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Spring 2019
How #MeToo Movement is Fueling a Training Revolution in Retail By Jess Schmidt

The Feb. 24, 2020, rape and sexual harassment conviction of media mogul Harvey Weinstein culminated five years of accusations; eight women testified against him. The #MeToo movement it fueled brought media attention and ultimately meant new laws were passed requiring that employers provide sexual harassment training to employees.

The #MeToo movement caught many by surprise. As women opened up about their personal horror stories of being raped, sexually assaulted or harassed, one thing was clear: these violent acts can be carried out in any setting, even in the workplace.

As of press, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine and New York state all required employers to complete sexual harassment training with employees. Some have required a minimum number of employees in order for companies to be required to comply, while other states require the training be done by all employers regardless of the number of employees they have.

The problem for independent/nonprofit retailers is that within their smaller workforces, these atrocities can still happen. After all, 13.44% of U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claims of sexual harassment happened in retail from 2005-2015. That is second only to foodservice, which had 14.23% of the filings, according to the EEOC. Part of the reason retailers may see higher instances — especially in smaller shops — is due to isolation. If just the harasser and victim are in the store together, there is nothing the victim can do to get out of that situation.

While a fine is a sizable punishment for some businesses — especially independent/nonprofit retailers — the negative press that would occur if a workplace harassment suit is brought is a much bigger threat.

“Valid or not, people remember (the accusation) but not the acquittal. Everyone wants a business where people want to feel good coming in. I am confident Weinstein could ace (a) rules test, but it is really the message management sends. Stores (should) get everyone together to sit for 30 minutes with pay to do the training. (It’s the) best investment they can make,” said Andrew Rawson, chief learning officer at Traliant, an e-learning company focused on teaching in a novel way to improve results.

The trouble is that often the training done for new hires often falls flat. Many employers already include e-learning, documents that must be read or video training, but enforcing the policies is much more difficult.

E-learning advancement is helping, though. Rawson noted that the “old” way e-learnings were created was as a defense against lawsuits and written by lawyers, for lawyers. However, if your place of employment is not a law firm, it might be difficult for workers to understand and apply what these e-learnings were trying to cover.

“In past e-learnings, we saw behavior and consequences focus. No training will stop bad actors, just like speed limit signs don’t stop people from speeding. You have to do more than train on what they shouldn’t do. We also added what they should do: bystander intervention,” Rawson said.

Traliant was founded as the accusations against Weinstein were increasing, and they made the focus of their new business be sexual harassment training geared toward different industries as well as unique seniority levels within businesses. The e-learnings were an instant hit; two years later, they have 80 employees and sold over $10 million in compliance training in 2019.

By teaching bystander intervention, Traliant believes that their trainings will help employees to prevent escalation of sexual harassment situations. “Research shows it isn’t the severity of penalties, but the assuredness of being caught. Bystander intervention teaches what to do, but subtext is (if they) think they will be caught or turned in, they are less likely to do it,” Rawson said.

Rawson said that Traliant has worked hard to ensure their e-learnings hit the mark with retail employees. They interviewed retailers to understand when and where these behaviors exist, and they learned that it is more prevalent when employees are unloading trucks or working on restocking, when they may not be in uniform. The retail training also focuses on harassment by customers. Beyond knowing what to say in order to retain the business, employers need to be prepared to support their employees in this type of situation.

WHAT IT MEANS TO INTRODUCE SEXUAL HARASSMENT TRAINING IN THE WORKPLACE

Always keep in mind that anyone can experience sexual harassment. It can be peer-to-peer, boss-to-subordinate or subordinate-to-boss. It can even be customer-to-employee.

Sexual harassment training needs to be a priority. When talking shop, make a point of noting that your brand doesn’t include behaviors that would fall under the umbrella of sexual harassment.

Find the right e-learning or training course for your team and keep excellent records in case a suit is brought. “One of the first things the EEOC does is call up the company the claim is being lodged against (and ask) to see training records,” Rawson said.

Use the platform of preventing sexual harassment as a vehicle to promote positivity and peer-support in the workplace. By reminding employees that an open-door policy means that there will not be retaliation if anyone reports sexual harassment, employers can create a safe atmosphere. This also helps to deter predatory behaviors.

Keep in mind that it is always easier to be prepared rather than to play catch-up. Even if your state does not require sexual harassment training, expect that it will in the near future. And even if the state does not adopt that type of law soon, it can prevent an incident and the resulting negative press about your business.

Jess Schmidt





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