Now that we’ve had something of an awakening about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the American workplace, the conversation is shifting to what to do about it. In many workplaces, the answer seems to be that we need mandatory training and clearer policies.
That seems to be the dominant thinking on Capitol Hill. After more than 1,500 former congressional aides signed a letter calling for action, the House and Senate adopted mandatory anti-harassment training for all lawmakers and staffers. This “sends a clear message: harassment of any kind is not and will not be tolerated in Congress,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, said in a statement.
Unfortunately, there is little evidence that training reduces sexual harassment. Rather, training programs, along with anti-harassment policies and reporting procedures, do more to shield employers from liability than to protect employees from harassment. And the clearest message they send is to the courts: Nothing to see here, folks.
There have been only a handful of empirical studies of sexual harassment training, and the research has not established that such training is effective. Some studies suggest that training may in fact backfire, reinforcing gendered stereotypes that place women at a disadvantage.