Harassment Training

I was selected to take “online harassment prevention training offered by Workplace Answers” today. I always feel put off by these things because even though they say that incorrect answers do not matter, I am sure there is a record somewhere. In addition to that it was 128 slides and they expected it to take over an hour! Yikes, what a commitment. Additionally, I don’t work on the clock so I realize I am not being paid to do this.

I always have problems with this sort of test. I cannot seem to separate the real world from the situations that are listed. I suspect that if the conditions are exactly as stated in the question that the “correct” answers are the only answers. However, the real world is never that concise. For example:

I took the cautious approach and said YES. How can we possibly know that this is welcome? Are we assuming that the sexual preferences of everyone in the department are common knowledge? If the rest of the department is flirtatious and I am not interested, would I feel pressure to “play along?” Does that sound like something you could never really know? Here the real world interrupts the conditions of the question. This situation could NEVER REALLY EXIST, and therefore the question is bad. Further I think the flaw is believing that this could exist. It is more reasonable to say: In Claudia’s department, sexual joking, flirting and comments seem to be welcome and even encouraged by her coworkers. No one has complained about this creating a hostile environment. Claudia fully participates in the tantalizing teasing.

Reality check, some flirtation will inevitably take place, and it is nearly impossible to get people to candidly talk about their comfort zone. The key thought in my rephrasing is that no one has complained (yet). If it were me, I do not think I would participate, and if I were the manager or the instructor I would point out that the behavior was in a grey area at best.

Another example, but about popular culture:

Here the discussion is about a fictional movie called “Homeland Hill” which is a widely known lesbian love story.
The problem I have here is that the people are talking about a movie and not lesbian love. Granted when they say “I totally agree. It’s disgusting.” there is a strong implication that they are talking about the nature of the relationship, but frankly that is an assumption and the fault lies with the language, reasonably “it” refers to the movie. A film is not a protected category. If the film is disgusting that is one thing, if the reference is to the love affair then that is another. The first is a comment on film, the second is about a protected category. When I first read this it did not occur to me that they needs must be talking about the subject of the film.

Here the situation is unclear, and the context could be carried in tone. From the subsequent questions it becomes clear that Anton and Wade WERE referring to the protected category which does make the comments inappropriate. This is not clear though based on the situation.

Well, you say, the intent of the comment is not relevant with respect to the appropriateness of the comment. Hmm, this sounds like the sitcom “Three’s Company” though, where part of a conversation is overheard and a whole episode goes spinning off. It certainly may have been insensitive for the two to have this conversation, particularly in front of a colleague who is openly gay.

Finally my last comment deals with language and accent.
When second language students speak they do not always choose the perfect phrasing, and often implications are drawn from their word choices. The key phrase here is that the student “finds Jorge hard to understand” and asks for an advisor with an “American accent.” Now putting aside the threat (which is irrelevant, though it does speak to the attitude of the student), I am not sure the answer is correct.

If the question were: “Should the head of the department accommodate the students request solely based on Jorge’s accent?” I would say, no. But in the explanation the key phrase “Assuming that Jorge’s accent does not prohibit him from performing his job duties” which belongs in the situation, because that is key here. However I believe the student is saying that they cannot understand Jorge and that between the student and Jorge that the student is not able to receive proper advising. If the student had said, “I am sorry, but I am having difficulty understanding his advice, it may have something to do with the way I learned english, and this really needs to be clear to me. What can I do?”

What is the purpose here? Will Jorge’s career suffer from transferring one student? Is Jorge able to perform his job duties?

It seems mean to say, “I am sorry you cannot understand your advisor, but I won’t give you a new one.” Is Jorge’s national origin the ONLY factor here?

So I hate these tests, especially one this long.  They always leave me feeling unsatisfied because like most tests of this nature the test giver really doesn’t want feedback. They were hired by HR who is just making sausage. This is production, show that Rube actually completed this and it looks like we are trying. Well in fact they are trying, and this is better than nothing. I am a big fan of respect and communication. I know that it is possible to stumble into casual harassment, but by being vigilant, sensitive and communicating with those around me I am prepared to respond if I make a misstep.


One thought on “Harassment Training

  1. I love this post – a rich post for thought. what I also find so interesting is that I think you and I are deeply committed to coming to the world from similar places with very similar intentions … and we don’t always agree.

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