The Importance of Including Bystander Intervention Training
The #MeToo movement has brought to light the fact that much of the anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training that companies have done over the last 30 years has not sufficiently changed behavior. The fundamental issue comes down to culture. Workplace culture is the collective understanding of how colleagues treat each other, what the shared values are and what the acceptable and unacceptable behaviors are when dealing with each other. It is an ethereal notion; hard to define and harder still to change when it has gone astray. A successful workplace culture is one where workers are empowered and protected in standing up and watching out for each other, and where everyone feels a shared responsibility to uphold the company values and to play an important role in preventing harassment and discrimination. The best way to instill this sense of shared responsibility is through bystander intervention training.

“Bystander intervention” is based on the idea that people other than the perpetrator and the target can play a part in preventing sexual harassment and discrimination. It teaches individuals the tools to recognize, disrupt and report behaviors they witness. Originally developed as a tool for college and university students, bystander intervention training is now being adapted for the professional environment. Research has demonstrated that bystander intervention approaches can teach people to safely intervene to stop sexual harassment and assault. Bystanders can prevent an incident from occurring by inserting themselves into the situation or can help the victim after the fact by showing support or helping to make a report. It also creates a sense of community, by giving the organization a common voice as to what is acceptable and what is not. In a workplace environment, it can be difficult to speak up about an incident due to fear of retaliation or how the ensuing investigation and aftermath may affect one’s career aspirations. Knowing that co-workers are willing to support and help can alleviate some of that fear.

In 2017 the EEOC revised its sexual harassment prevention training materials to include a section on bystander intervention. In New York City, the Stop Sexual Harassment Act signed by Mayor de Blasio in May 2019 requires annual sexual harassment training for companies with 15 or more employees, and that training must include information concerning bystander intervention, including but not limited to any resources that explain how to engage in bystander intervention. Connecticut also has a bystander intervention training requirement that will go into effect in October 2019 and California highly encourages it, although stops short of making it a required component of the training.

HABIT is partnering with Soteria Solutions to bring effective bystander intervention training to our clients. “Our bystander intervention training engages employees at all levels to create safe and respectful workplaces. Soteria’s bystander training increases knowledge of sexual harassment and assault, builds confidence to intervene, engages participants to identify opportunities for intervention and teaches skills to intervene.”, Jane Stapleton, President of Soteria Solutions.

Sexual harassment training needs to be approached holistically and should focus primarily on an organization’s values and internal culture. Only when these trainings go beyond the information-only based methods of the past 30 years will it have a chance to bring about actual change in a work environment. One of the most significant ways to do that is to always include a section on bystander intervention.


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