How Better Anti-Harassment Training Helps NGOs Avoid Scandal and Promote Gender Equality

Male employee harasses his female colleague, placing his hand on her shoulder

As if times weren’t difficult enough for NGOs, the sector has been embarrassed by multiple news stories regarding sexual misconduct by field staff and harassment within the headquarters of major development organizations.

So, what can NGOs do, on a practical level, to foster a more equitable and ethical organizational culture, where these things are less likely to happen?

  • Make anti-misconduct/harassment training an everyday thing, for everyone.  If training is only rolled out after a major incident, it could seem like a public relations effort rather than a sincere reflection of the organization’s values and priorities.  Similarly, if we only assign training to someone after they are involved in an incident, it might feel like a punishment, leading to disengagement or even a backlash.  

  • Include bystanders, not just perpetrators and victims.  To paraphrase the old saying, misconduct flourishes when good people do nothing. Changing the attitudes of perpetrators can be difficult, but encouraging sympathetic bystanders to discourage and report harassment and misconduct is a much easier training objective.

  • Expect an increase in incidents reported.  Many organizations wrongly assume that effective training will lead to fewer reports of misconduct and harassment.  In reality, effective training will bring about an increase in reports as people grow more comfortable with coming forward.  It is only once a new, higher reporting rate has been established that we would expect to see decreases.

  • Develop female leaders and promote women’s leadership.  Studies indicate that, of all the things organizations can do to reduce harassment and misconduct, having more women in positions of power is the most reliable long-term solution.  However, leadership development programs are often structured in a way that discourages women’s participation. While it’s too large of a subject to address here, it’s critical to make sure your leadership training and mentoring programs are designed to be inclusive and effective for women.   

If your organization is dealing with these issues, or any other learning-related challenges, please contact Sonata Learning.


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