A Look At The Evolution Of Sexual Harassment Training Videos

Dec 20, 2017
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Thirty-seven years ago, sexual harassment in the workplace became illegal. That led to the creation of the first harassment training videos. This one, called "Power Pinch," is narrated by a man sitting in a bar.


KEN HOWARD: Good ol' sex - what's wrong with that, huh - everything, as a matter of fact, when it's unwelcome and when it occurs at work. And yet this thing called sexual harassment is taken about as seriously as a dirty joke.

SHAPIRO: Stacey Vanek Smith looked into the evolution of sexual harassment training videos for NPR's newest podcast The Indicator from Planet Money.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: Liz Tippett is an employment lawyer. When she was starting her first job at a law firm in California, she sat through her very first harassment training. She did not love it.

LIZ TIPPETT: This is terrible.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter).

TIPPETT: And I just thought, why are we doing this? Why is everybody offering this same thing that is just painful to sit through? Can't we do it better?

VANEK SMITH: Liz thought these videos are incredibly important, and the fact they're so bad is a serious problem. So when she joined the faculty at the University of Oregon Law School, she decided to study harassment training.

So how many videos did you watch in all?

TIPPETT: Seventy-four.

VANEK SMITH: Seventy-four.

TIPPETT: Seventy-four - it was purgatory.

VANEK SMITH: The early videos are very basic. There is zero subtlety.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Mr. Kendall (ph), I've told you before. I don't feel comfortable socializing with clients.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Don't worry about it, Ann (ph).

VANEK SMITH: In this video, a young receptionist is trying to tell her very shady older boss why she is not comfortable joining him and a client for drinks.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You know, that deal that we just signed could pay your salary for the next couple of years. I could use a little cooperation here. Do I make myself clear?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Mr. Kendall, I'm not trying to be difficult.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Now, I'll pick you up at about 6:30. Wear something nice.

VANEK SMITH: The guy is basically saying, show my client a good time, or you're fired. It is almost laughable. It's so obviously wrong. But that was the point of the old videos - to show people what sexual harassment was and to make the point that this is not OK. But that was decades ago. Times have changed. More women have entered the workforce. And Liz says harassment training evolved. Here's a recent video. We got it off of YouTube. It just two guys who work at a hospital, and they're looking at a female coworker's social media posts.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Go to her photos. See there, that one...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Oh...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) ...From when she was in school.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Oh, man, is that Samantha (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) I've never seen her like that.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) She must have been completely wasted.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character, laughter). Oh, man, I'll send a link to Doug (ph). The guys upstairs need to see this (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Oh, yeah.

VANEK SMITH: This is super creepy, but it is unclear to me if what they're doing is actually illegal. Even Liz says she can't quite tell. And this is what today's sexual harassment training is all about. Over the last 37 years, the focus has moved from, like, caveman-style quid pro quo to stuff this kind of borderline and shady, basically helping people in the modern workplace understand the sometimes subtle line between what is creepy and what is illegal. And then the Harvey Weinstein news broke. There was nothing subtle about it. And for weeks now, women have been coming forward at company after company with stories of physical assault and quid pro quo.

TIPPETT: It just felt really familiar. I mean, it looked like the videos from, like, the 1980s, the 1990s.

VANEK SMITH: And Liz says that's when she realized that maybe those videos with all of their ridiculous music and the evil, leering men - maybe those videos got something right that the new, subtler videos were missing.

TIPPETT: Harassment is about power and the abuse of power. And that has really faded away from current trainings.

VANEK SMITH: Liz says the current videos reflect where we all thought we were as a society. We thought we'd mostly evolved beyond the sort of obvious forms of caveman-style sexual harassment. But Weinstein and everything that's come to light since shows us that in some fundamental ways, we are still in the cave. Liz says better workplace training could help, training that shows the root of harassment is this raw power game. But she says things won't really improve until there are just more women in positions of power.

Do you think that'll change now?

TIPPETT: I hope so.

VANEK SMITH: That was a long pause.

TIPPETT: (Laughter).

VANEK SMITH: Stacey Vanek Smith, NPR News.

SHAPIRO: And Stacey Vanek Smith is the host of NPR's newest podcast on the big ideas behind business news. It's called The Indicator from Planet Money. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.