Tips for Developing a Workplace Sexual Harassment and Violence Prevention Program

Efforts to prevent sexual harassment and violence in the workplace must be rooted in building a workplace culture of respect, equity, support, and safety. It must recognize how power and control manifests in the workplace, and empower employees to disrupt the norms that allow for sexual harassment and violence to occur.

How to Create a Prevention Program

Step One: Connect and Partner With Local Sexual Violence Experts

Community sexual violence service providers offer immediate access to experts and targeted information about local resources. Community providers can serve as co-trainers who may present specialized content specific to sexual violence and harassment, and may be available to talk to employees who come forward with questions.

Step Two: Assemble a Diverse Group of Workers as an Advisory Group

Workers know how, where, and when sexual harassment shows up in the workplace, who are often the targets, and who are the perpetrators, so it only makes sense that they should be involved in the development of policies and procedures intended to prevent this conduct. Employees involved in an Advisory Group should be assured that participation in the group is confidential and that they will not be retaliated against in any way for their participation. Workers from all levels of the organization, and from diverse backgrounds and experiences, should be asked to join the Advisory Group. Assembling a group of employee stakeholders allows for buy-in for any prevention program, as people have a stake and interest in what they have helped to create.

Step Three: Create a Policy on Harassment and Violence Impacting the Workplace

  • Adopt a Comprehensive Workplace Policy that covers domestic violence, sexual violence and harassment, and stalking. Include the policy and any resources in employee handbooks or other workplace policy manuals.
    • Collaborate with employees at all levels of the organization to ascertain their needs, concerns, and gaps. Consider starting by implement a workplace climate survey process.
    • Review model policies. Many organizations already have policies designed around legal considerations specific to sexual harassment. However, the best policies “one-stop-shop” speak to all forms of gender-based violence that impact the workplace (e.g., domestic violence, sexual violence, stalking, whether the violence occurs at home or on-the-job), and prioritize prevention-oriented and trauma-informed practices over inaccessible legalistic language designed to mitigate liability.
    • Evaluate your policy and program for successes, failures, gaps, and opportunities for improvement.

Step Four: Create a Training Program

An effective, sustained, prevention-focused education training program raises awareness and strives to change workplace culture, attitudes, and behaviors.

  • Depending on the size of the workplace, consider establishing a subcommittee of the Advisory Group referenced in Step Two to focus on developing curricula and other key elements of the training program.
  • Use meetings, focus groups, surveys, and other tools to assess the training needs of employees, managers, and executives at every level of the organization, as well as legal and HR professionals, local service providers, and all other workplace stakeholders. Needs assessments, which can be conducted formally or informally, are crucial in developing an engaging training program that is as broadly meaningful, impactful, and accessible as possible.
  • Strive to innovate in the delivery of training materials. Most adult learners prefer  supplementing traditional lectures with an engaging mix of training approaches, including videos, small group discussions, case study and scenario reviews, and role plays.
  • Look for opportunities to engage training topics on a regular and sustained basis. While new employee orientation trainings are great to establish a common foundation, subsequent “small bite” trainings on specific higher-level topics (e.g., bystander intervention, civility, cultural considerations, etc.) are great refreshers for long-term employees and help create a culture of awareness, prevention, and support.

Training Tips

  • Ensure that content, materials, and resources are culturally inclusive.
  • Make training events mandatory, with employees and supervisors/managers in separate trainings so that non-supervisory employees feel free to share their concerns.
  • Due to the nature of the content, have trained sexual violence counselors available to support employees.
  • Keep training sessions small (30 employees or less) to encourage dialogue and interaction.
  • Establish a “group agreement” before starting the training which includes a commitment to confidentiality, an assumption of good intentions, and a promise that everyone will be acknowledged and heard.
  • Acknowledge any past harassment or other misconduct during the training.
  • Be sensitive to the gender issues that surround sexual violence and harassment. Acknowledge that anyone may be a victim, and anyone may be a perpetrator.
  • Provide a message of collaboration and collegiality, combined with a practical focus on workplace needs.

