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Harassment & Discrimination

EEOC Study: Useful Strategies to Adopt from Higher Education


By Sondra Solovay Jul 26, 2016

workplace harassment prevention

Last week we started this series of blog posts covering the EEOC’s Study on Harassment in the Workplace, and we talked about the sense of urgency your organization must have when it comes to your prevention efforts. Now, we’re going to talk about the next message from the report: a lesson from higher education.

2. It’s Back to School Time!

The EEOC Select Task Force is sending us back to school, and at Workplace Answers, we’re very excited about that proposition. Directing businesses to look toward the training strategies that are being successfully employed by higher education institutions is the right thing to do. We should know - we’ve been doing it for more than a decade.

The EEOC’s Task Force Study explicitly recommends employers adopt two strategies - bystander education and climate surveys - that we’ve been implementing in Campus Answers’ higher-ed courseware for several years. (Campus Answers is the higher education division of Workplace Answers.)

We provide hundreds of schools with award-winning harassment prevention, Title IX, VAWA and Clery Act training for students, faculty and staff. We have seen firsthand how effective and powerful these techniques can be, and to have this mandate from the EEOC’s Task Force to bring them into the corporate arena is truly inspiring.

Bystander Intervention: All Hands on Deck

Bystander education is a simple, effective strategy that schools have employed to create a community culture that empowers bystanders to intervene to stop sexual violence when they see it happening.

A recent, dramatic instance of the effectiveness of bystander intervention occurred on the Stanford campus in California. Two students saw something that didn’t look right. Instead of continuing past, they stopped.

What they were witnessing was a fellow student, Brock Turner, sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. They yelled at him, chased him down on their bicycles when he ran, and held him until police arrived. Those young men recognized that something wrong was happening, felt empowered to say something about it, and took action to intervene.

The study calls on businesses to take the same strategies we use to educate and empower bystanders on college campuses and adapt them to combat harassment in the workplace - suggesting that we can even use bystander education to create a workplace culture that interrupts problematic behaviors before they rise to the level of unlawful harassment.

On page 57, the EEOC study outlines the following common strategies for bystander training:

  • Create awareness – enable bystanders to recognize potentially problematic behaviors.
  • Create a sense of collective responsibility – motivate bystanders to step in and take action when they observe problematic behaviors.
  • Create a sense of empowerment – conduct skills-building exercises to provide bystanders with the skills and confidence to intervene as appropriate.
  • Provide resources – provide bystanders with resources they can call upon and that support their intervention.

Your training should empower employees to recognize problematic behaviors, even ones aren’t yet unlawful, and give them the skills they need to speak up and intervene.

Campus Answers’ higher education courseware for students has an entire video series on bystander intervention techniques. And at Workplace Answers, our flagship harassment prevention and diversity awareness trainings use the same successful video series strategy that we employ in our higher ed courseware, introducing learners to a cast of characters and then watching them as they interact in the workplace.

By seeing the characters making mistakes, employees learn how to recognize problematic behaviors. Then they see the characters get a “do over” - a second chance to handle the situation correctly -- so learners see acceptable behavior modeled in the identical setting. Videos are followed by numerous interactions, allowing learners to build skills by answering questions about the videos, as well as playing serious games.

The Task Force Report says: “We cannot be complacent bystanders and expect our workplace cultures to change themselves.” And we couldn’t agree more.

Climate Surveys: Understand the Big Picture

Climate surveys are a tool that colleges and universities use to assess their campus culture. Our campus climate survey is highly customizable, allowing our clients to assess everything from beliefs and attitudes to behaviors and experiences in multiple areas of identity and interest - from sex and gender identity to drug and alcohol use.

The Task Force Report says on page 33: “Another way to communicate a sense of urgency is to conduct a climate survey of employees to determine whether employees feel that harassment exists in the workplace and is tolerated.”

Later, on page 37, it instructs, “[e]mployers should conduct climate surveys to assess the extent to which harassment is a problem in their organization.”

Based on this recommendation, we will soon be offering our corporate clients a fully-customizable organizational climate survey that they can deploy alone, or in concert with training and pre- and post-training evaluations (another strong recommendation from the Task Force Report).

Key Takeaways

According to the EEOC Study, it’s time for businesses to look outside of the workplace for effective harassment prevention strategies—particularly at what higher education has been doing with bystander education and climate surveys.

Thus far, two important recommendations include adopting a sense of urgency and taking lessons from higher education. Read our third blog in the series here to learn more about the third critical message: a call for leadership.

Plus, you can watch our on-demand webinar recording with employment lawyer Lynn Lieber, to get more insights on the study, including the agency's recommendations on harassment prevention training.

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