Your experience and opinions on sensitivity training or other solutions to workplace intolerance

Even if not personally liable (let’s assume an LLC for a sec) their share of the business will still lose big if and when it gets sued.

Understand many people do not realize the microaggressions they perform. One recent incident involved a male manager coming into a meeting between two women discussing a work conflict. His first statement was, “Let’s not get emotional about this.” I’m sure he didn’t realize how sexist that statement was.

I suspect a great many microaggressions happen inadvertantly because the speaker doesn’t realize it’s a microagression at all. From an employer’s perspective, how do you address this kind of thing? You want all your employees to be comfortable at work, but you also don’t want anyone to be afraid of talking to someone for fear inadvertantly being a microaggressor. I’ve dealt with employee relations issues in a work environment where women were in the overwhelming majority. There have been a handful of times where I’ve had to say some variation of, “I realize emotional levels are high, but we need to try to avoid raising our voices.” It didn’t occur to me that this might be a microaggression. I’m going to have to rethink things I guess.

Accurate, and addressing microaggressions among well-meaning but oblivious workers will change the normative culture of the office for the better. A strong culture is a self-reinforcing structure that applies pressure on everyone.

Some people say hurtful things because they don’t know better. Some people do it because they feel comfortable about getting away with it. Actively addressing the first group (with trainings) will also influence the second.

You’re very unlikely to unbigot a bigot, but you can make the office an unwelcoming space to express those ideas.

This is the answer. You can’t change what people think about others, you can change how they act.

Two thoughts:

These efforts turn out best when they change hearts and minds. Of course, there may be people whose hearts and minds remain unchanged. Company policy can still change what these people actually say and do, by making the consequences unpleasant. I always think of a statistical distribution of attitudes and actions, and try to make these efforts shift people in the helpful direction through this distribution.

Some prejudices claim to have their own moral authority, especially those concerning orientation and gender identity claiming religious authority. It’s a bad idea to argue against those directly. Much better is to identify workplace standards such as non-harassment policies and equal opportunity policies. The debate then becomes whether each employee acts consistently with the workplace standards. Any employee arguing against the workplace standards per se is, in effect, arguing that they shouldn’t be employed there.

Yes, don’t get into a moral / religious discussion because you won’t win. Focus on behaviour, not thoughts.

I think a large part of this is driven by the insurance industry. Thin skinned people that are litigation happy are all around us.

If anyone needs a hand outside of work, we chip in with a pick-up truck or whatever. We support each other that way for sure.

We do not talk politics at work. We are professionals.
We do not talk religion at work. We are professionals.

I consider my coworkers friends and buddies. But we just do not talk about such things. We focus on the task at hand.

Thank you for all the replies. Much of this echos my own thoughts.

The obvious course is to clearly establish policy and strictly enforce it from here on. My biggest concern is the behavior of managers more than regular staff because of their power over others and the face they present for the company. Everyone needs to feel safe here and that is the most important thing.

The recent points about politics and religion having no place at work are noted and I ses as an important starting place from which grosser violations can creep. I really do try to keep my opinions to myself but I am crappy at it. (I am sure everyone knows what I think of Trump, I have been better at keeping my mouth shut about politics closer to home). I have to work harder myself to keep such things out of the work place.

I have no illusions about changing people’s minds about such things. Much of my concern was of the utility of sensitivity training, and from many of the answers here, I think it will be of a much lower utility than simply being clear about ground rules and enforcing them.

One of the off offenders is a very compassionate person on situations he understands. He is not aware of his ignorance and is of course generally defensive when challenged on it. And yes, I do have concerns about partnership.

So my general feeling on this is that, while sexual, racial and homophobic harassment is absolutely a huge problem, the whole sensitivity training industry has never prevented a single abuser from harassing even one person in its entire history. It’s entirely about employers being able to cover their arses and say “hey don’t sue us, we paid for the mandatory training”

The absolute most you can say is maybe it might encourage victims to report abuse.

The underlying problem is not a lack of sensitivity, it’s a lack of professionalism.

I think sensitivity training is a waste of time. It’s 2024, anyone who doesn’t understand the concept that employees represent the business and should treating all, all employees, customers, clients, contractors, and anyone else encountered under the umbrella of the business with respect are not going to learn it in a sensitivity training class. It’s not necessary to know why they are expected to act in that way, it’s only necessary that they do.

Somewhere in all of this is employer training. Employees who aren’t treated with respect at work aren’t likely to treat their fellow employees any differently.

I agree. An hour of sensitivity training is not going to turn around a lifetime of being an asshole.

It’s HR’s job to protect the company, not the employees. So everyone does sensitivity (or whatever) training. That might help in court, donno.

I don’t want to be completely negative here though. HR has helped me and others navigate through the bullshit that is our health insurance. Everyone has that experience in the USA. “Welcome to America”.

Yup. Managers/Supervisors or what have you have to manage and supervise. And call people on the carpet when there is a problem.

I’m in computer work. Another different department manager wanted them to break up the work they where doing into 15 minute segments. That is just insane and simply shows that the manager is not a manager. Many of my solutions happen out of the blue, and may wake me up at night.

It might have helped in decades past, but these days a company cannot depend on annual sensitivity or anti-harrassment sessions alone to protect them from liabilities. And really, sensitivity training isn’t primarily about protecting the company from litigation it’s about making sure you retain talent (less turnover), it can help with recruitment, and happy employees tend to be more productive.

Whenever someone tells me some variation of “HR is not your friend, they’re here to protect the company,” I don’t mind telling them they’re right. Every single department in the company is there to serve the interests of the company so why should mine be any different? But I like to remind people that very often protecting an employee or employees is the best way to protect the company.

wow…do I need some sensitivity training, or what? Because I sure can’t understand what is sexist about that guy’s statement.

