Sexual Harassment Training—A Brief History | NBC Left Field


“I know, I dumped my plate in my lap when
I saw Barbara from accounting coming out in that string bikini, no kidding!” Wow. That was
awkward. Since 1981, most employees have been required to watch similar videos as
part of training, following the U.S. government’s recognition that workplace
sexual harassment is a form of discrimination. In the midst of the #MeToo
movement, we’ve seen several powerful men being held to account after accusations
of sexual harassment and assault in the work environment–and it made me wonder:
Have these trainings changed over the years? To answer this question, we went to the
University of Oregon to talk to Liz Tippett, who studied 74 training videos to
see how they’ve changed over the decades. So the earliest trainings had an
activist quality. “Got you, baby cake!” This is Power Pinch, that’s from 1981.
“Who is the sexual harasser and why does he do it?” “Well, one reason is sheer power.” They tended to communicate this larger message about how harassment is a
problem because it subordinates women in the workplace. In the 1990s, the genre
really began to take form. They became more corporate, but they also started
reflecting the interest of the companies. According to Tippett, the trainers
quickly figured out that their clients are actually the companies. This video is
very typical of the genre. She spends a lot of time talking about legal rules. “The basis for most legal decisions regarding harassment.” The older videos
portray women in a very particular light. Women are receptionists or some sort of
subordinate position with very little power. “What do you think, Annie? Think
you could get home and get dolled up by 7?” “What? No.” Periodically portrayed
women in power, but it was always as, like, a sex-crazed female predator, different
kind of stereotype about what it means for a woman to be a boss in a workplace.
“I thought we’d have a good time, no big deal!” “So he said ‘no’ a few times.”
Older trainings encourage employees to document harassment, to call a lawyer, or
even the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Recent trainings encourage
employees to try to find an internal solution. “A complaint or grievance
system in place at the company.” Now, they mostly just talk about how it’s bad for
business and maybe it’s also a violation of the company’s policy. A 2016 report
from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said corporate attitudes
towards training need an overhaul. They added that training has to be part of a
broader culture of non-harassment that starts at the top. The real hurdle that
the training industry faces next is, can you try new content, and innovate,
and also measure to see if you’re making a difference when it comes to attitudes and behavior?
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