f you run a company in California, you have to take state-mandated anti-harassment training every two years. This October, Matt MacInnis, founder of a digital distribution business called Inkling, clicked through two hours’ worth of slides about inappropriate touching and sexual comments in an online course produced by an HR services company. As he answered multiple-choice questions to prove he’d paid attention, a thought occurred to him: This is a farce. MacInnis couldn’t see how an online training course would keep “an a–hole from still being an a–hole,” as he puts it. “There is a laudable goal, but the way we address sexual harassment now, the whole system is flawed,” he says. “I mean, is there anti-murder training?”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which by law must investigate all federal harassment claims before they can proceed in court, received 13,000 sexual-harassment complaints last year (16 percent of them from men), outpacing the number it received for racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination. “We by no means think that’s the extent of the harassment,” says Peggy Mastroianni, the organization’s legal counsel. She estimates that as many as 90 percent of people who experience sexually inappropriate behavior at work never take formal action. Many who do are contractually obligated to litigate through private arbitration, which the EEOC can’t track. But decades of surveys show that harassment remains prevalent: In a 1981 Harvard Business Review survey, 60 percent of women said they’d been “eyed up and down” by male co-workers; last year the EEOC reported that somewhere from 50 percent to 75 percent of women have experienced sexual comments or touches that made them feel uneasy at work.
For more than three decades, U.S. companies and institutions have addressed such behavior through corporate policies and awareness programs, although there’s little evidence they’re effective…..