugging off offensive behavior, it normalizes sexual harassment and toxic or hostile work environments. So bystander intervention, which Stapleton and others are beginning to develop for workplaces, is designed to help everyone find their voice and give them tools to speak up…”

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