I feel inspired to tell an old story because of a story I read in the Washington Post yesterday:
What’s the point of sexual harassment training? Often, to protect employers.
Here is one paragraph from that article:
Unfortunately, there is little evidence that training reduces sexual harassment. Rather, training programs, along with anti-harassment policies and reporting procedures, do more to shield employers from liability than to protect employees from harassment. And the clearest message they send is to the courts: Nothing to see here, folks.
About 20 years ago, my company had a contract for building training (it wasn’t then called e-learning) on the computer for a company which was at the time one of the biggest technology firms in the world. We built a lot of things for them that they liked a great deal. Then, they asked us to build a sexual harassment training course. My model for building courses was, and is, to create as realistic a simulation as we can so trainees can try and fail. Then, and now, I believed that we learn by doing and cannot learn from being told. But, this contract presented a problem.
What could we build? The obvious choice was to build a fictional attractive woman and then put the student in a situation where he might want to harass her in some way. This idea was so profoundly stupid that there was no way we would build that. We needed to think of something else.
We often hear about training that works great to deal with compliance issues. Here is something I found in the National Review on diversity training:
In the United States, it’s just a fact that you’re supposed to arrive on time to your appointments. According to materials from a diversity-training course at Clemson University, it’s culturally insensitive to expect people to show up on time because “time may be considered fluid” in some cultures. Clemson’s “Diversity Benefits for Higher Education” initiative — which cost the school more than $25,000, according to Campus Reform — presents its participants with slides featuring hypothetical scenarios, and asks them to select the correct, culturally sensitive action from a list of options. “Alejandro scheduled a 9:00 a.m. meeting with two groups of visiting professors and students from other countries,” one of the scenarios states. “When he arrived, he found that the first group had been waiting for fifteen minutes.” “The second group arrived at 9:10 and wanted to socialize first,” it continues. “What should Alejandro do?”
The slide then lists three options:
1. “Politely ask the second group to apologize.”
2. “Explain, ‘In our country, 9:00 a.m. means 9:00 a.m.’”
3. “As the meeting organizer, he should recognize cultural differences that may impact the meeting and adjust accordingly.”
The correct answer, according to the slide, is option three.
The correct answer, according to the slide, is option three. “Time may be considered precise or fluid depending on the culture,” the slide explains. “For Alejandro to bring three cultures together he must start from a place of respect, understanding that his cultural perspective regarding time is is neither more nor less valid than any other.” Sorry, but — nope.
Sorry to say that that is the kind of “training” that our client expected. But, sorry, I won’t do it that way. You can’t learn by being told the right answer.
But, you can learn from doing so we had to come up with some doing.
We decided to “train” students to do something that they would never have to actually do in real life. We trained then to be sexual harassment adjudicators. Cases were presented to them, (both sides of the story) and they had to determine, by consulting the company’s guidelines, whether this was a case of sexual harassment, and if so, what to do about it. It was an interesting course and the students really enjoyed it. Moreover, the company really liked it. They had expected nothing like it. It was fun and it seemed to work.
Except, well, our point of contact at the client was a very attractive woman. She dressed in a way that called attention to herself. She was also a friend of mine (which is how we got the work.) At the end, she told me that her two male bosses (whom I knew because we were working with them) had been harassing her the entire time that we were building this course.
Compliance training is “often to protect employers”? No. It is always built to protect employers.
This from the Los Angeles Times:
Former Google employee James Damore was supposed to come away enlightened by his diversity training, armed with a newfound sense of empathy for colleagues who did not look like him, a white male.
Instead, the software engineer was so enraged by the experience he decided to write a now-infamous 3,000-word memo on a flight to China railing against Google’s “ideological echo chamber” and arguing that women land fewer tech jobs because of biological differences.
“I went to a diversity program at Google and … I heard things that I definitely disagreed with,” Damore, 28, told Stefan Molyneux, a libertarian podcaster and author. Damore said he had some conversations at the program, but “there was a lot of, just, shaming — ‘No, you can’t say that, that’s sexist’; ‘You can’t do this.’… There’s just so much hypocrisy in a lot of the things that they’re saying.”
Much of what companies build for training purposes is just meant to tell employees the “truth.” But, it turns out you can tell people anything you want to tell them, but they are likely to forget it, they may often disagree with it, and you aren’t going to change their prejudices or natural inclinations by talking at them. But, we are really used to this kind of “education" (which I like to refer to as TT&TT tell them and test them) so that is what people build.
The issue here is not about compliance training, which is almost always nonsense, but about education itself. We need to get past TT &TT. We need to do it in corporate training, and we need to do it in school. Can we? Only if we realize that “one size fits all” is not an educational philosophy. People are different and we need to deal with those differences. We don’t have to accept bad behavior, but neither will it go away by TT&TT. It won’t even go away if you build interesting simulated experiences.
What can we do? One method we use is Observe and Critique which we have used for years. A good example can be seen here: (It is training we built to teach doctors how to talk to their patients about cancer.).
The difference here is obvious. Doctors would like to learn how to talk properly to patients, one would assume. What you cannot assume, is that trainees want to learn what you are teaching them. If they don’t want to learn it, you can be sure they won't learn it.