According to existing evaluations of gender-based violence and harassment prevention in the workplace, box-ticking, pre-packaged training programs focused solely on legal liability, and passive approaches (activities designed to share information with little engagement or explanation; e.g. posters, required videos without interactivity, shared documents requiring a sign-off, etc.) are not associated with behavior change or increased knowledge. Instead increasing the safety of workplaces and workers requires a comprehensive, adaptive, consistent, responsive, and multi-system approach that includes structural, relational, and transformative shifts in practice.
Research from Reimagining Social Change points to an approach that hinges on change at multiple levels – addressing structural conditions (policies, practices, and the flow of resources), examining power and influences (relationships, connections, and power dynamics) and transforming mental models (shifting deeply held beliefs and assumptions).
Sustainable systems change only comes about when we shift the conditions, relationships, and mindset that create and perpetuate the problem; in this case, inequity. It requires challenging historic, existing, and often invisible power structures that have influenced personal beliefs and assumptions, relationships, access to resources, and who policies and practices benefit and harm.
Shifting Social Norms
The actions, behaviors, and beliefs people or groups adhere to based on invisible influence from power structures is referred to as a social norm. Interventions that target social norms change are most effective in addressing and preventing gender-based violence and harassment. Social norms change involves shifting beliefs about gender roles, victimization, existing hierarchy, power inequality, and ideas about how the workplace should function.
There are multiple steps to effectively implementing social norms change. These steps require a variety of methods, tools, and interventions over multiple, distinct time periods a variety of methods, tools, and interventions over multiple, distinct time periods. Identifying and defining a harmful social norm is an essential first step to developing responsive interventions. Next, through intentional engagement of all who are impacted by the existing social norm, a new expectation must be developed in order to change a harmful social norm. Finally, the changes must be effectively communicated and consistently reinforced to ensure its sustainability. As external social norms shift, internal social norms should remain responsive to continue to engage with eliminating harmful social norms and elevating social norms that promote safety, equity, and inclusivity
Principles for Fostering Structural, Relational, and Transformative Change
A 2017 review by the EEOC found that the following principles were essential for effective workplace prevention.
- Strong commitment and engagement from senior leadership to foster a workplace free from violence and harassment;
- Consistent and demonstrated accountability processes including regular audits and evaluations for policies, protocols, and interventions;
- Strong and comprehensive worker-centered policies that are accessible and regularly communicated to employees;
- Accessible, impartial, and trusted complaint procedures and regular and responsive feedback loops; and
- Regular, interactive, in-person (where possible) trainings tailored to various employee roles and responsibilities, the nature of the work, and the workplace to ensure that all employees are familiar with company rules, policies, procedures, and expectations outlined in a code of conduct as well as the consequences for violating those expectations.
Training Development and Structure
A 2022 metanalysis of all existing data on workplace prevention found that multi-modal and systems-change strategies and approaches that target structural, relational, and transformative change are most effective. It is critical that program development and trainings are implemented alongside appropriate changes to workplace policy.
- Program development must include workers in the process.
- In-person and multi-day trainings are the most engaging and effective for participants, and create the most buy-in for social norms change.
- Trainings must reflect organizational context and be customized for the workers within a specific workplace.
Trainings should build social-emotional intelligence and cover intersecting forms of gender-based violence and harassment, as well as other forms of power-based violence, discrimination, and oppression.
- Training that starts with and includes leadership demonstrates an organization-wide commitment to culture change and is most effective.
To learn more about how to change company culture, contact the Workplaces Respond, National Resource Center team at email@example.com.