The last time you had to sit through a training program or sign your office’s fine-print disclosure on sexual harassment policy, you probably thought you were just wasting your time. You were wrong: Research suggests that efforts to raise awareness and train employees about sexual harassment may be worse than a waste. They may actually lead to more tolerance for sexual harassment, as well a greater reliance on stereotypes and more animosity between the sexes.
A research team at Stanford, for example, used an experiment in which one group of men heard a sexual harassment policy before conducting a task with an unseen female partner. The researchers found that, compared to a control group, these men were more likely to believe “most people think both men and women are lower status, less competent, and less considerate,” and personally thought “everybody was lower in status.” Another study of participants in a sexual harassment training seminar found that “[m]ale participants were less likely than other groups to perceive coercive sexual harassment, less willing to report sexual harassment, and more likely to blame the victim.”
So much for sensitivity training. These findings may surprise the writers at The Guardian and New York Magazine, but probably seem pretty obvious to the rest of us. Few people forced to read legalese or watch stilted programming about Johnny and Jane learning appropriate office behavior feel affirmed and inspired to be more respectful to others. Rather, such programs tend to remind us of everything that’s wrong with our culture, with people assuming the worst of each other and forcing everyone to walk on eggshells lest they offend someone else.
The researchers studying the impact of these training programs acknowledge that they may be inadvertently activating “gender stereotypes rather than challenging them,” and that men who already feel women enjoy a double standard—welcoming sexual attention in some circumstances but also able to claim harassment—may feel their suspicions are confirmed. One researcher blamed these unwelcome results on the content of training, which tends to rely on cartoonish examples.
This article continues at [Acculturated] Sexual Harassment Training Isn’t Just a Waste of Time: It’s Harmful