Key Elements of Prevention-Focused Training Curricula

RECOGNIZE

  • Describe why sexual violence and harassment, and other gender-based violence are workplace issues, including statistics and the costs to the employer.
  • Define sexual harassment and violence within the spectrum of gender-based violence and explore the range type of behaviors that perpetrators use.
  • Share data on victimization and prevalence.
  • Explore the causes and effects of gender-based violence.
  • Discuss the reasons why victims/survivors may not report abuse or seek help.

RESPOND

  • Outline reporting policies and procedures.
  • Describe supports and accommodations available through workplace policy.
  • Teach employees how to support those experiencing sexual violence or harassment and how to intervene when witnessing an incident.
  • [For Managers] Define reporting obligations, if any, and how to support an employee experiencing sexual violence or harassment.

REFER

  • Share information and resources.
  • Provide employees with a range of local service providers who can respond to the needs of survivors and allies including sexual violence programs and health providers.

RE-ENGAGE

  • Provide employees who have reported incidents regular updates as to the status of their report.
  • Check-in with employees who may be exhibiting or alluding to signs of distress to make sure they’re doing ok and have access to resource provider information.
  • To the extent permissible by law and policy, keep employees informed of, and engaged in, actions taken in response to complaints about workplace culture, climate, and values.

Step Five: Spread the Word

Prevention-oriented organizations do not wait until after a well-known incident occurs to inform employees of policies, available resources, and workplace expectations. Engagement mediums may include:

  • Articles and features (via website, newsletter, e-mail)
  • Printed and electronic resource/referral lists
  • Posters, brochures, and safety cards (distributed or posted)
  • Health fairs, safety days, special commemorations, “lunch break conversations” or other events.

Step Six: Tailor Approaches to the Size of the Workplace

Small Employers

In order to lower costs, small employers might consider partnering with a consortium of several small employers, perhaps through a local Chamber of Commerce, to plan joint training events. While partnerships are useful for sharing expenses and ideas on broader topics, make sure that a focus on your organization’s specific needs and gaps remains paramount.

Partnerships are also a convenient way to establish ongoing relationships with local sexual violence service providers, who are often happy to provide educational trainings at low or no cost. Ongoing relationships with service providers also lay the foundation for rapid referral of victims and survivors when needed, or quick consultations when unique workplace situations arise.

Larger Employers

In order to deliver standardized information across multiple sites and in various geographic locations and environments, larger employers tend to benefit from standardized policy-based curricula designed to be adaptable to the needs of different types of worksites.

A “Train the Trainer” model prepares internal trainers to conduct training at different work sites. One “trainer” from each work site comes to a one-time, centralized “Train the Trainer,” and then is responsible for providing the educational program to the assigned work site. Since these training topics may prompt the need for immediate assistance, standardized training models must take into consideration how to immediately and properly refer employees at the time of training, encouraging sites to develop localized partnerships with community service providers. Partnering with local sexual violence service providers located near each worksite can assure employees that help will be available at the time of in-person training, or available to them otherwise.

Step Seven: Monitor and Evaluate Impact

Policies and Procedures

Implement an Annual Review Checklist, measuring employee training, use of referrals and services, reporting information, and incidents, to compare the impact of new policies and procedures over time. Immediately after implementing training or a new policy, expect an increase in activity occurring, with a gradual decrease over time. This is a good thing as it demonstrates confidence in the procedures and policies.

In addition, an Employee Survey could incorporate questions on employees’ perceptions about the usefulness of existing policies and procedures.

Training

Evaluation of training programs can take place through the use of a post-training feedback form, which asks participants questions to gauge whether the training improved their knowledge, and increased their ability to engage as bystanders, hold each other accountable, and support employees experiencing violence and harassment.

A more sophisticated effort may include a pre-training and post-training survey that measures changes in employees’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors before and after training. It is critical that the questions in the survey match the content and intent of the training material.

Employee Support and Services

Add sexual violence and harassment-specific questions to existing surveys designed to measure employees’ satisfaction with Employee Assistance Programs or other employee services.

Review incident reports for both the quality of responses, and the specific actions taken. As prevention and early intervention efforts take hold, the number of incidents should gradually decrease.