Why Billy Bush is the key to more effective harassment training

In the wake of #metoo, harassment claims have gone up, and so too have company requests for harassment training. But here’s the problem: research shows that traditional harassment training can actually make things worse. 

So what’s wrong with the norm? (Other than the bad ‘80s video scenarios, of course.) Well, here are a few of the biggest reasons:

Most traditional harassment training focuses solely on the legal definition of harassment and is led by attorneys.

This leaves out a whole host of behavior in a category that I call “This Shit Still Isn’t Okay.” The bar for the legal definition of harassment is incredibly high. But there are plenty of behaviors that are not illegal, but still TOTALLY inappropriate in the workplace. The cheesy scenarios in those videos also frequently leave out the nuanced dynamics that can make these situations so complicated and difficult to maneuver.

Harassment training as we know it today is put in place to protect the company from liability.

We can thank a couple of key Supreme Court rulings for this, in addition to the the mind-numbing legalese and heavy involvement by attorneys. And remember, the liability is most often from the victim suing the company, not from the perpetrator. Yeah, you got that right: most harassment training today is set up to protect the company from the victim of the harassment.

Traditional harassment training reinforces harmful gender stereotypes portraying men as the aggressors and women as victims.

This frequently encourages a backlash among participants, whether they are aware of it or not. One study in higher education found that men who had received traditional harassment training were less likely to identify problematic behavior as harassment, were less willing to report sexual harassment, and were more likely to blame the victim.

Most traditional harassment training puts the responsibility for dealing with problematic behavior squarely on the shoulders of the victim.

It doesn’t focus at all on what others can do to be better allies for each other, or teach employees how to interrupt abusive dynamics in real time.

So what is the alternative? And why does Billy Bush hold the key?

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The key to anti-harassment training that actually works is to empower employees to be better allies for each other, with an emphasis on what kind of company culture your team wants to build together.

We need to shift our thinking about harassment training from trying to protect the company from the worst offenders (like Trump on that bus) and focus on building skills in people like Billy Bush. Trump was saying horrific things about a woman they both knew (things that would no doubt get him fired in most workplaces) and yet what did Billy Bush do as it was happening? He stood by and giggled like a 14-year old.

To be clear: the accountability should still rest with Trump for saying the horrific things. But what we need to focus on is building an environment where people can trust that behaviors will actually be addressed, not just by HR or management, but by everyone in the workplace. We can build trust in the process by empowering everyone to take part.

I teach a whole spectrum of tactics that employees can use to support each other, taking into account the challenging power dynamics that can exist. The more allies you can create within the workplace, the safer the workplace is for everyone. The goal is to build a collective accountability to each other for the kind of behavior your team does and doesn’t want in their workplace. It's a series of exercises that build collective accountability within your team.

We should all be allies for each other.

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Rebecca Weaver