Blog Post

Mandatory Anti-Harassment Training: A Prime Opportunity to Further Your Diversity & Inclusion Goals

By Karen J. Watai
March 12, 2019

Chances are that your organization has a mandatory anti-harassment training program. You may be complying with New York or California state laws, or you may have decided – internally – that it’s just the smart thing to do. Either way, you have a prime opportunity to bring about real change in your organization. If every leader and every employee must complete this program, you have the ability to leverage that participation and create a meaningful program — one that truly promotes a more diverse, respectful, and inclusive work environment. With careful design, your training program can satisfy any legal requirements and address larger organizational dynamics impacting your diversity and inclusion aspirations.

Preventing harassment and fostering a more diverse and inclusive environment go hand-in-hand. If you have a workplace where people feel respected and have the psychological safety to speak up, chances are higher that problematic behaviors can be addressed before they escalate to the point where someone feels their only option is to litigate. Effectively combining these topics in one training program has the added benefit of increasing the sense of relevance and usefulness to participants.

My experience creating and facilitating these programs leads me to recommend the following guidelines for creating impactful, dual-purpose programs.

  1. Assemble the right team. Given the scope of the program, assembling the right internal team is essential. Depending on the size of your organization, the team may include representatives from Diversity & Inclusion, Human Resources, the Legal Department, and Learning & Development. Because of the subject matter, senior leaders often get involved in setting the tone and determining the message.
  2. Customize the program. For participants to find the program meaningful, it must reflect the reality of their experience. Take the time to understand the experience of people at all levels in the organization and craft the program content, materials, and exercises to reflect that reality. Use the context and language of the organization so that participants can easily relate to the subject matter and understand how it impacts them.
  3. Establish clear objectives. Given the dual purpose of the program, it is critical to establish clear objectives and then design the program accordingly. As you craft your objectives, consider the information you want to impart (e.g., policies, resources, reporting procedures), as well as what you want participants to do differently after the program (e.g., speak up, be aware of their unconscious biases, become allies). Your objectives for managers may be different than your objectives for non-managerial staff. For managers, these might include alerting them to their duty to report and equipping them with the tools they need for having difficult conversations. For staff members, your objectives might include familiarizing them with resources and raising awareness of what they can do as bystanders and allies.
  4. Go beyond sexual harassment. While recent events have focused attention on women and sexual harassment, problematic behavior can occur on a much wider scale. The list of protected characteristics under the law is long, and broadening the conversation to include these additional groups results in more participants feeling vested in the issues. Extending the conversation even further to what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior in your organization – emphasizing that everyone should be treated with respect and dignity – makes it clear that the issues being addressed apply to everyone. By broadening the topic, you help participants understand that every employee has a role in maintaining a work environment where everyone can develop and thrive.
  5. Make it interactive. To keep people engaged and to heighten the impact of the training, find ways to make it interactive. For an in-person session, design exercises that require participants to actively engage with the material, wrestle with issues, and broaden their understanding of the experience of people who are different from themselves. Create real-world situations and give people a chance to practice difficult skills. Careful facilitation will be required in order to create a safe environment in which participants are willing to speak up and engage fully. If you’re working with an online platform, interactivity is more challenging and even more crucial. Mindful design is essential to capture attention and maximize engagement.
  6. For those subject to New York and California state laws, develop a multi-year training plan. If you are subject to the New York and California state laws regarding mandatory annual or biennial training, develop a multi-year training plan incorporating a variety of mediums and experiences. This will help keep the training from becoming stale and predictable.To avoid having it degenerate into a “check the box” activity, keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the organization and update the training accordingly to keep it relevant and impactful.

This is a prime opportunity to further diversity and inclusion priorities, so leverage it to create real change in your organization.

Karen J. Watai’s Biography

Karen J. Watai is the Founder and President of Welcome Change LLC and the author of the Amazon best-selling book Lead Your Way – Practical Coaching Advice for Creating the Career You Want. Karen works with organizations and individuals to achieve results in the areas of leadership, career development, diversity, and inclusion. She has worked extensively with organizations on dual-purpose customized programs designed to both foster respectful and inclusive work environments and prevent harassment and discrimination. She holds an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, and an A.B. from Harvard University.

About the Authors

Karen J. Watai