Bystander Intervention Goes to Hollywood

The Soteria Solutions leadership team was honored to be asked to speak at the Hollywood Commission’s IDEAS Summit. Held this past November in Los Angeles and organized by Professor Anita Hill—who helped launch the Hollywood Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace—the event featured speakers dedicated to preventing workplace sexual harassment and creating diverse and inclusive workplaces. Industry executives in and connected with the entertainment industry attended. Sharyn Potter and I were excited to have the opportunity to explain Bystander Intervention and its potential as a breakthrough approach to substantially reducing harassment in the workplace.

Most companies offer anti-harassment training, and virtually all have company policies against it—this has been the case for years. Despite this, 29% of employees report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, according to an April 2018 Pew Research Center report.

Why is that? Well, the problem with most anti-harassment training is that it was designed to reduce liability or meet the requirements of state laws. Unfortunately, it’s possible to address liability and legal concerns without actually reducing harassment. This is the approach many cottage industry training providers have taken. In the wake of #MeToo, a host of vendors have emerged offering products like click-through online training that checks the legal/liability box. A typical product will identify what harassment looks like in the workplace, and to urge employees to avoid this behavior.

The fundamental flaw in attacking sexual harassment this way is that the employees who most need to take this guidance to heart have been shown through research to be unlikely to see themselves in the role of a harasser. Traditional training approaches also focus on individuals, instead of engaging all members of the workplace to create work environments that are safe and respectful. Couple this with a lack of leadership from the top, and you’ve checked a box, but done little more.

Compare this to bystander intervention, which instead trains an organization’s members on how to safely and effectively step in when they see harassment taking place. Rather than telling new employees to be careful about being alone with “Bob” (an employee who has a pattern of inappropriate comments and sexual gestures toward female employees), bystander intervention teaches all members of the community how to support each other in letting “Bob” know, in a safe, non-confrontational way, that his sexual jokes aren’t appreciated or that it’s not ok to stare at coworkers’ breasts. When led from the top, bystander intervention is transformational because leaders set the tone for what is acceptable behavior and encourage everyone to create a harassment free workplace.

Yes, this approach takes more time to implement, but the payback is tremendous. In essence, bystander intervention changes a company culture to one in which all community members contribute to building an environment in which everyone can feel safe and thrive.

At Soteria, we’ve been directly involved in the academic research that shows not only is this approach effective, it’s sustainable from within. Sharyn and I helped develop our Bringing in the Bystander® In Person Prevention Program and the Know Your Power® Bystander Intervention Social Marketing Campaign; we’ve had the opportunity to see their effectiveness first-hand in corporations, schools, and the military.

Today we’re working with companies, both Fortune 500 and smaller organizations, to customize and implement bystander intervention in ways that become self-sustaining. Let me know if you’d like to discuss how we can do the same for you.