What I see is that he entered a meeting between two women “discussing a conflict.”
Okay…so how did he know what they were discussing? Well, I would assume that he listened to the women long enough to realize that they were discussing a conflict, (not, say, discussing the weather or what they had for lunch. )

So he saw that the conflict was causing some stress (stress is, by definition, caused by a conflict*). And stress causes emotions.

So the man entered the meeting, and having listened to the content of the discussion, realized that he could soothe the issue and reduce the conflict. He saw that there was some stress and some emotion involved, so he started out by saying “let’s not get emotional”.
What is sexist about that?
The statement would apply equally to two males.**

*Even if the conflict is just something as mundane as a scheduling conflict.–it still can cause stress. (Otherwise, it’s not a conflict, it’s just a discusson.) Imagine the two women saying:
“I need use of the meeting room at 2 o’clock for my staff meeting.”
" No, I need that room at 2 oclock for my meeting with my clients".

It’s a simple issue, but that conversation is a little tiny, (and stressful,) power struggle, which only one of the women will win, and the other will lose.
The other woman will have to notify her staff or her clients that the meeting is changed to a different time. . My point is that there is stress involved. It may just be a bit of office politics, or it may be
irritating, embarrassing and time-consuming (to send and verify answers from 10 emails ). Or it may be serious. Maybe even so serious that someone’s professional reputation is involved; making one of the women look like a weak leader to her staff, or make the other woman look like an unprofessional and disorganized manager to her clients. Whatever it is, there is stress, and emotion involved.

**And, yes, I have been in meetings with two male engineers shouting at each other, and have said, “let’s calm down, and solve this.” If they had been female engineers, I would have said the same thing.

Women who voice strong opinions are much more often called “emotional” than men. The word “hysteria” literally means “from the womb.”

Men who voice strong opinions are more likely to be called “direct” or “decisive.”

The upshot is that women are constantly told by men that they need to calm down or avoid being emotional regardless of their actual mental state, and men are allowed to exhibit a much greater degree of forcefulness before there’s a perceived issue.

This is also, by the way, why toxic masculinity tells men they shouldn’t cry. Women are the emotional ones, men are not. Public emotional displays are a sign of weakness.

Because men often assume women are or will be emotional about an issue. Think about it this way, how common is it that a man will tell two men calmly discussing a work conflict to not get emotional?

He was invited to the meeting by one of the parties. He knew the reason but he made the statement as he walked in late without hearing any discussion. In other words he assumed the two women would be emotional about it.

Nope He made an assumption a priori. But let’s assume this were true. Would most male managers tell two male workers in the same situation to not get emotional?

Point proven

See, this is what I’m talking about. With men, a manager would tend to say, “Let’s stick to the point.” or “Let’s look at it from their perspective.” It’s with women that

  1. They are presumed to be emotional
  2. Having emotions is unprofessional UNLESS they are performing a traditionally female role.

That is why it is sexist - it’s the terms used. What sex is thought of to have emotions? What sex is thought to be emotionless? That’s why “Stop being emotional.” equates to “Stop acting like a woman.” and note: this was said to the two that were calmly discussing the situation. But men would say, “They are being emotional and that wasn’t helping the courageous conversation.” but they would never accuse two men doing the same thing as being emotional. At best they would tell the men to calm down.

Sure, except no one actually says “Let’s not get emotional” when it’s men arguing. They use other terms. But women are by default assumed to be overly emotional.

@Saint_Cad provided a bit more context. In the original version, I assumed the male manager witnessed two employees getting into a heated conversation and responded by telling them not to get emotional. While I’ve never told an employee not to get emotional, I’ve had to use some variation of “Let’s everyone simmer down now, y’hear?” Mostly to women but that’s only because about 70% of my workforce are women. But then I’ve never walked into a meeting and just started by telling everyone to keep calm.

As someone mentioned, one of the difficulties with microaggressions are that people very often don’t know what they’re doing is having a negative effect on someone. What is considered a microaggression is often not just dependent on what is said but by who says it and to whom. As an employer, it’s not always easy to police microaggressions. That isn’t to say employers shouldn’t try, but it’s an ongoing process that’s probably never going to end.

Even if that were the context, it would still be a microaggression as

  1. It is a term used almost exclusively with women.
  2. It is almost always in a negative context.
  3. Because of the cultural stereotype that woman are supposed to show emotion, “Don’t be emotional.” is often the equivalent (even if subconcious) of, “Stop acting like a woman.”
  4. If the situation happened with men, there is a history of THEIR behavior being seen as positive. They are being direct. They speak up. They are clear in their expectations. &c.

Let’s reverse this and make it more explicit for clarity although in real life the gender roles would be unspoken. You are a male customer service rep and a woman complains to your boss about how you were not empathetic to her plight. Your boss tell you to stop acting like a man. Be more like a woman and show emotions to the clients. What is your takeaway from that meeting?

This does not seem like the same situation to me at all. In the above scenario, the manager has unambiguously engaged in gender stereotyping. I’ll also note, unlike your original scenario, you didn’t feel the need to specify the gender of the manger because the comment here was so egregious it really doesn’t matter. The situation with the microaggression is a little more ambiguous. If a female manager had told them to keep calm does that change whether it was a microaggression? If it doesn’t, why even mention the manager’s gender in the first place?

I’m certainly not arguing that microaggressions aren’t real nor invalidate the feelings of those who suffer from microaggressions. But it can be difficult to know what’s a microaggression and getting rid of them isn’t an easy task. In the above example, I’d recommend a formal warning for the manager. At my company, this means the manager is going to lose their bonus for the quarter. For your original example? I’d talk to the manager but I’m unlikely to recommend a formal warning.