Permissive Cultures Make Training a Scapegoat rather than a Competitive Advantage

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Thanks to the onslaught of digital tools available to us today, primarily social media, we are getting a glimpse behind the curtain at a lot of companies. Employees are freely commenting on their employers, and the missteps they make in handling their concerns about workplace culture. When companies allow harassers to stay employed, blame the victim, or retaliate against those with the courage to speak up, we often hear about it first via a viral, social media post.

Permissive cultures are those cultures that turn a blind eye – those cultures that know something is going on but don’t deal with it properly, or look the other way because it is financially beneficial in the short term.

This was an underlying theme in my interview with NPR’s Marketplace, which was focused on workplace harassment and the value of training. The question being: With the seemingly ubiquitous reports of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination, is harassment training really working?

Read More: Is a “Very Strange Year at Uber” a Cue to Improve Culture or Harassment Training …or Both?

High-quality training has the power to impact employees in profound ways – a great training in the right environment can change the world for an employee who is empowered to speak up. 

How we answer that question, depends on how we define working as well as the context in which we view training (i.e. a company’s culture). If we just define working as simply providing a legal defense for anticipated reports of misconduct within a permissive culture, we turn training into a Band-Aid on a much larger wound. Employees will never believe that your organization really cares if your culture (and leaders) sends a contradictory message. If we instead define working as reinforcing the ethical behaviors and values set in place by senior leaders (and of course fundamentally adopted by and espoused by these same leaders), well, then we have a success metric to work toward.

In order to build a culture that is respectful and inclusive and where harassment isn’t tolerated, an organization must fundamentally have its house in order – executive leadership must fully, and openly, live the value that harassment will not be tolerated, and those who speak up will not be victimized or retaliated against. Period. This is the foundation upon which training can generate the greatest ROI. When this foundation is laid and stable, high-quality training becomes an agent of change (rather than a potential waste of time and money that can make cynical employees even more so). High-quality training has the power to impact employees in profound ways – a great training in the right environment can change the world for an employee who is empowered to speak up. 

Read More: Startup Culture Seems to Be Missing One Key Ingredient—Culture


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