Harvey Weinstein was only the first in a line of entertainment industry professionals forced to step down for sexual malfeasance. Many of these “untouchable” men – Kevin Spacey, Russell Simmons – were accused of behavior that may have flown under the radar just a few years before. The exaggerations of Hollywood aside, leaders in all industries can take this point: The knowledge of what sexual harassment truly entails is growing. Professional training must grow with it.
Public censure is finally driving the legal and social definition of sexual harassment closer to its moral reality. If professional training cannot keep up with these real time changes in policy and public opinion, then a company opens itself to legal and cultural problems. Potential lawsuits from employees are only part of the problem. Companies will have trouble attracting elite talent if that company is known to harbor harassment or lag behind the curve in its training.
The solution is getting away from the antiquated training videos that are 1. ten years old anyway, and 2. only shown once during the first week of employment. Sexual harassment training must become a living, breathing part of the everyday work experience. This training should be made an active part of the HR department’s responsibilities, and the proper expertise employed to provide updated information on an ongoing basis. In the same way that marketing updates its sales team on the latest CNBC industry report, HR should update all employees when an outside case on sexual harassment becomes relevant.
Not only will real time updates remind all employees of their responsibilities in the workplace, but they will also become aware of new behavioral norms that will affect company culture. Those who find it impossible to update their own behaviors can be given the opportunity to leave before they do others harm rather than claiming ignorance after offending a fellow employee.
The upfront cost of updating sexual harassment training pays for itself in the trouble it avoids, as well as in the increased productivity that a safe workplace promotes.