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Time's Up Cofounders Launch Anti-Harassment Training Firm
May 31st, 2019
The sweeping #MeToo movement exposed the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse, particularly in the workplace. Although companies have long relied on sexual harassment training for their employees—often mandated by law—the aim has typically been to limit any legal liability. As a result, these trainings have actually done little to combat sexual misconduct.
In light of this, TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund cofounders Roberta Kaplan and Tina Tchen have launched HABIT, a new advisory firm that aims to prevent workplace harassment.
HABIT—an acronym for harassment, acceptance, bias and inclusion training—offers C-suite executives and board directors anti-harassment and compliance training programs to help reshape company culture.
“The same training that we’ve all been doing for the last three decades is really not designed to change culture,” says Tchen, a partner at Buckley LLP. “Yes, train people on the legal requirements around anti-harassment, but also get beyond that to teach people how to mentor, give criticism, navigate the workspace and actually build better workplace culture.”
Establishing company values that will permeate an organization is at the core of harassment prevention, and this tone must be set from the top: “We encourage the C-suite to send the message that these trainings are based on values that represent the organization’s commitment,” says Tchen, who previously served as Michelle Obama’s chief of staff.
HABIT’s strategy goes beyond the traditional compliance approach by providing companies with services that are customized to address their particular needs.
During the consultation phase, clients discuss past issues they’ve faced, the organization-wide culture they hope to instill and the values they’re looking to communicate to customers.
The training programs take place in person, as opposed to online, and they draw on industry- and company-specific scenarios as examples. “When we’re walking people through various situations, we want them to be reflective of their industry. It needs to be a scenario that they might see or have already confronted,” says Tchen. “We’ve found that when we can say, ‘This actually happens in your industry,’ it’s incredibly powerful . . . That’s really where the light bulb goes off.”
The renewed focus on workplace protections has led to a growing number of states passing or strengthening their anti-harassment laws. Last year, California passed a bill requiring that organizations with five or more employees provide both supervisory and nonsupervisory employees with harassment training. The new training mandate lowers the threshold number of employees from 50 to five and includes nonsupervisory employees for the first time. In April of this year, New York state updated its sexual harassment laws and launched an online training program for New York City-based employers.
Many states still do not require any workplace harassment training, while others only require training for those in supervisory positions. And much of the training that does exist adheres strictly to the legal definition of harassment, which completely overlooks the issue of company culture.
“Under the federal guidelines for sexual harassment, bystanders and coworkers aren’t required to speak up for someone who is being harassed–and they aren’t protected if they do speak up,” says Tchen. “As an employer, that’s probably not the kind of culture you want, which can lead a company to say, ‘Well, maybe our training should also focus on bystander protection and adopt policies that do so.’”
“In this context, the law hasn’t done a very good job of shaping conduct,” adds Kaplan, a founding partner of Kaplan, Hecker & Fink LLP. Pointing to LGBTQ rights in the workplace, Kaplan says that the cultural acceptance of LGBTQ people preceded legal workplace protections. This same standard applies to harassment and bias training, she says. “Before we get people to comply with the technical legal standard, we need to change the culture and how they think about these things.”
For years, companies have spent money on harassment programs that have spawned a multibillion-dollar training industry. Yet these programs have been largely ineffective at preventing or mitigating abuse, as evidenced by a number of multimillion-dollar lawsuit settlements.
The financial imperative for training programs that focus on cultural change is clear cut, says Tchen. On the retention side, employee turnover can quickly become pricey, costing employers in the low thousands to replace entry-level workers alone.
“I think the economic case, frankly, is an easy one,” says Tchen. “Any company that’s not thinking seriously about this is really doing something wrong.”
Read this at Forbes.