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Sexual harassment training is stuck in the 20th Century. This DEI consulting firm wants to change that

September 14, 2022, 11:43 AM UTC
Paradigm's CEO Joelle Emerson
Courtesy of Paradigm

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! This is Paige McGlauflin, filling in for Emma. Rent the Runway is laying off workers after losing thousands of subscribers, Phoenix Mercury owner Robert Sarver is suspended from the NBA for one year, and one company is changing how employers approach sexual harassment training.

– New paradigm.  Sexual harassment training has been a workplace mainstay since the late 20th century, yet over 40% of women and 16% of men reported experiencing sexual harassment at work in 2018. That’s why Paradigm, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting company, is launching an online course that aims to treat anti-harassment training as a core DEI programmatic element to help prevent toxic workplace cultures, rather than as a perfunctory checking of the box.

Existing training focuses too much on legal compliance and staving off sexually illicit behavior that could land the company in hot water, says Paradigm founder and CEO Joelle Emerson. This type of training can also be triggering for survivors of sexual assault.

Take the stoplight framework, for example. Training leads essentially use the analogy that a green light is behavior that is considered legal, red light is illegal, and yellow is behavior that falls somewhere between the two. 

“Someone told me that in a training they attended, the facilitator said something like, ‘You get to tell one off-color joke, so you better make it good.’ The whole idea being that if you tell one joke, that’s yellow. But if you start to do that a lot, it’s red,” says Emerson. When organizations handle anti-harassment training in such a flippant manner, it can send a harmful message to employees that the company doesn’t take workplace harassment seriously and cares more about avoiding lawsuits than building a positive and inclusive work environment for all employees.

“That doesn’t need to be the case,” Emerson says. “This doesn’t need to be packaged alongside your phishing scams training. Instead, it should be alongside training that is focused on [designing] inclusive and equitable organizations, and it should be built by experts that know how to do it.”

That doesn’t mean companies should disregard compliance—Paradigm’s training meets compliance requirements in all 50 states, and compliance logs are available for HR, DEI, and legal teams—but rather that they should move beyond passive participation programs that require the legal bare minimum. Paradigm’s training takes a trauma-informed perspective, meaning it assumes a person is more likely to have experienced trauma than not, and cautions all participants at the beginning that the material covered may resurface unpleasant emotions. The training also provides individuals who observe harassment with practical tools to address it as it’s happening.

“What we want to see is people able to engage in behavior change. We don’t just want to get people to say, ‘Aha, that was interesting.’ We want them to say, ‘I specifically know what to do next in this situation,’” Emerson says. 

The training is facilitated by DEI experts and an attorney and combines videos from experts, hypothetical scenarios, case studies, and more. Companies can combine the course with other trainings Paradigm has to offer, including ones on allyship and microaggressions.

Paige McGlauflin
paige.mcglauflin@fortune.com
@paidion

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PARTING WORDS

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- Patina Miller on taking on the portrayal of the Witch, first portrayed by Peters in 1961, in the Broadway revival of Into The Woods.

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