Australian businesses urged to get serious when it comes to sexual harassment training


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Researchers are encouraging Australian organisations to provide more resources for sexual harassment training following a study that shows businesses are significantly underemphasising this in the workplace.

The new study conducted by researchers from the University of South Australia, the University of New South Wales and Columbia University found that sexual harassment training in Australia is not being resourced well enough to result to positive change.

“In Australia, one in four women, and one in six men have experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years, with similar rates reported in the United States,” UniSA’s Professor Carol Kulik said.

“It’s an increasingly prominent issue, especially following global reactions to the #metoo movement, yet Australian organisations are not adequately resourcing sexual harassment training, which is the primary mechanism used to address this important issue.”

The study, which is one of the first large-scale, cross-national surveys of sexual harassment training, examined the prevalence of sexual harassment training in Australia and the United States.

It evaluated the responses of 1004 organisations in Australia and 321 organisations in the United States and found that only 58 percent of Australian organisations were delivering sexual harassment training, compared with 91 percent of their American counterparts.

“Practitioners in the US dedicate more resources to sexual harassment training which increases their ability to deliver effective best-practice training,” said Prof. Kulik.

“It’s certainly a challenge – HR professionals and departments in Australia want to offer best-practice sexual harassment training but are constrained by a lack of resources.

“Until business and industry address sexual harassment education authentically and with the right resources, workplaces cannot expect to show much positive change.”

Prof. Kulik said cultural change in the workplace is possible through an integrated, best-practice approach to sexual harassment training.

“Everyone needs to be trained about sexual harassment: managers, so they know what to do if they encounter a sexual harassment issue; peers, so they can call out the behaviour if they see it; and potential victims, so they know what to do if it happens to them,” she said.

“Plus, it’s important to pitch the training at the right level, so that tailored information is delivered specifically for people’s roles, their knowledge base, and learning preferences.

“It’s also important to consider what happens after the training session. After the delivery of core training, memory aids and refresher modules can keep this content top-of-mind and relevant in the everyday workplace.”

She also called on senior managers to take an active and visible role in backing sexual harassment training.

“Senior managers must be seen to communicate the importance of sexual harassment training to employees,” Prof. Kulik says.

“Only when training is visibly supported and adequately resourced, will Australian organisations be able to create the right environment for positive behaviour change.

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