Speaking From Experience: Why Managers Need Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

This powerful 50-second clip depicts a make or break moment for managers.

Once & For All clip provided for PREVIEW ONLY; not be used for training.

I rarely step into the limelight. However, for 3 reasons, I feel compelled to write this blog about the need for sexual harassment training for managers. 

  1. Similar to the manager in the video clip above, I’ve had employees come to me when they’ve been victimized by sexual harassment.  
  2. I’ve seen the statistics on how many charges of sexual harassment and misconduct are filed against managers.
  3. As VP of Marketing at Media Partners, I have heard many organizations express their plan to do nothing or the minimum when it comes to providing sexual harassment training for managers.

1. Prepare Managers

As a long-time manager and an executive for the past 15 years, I have spent most of my career in the male-dominated, high-tech industry. I’ve worked in start-ups, mid-sized companies, and mega-organizations like IBM and TCS. I have witnessed sexual harassment, endured sexual harassment, and managed employees who have been harassed. By far, the most difficult to deal with personally was handling the sexual harassment of employees. Here’s one of the more egregious examples from my past.

At a medium-sized company, one of my employees was repeatedly asked out by a board member of our company. She politely said “no” (she had a boyfriend), but he persisted. As is often the case, he was a man in power not only as a board member but also as an executive from one of the largest companies in the United States. When she first approached me, I honestly did not know what to do. I didn’t think HR would back me, particularly given this individual’s stature in the company and the power he wielded. 

I was overwhelmed. My thoughts circled: I could lose my job. My employee could lose her job. Should I talk to HR? Should I confront the board member? Tell the CEO? I felt helpless with no tools to handle the situation.

In the end, I was “saved by the bell”. For other reasons, this employee decided to move back to her hometown thus removing herself from the situation. I left the company shortly after, but I have always wondered who his next victim was. I live with the knowledge that I did not do the right thing.

Without proper training, the handling of sexual harassment complaints can be extremely challenging for managers. Uncertainty about what to do can cause the manager to delay taking action...or lead them to avoid taking action altogether.

2. Change Manager Behavior

Statistics of sexual harassment in the workplace are grim. But, one statistic that stands out and is relevant to this discussion: In white-collar jobs, 72% of women who reported being harassed, were harassed by someone more senior in their careers*

Zero-tolerance towards sexual harassment and misconduct must start at the top if true culture change is to be achieved. Serial predator harassers need to be removed from the organization. And, managers need the tools to police peer managers – and those senior to them. Training must include coverage of "3rd Party Sexual Harassment" where the harasser is not an employee of the organization but is in a position of influence--such as a top client or Board member (as was the case in my example above). I can guarantee that had I received manager training, I would have handled the incident with my employee in an entirely different way.

Clueless harassers need to be clued in. Managers can also benefit from learning basic behavioral guidelines that help prevent situations where their actions may be misconstrued.  (See our How to Protect Yourself from Sexual Harassment Charges infographic.)


3. Take Organizational Action

Employees deserve a work environment where they feel respected, safe and engaged. The steps we need to take to fulfill that responsibility are:

Train current managers. 

  • Arm your managers with the tools to know exactly what to do if they see, experience or have an employee approach them regarding sexual harassment. Don’t let them stew, as I did, without proper instruction on how to handle the employee and the harasser.
  • Ensure those clueless managers realize that their behavior could be construed as sexual harassment by some employees – and make sure they stop it.
  • Put those habitual harassers who know exactly what they are doing on notice that they will not survive at your organization.

Train the next generation of managers.

  • Why not make this a requirement for those in leadership development programs? Focusing on harassment prevention and early detection with our rising leaders goes a long way to addressing the problem before it takes root in the organization over time.

 Don’t promote employees who are known behavior problems.

  • I could write an entire other blog on this topic. I’ve witnessed time and again employees, who are often brilliant, be promoted even though everyone knows they are a harasser or a bully.  There are lots of statistics about the damage these people inflict on an organization long after they are gone. 

Go beyond sexual harassment training and change the underlying behavior – a lack of respect in the workplace.

  • Turn everyone into an Upstander, not a Bystander. That applies to sexual harassment, bullying, threatening/violent behavior, or any disrespectful conduct in the workplace.

Media Partners is committed to creating respectful work environments. I encourage you to ask how they can help you make the case for providing robust manager-specific sexual harassment prevention training in your organization.