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Take a Look in the Mirror

What you’ll read:

  • Sexual harassment training hasn’t been working and why
  • A possible solution that goes beyond compliance
  • How this new approach works to change behavior

Sexual Harassment Training Works: The Research Behind the Core Reflection Tool

Sexual harassment is bad. It has no place in the work environment or in society, and it creates unhealthy, unsafe, and destructive places where people feel afraid and degraded. Most people, if asked, would agree with those statements and many more like them without hesitation, and yet sexual harassment problems continue to haunt workplaces all over the country.

Sexual harassment training has been around for more than 30 years now, and yet the problems remain. If the flood of high-profile sexual harassment complaints that have come to light just in 2017 make anything clear, it’s that the training we use now isn’t working. There is no longer any justification for compliance training that focuses only on legality, existing only so that employers can cover their bases with the law by having their employees click mindlessly through boring or embarrassing)slides about what they can and can’t do at work.

Employers and employees alike need sexual harassment training that works, and our team of L&D specialists at AllenComm set out to begin that conversation in the training community with our Core Reflection Tool. In this article, we want to present the underlying theories that make this approach to sexual harassment training better—to demonstrate how and why this tool goes beyond compliance and opens the door to creating workplaces that are fundamentally and organically safe, respectful, and free of harassment.

Promoting Interaction

The first key attribute of the Core Reflection Tool is its interactivity. While it can serve as a stand-alone tool, it is designed first and foremost to be used in active, engaged training situations. This interactivity is especially important for adult learners who, according to Malcolm Knowles, respond best to training that is problem-based (as opposed to just content-based) that also has immediate relevance to their lives. By providing a starting point for conversation and striking visuals for reference during discussion, this tool makes sure that learners are doing more than just seeing and hearing—instead, they are prompted to evaluate, process, and interact with the concepts presented in the tool in a group setting. According to the EEOC, this kind of “regular, interactive, and comprehensive training” has much better and longer-lasting outcomes than traditional, content-based compliance training models.

Making it Personal

Most importantly, the Core Reflection Tool is designed to broaden a learner’s understanding of what sexual harassment means personally, professionally, and legally. Nothing will make a learner’s eyes glaze over faster than a list of good and bad behaviors in the workplace. Such lists are too abstract and impersonal for real learning to take place. On the other hand, everyone cares about the quality of their workplace and wants to be treated well by others, and these universal desires can offer a meaningful starting point for discussion of sexual harassment. By emphasizing the personal and professional consequences of sexual harassment, future trainings can leave behind the dry, impersonal legalese and instead promote empathetic conversations about quality of life and the importance of workplaces that feel safe and productive.

The Dupont Bradley curve is a visual tool that was designed to illustrate different approaches toward workplace safety, but it also has great relevance for sexual harassment training. In four stages, the curve shows how a company culture can evolve in its attitudes and actions related to employee safety—from reactivity to dependence, then to independence, and finally, to interdependence.


At the far left end of the spectrum, we have Reactive workplaces. The prevailing thought in this kind of work environment where the organization’s goal is strictly compliance with the law. At such companies, employers make no effort above the required minimum to make sure that their workplaces are safe, and the prevailing attitude is dismissive—the “boys will be boys” mentality that focuses on making reparations after bad things happen rather than preventing problems in the first place.


Once an organization evolves to the Dependent stage, the focus shifts to policies and punishment. The rules are made clear to all employees and are enforced by supervisors who make sure, through fear and discipline, that everyone follows them.


An Independent workplace begins to leave behind the fear and fixation on the rules behind, and instead, people start taking the problem of sexual harassment to heart. Individuals develop an internal motivation to hold themselves to a higher standard. This empathy starts to become part of their regular practice and habits.


The final stage of development is Interdependence, which happens when people modify their own actions and also voluntarily take responsibility for the actions and safety of others. People become proud of their organization and help others conform to the high standards that make their workplace enjoyable, safe, and productive. This attitude leads to people genuinely caring about the wellbeing of others, and it is the only situation in which a goal of zero harmful incidents is realistic.

Getting the Conversation Started

AllenComm’s Core Reflection Tool is designed to foster successful conversations and training situations that can help all kinds of organizations take meaningful steps toward Interdependence. With time and commitment, we believe that every workplace can become safer and more trusting. These interactive, big-picture, empathy-focused conversations go far beyond simple, cheap compliance trainings that maintain appearances or help employers check legal boxes, but research shows that real progress cannot happen any other way.

If you have any questions about building a custom training program for your company, reach out to us. Email or call us now.