bystanders workplace intervention

Bystander Intervention

Over the past several years, a number of articles have been written about diversity training being ineffective in creating lasting change and even exacerbating issues as work. Time Magazine’s article on the subject discussed the failure of diversity training without a viable action plan that included peer accountability and bystander intervention empowerment by leadership. Similar findings resulted from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School study.

According to the EEOC, bystander intervention training the missing piece to effective workplace harassment prevention training. We believe the same holds true for diversity and unconscious bias classes.

It is becoming increasingly important to engage bystanders to intervene when hurtful communication or behavior occurs in the workplace.

So what is bystander intervention training and why is it critical to success in building an inclusive culture following D&I training?

Definition of Bystander Intervention

It is recognizing a potentially harmful or hurtful interaction and responding in a way intended to positively influence the outcome.

Bystander intervention is an important actionable strategy for both diversity and harassment prevention training.

When employees feel empowered to speak up when a behavior or discussion takes place that does not align with the organization’s desired culture, change happens. With effective tools, communication techniques and support of leadership, bystanders can intervene and stop non-inclusive behavior before it continues or results in an official complaint.

Types of Behavior That Require Intervention

Examples of behaviors where stepping in makes sense include conversations or actions that may be harmful to those who witnessed or saw it.

Specific examples include the following

  • Inappropriate jokes
  • Microaggressions
  • Biased comments
  • Bullying
  • Comments or actions which are harassing in nature

Is It Considered Policing?

It is important to note that the goal of empowering employees to intervene does not mean we are suggesting that the employees be in charge of policing every conversation looking for fault and evaluating every comment made. The intervention comes from a place of contributing to the collective good. The way in which the intervener communicates the message is critical to the success of this program.

Intent versus Impact

In many cases the intent of the person who is the sender of the communication is likely very positive. The impact, on the other hand, may have negative implications.

How to Intervene

It is a best practice for each organization to establish standards and protocols for use in different scenarios using thoughtful responses, I-statements, and effective questioning techniques. These standards will be documented and distributed to employees with training included as needed. The document should be incorporated into the onboarding process for new hires.

If no intervention standards exist at present, a plan will be required to successfully integrate this program into the current work environment. Such a plan should include detailed scenario cases and responses.

What Silence Means

One of the first diversity trainers in our organization taught her classes that “Silence is agreement.” Many of us want to do the right thing and simply don’t know what to say in that moment when an uncomfortable comment is made. This training equips employees to speak up. Silence and lack of action from the bystander perpetuates the cycle and allows the behavior to continue and even gain momentum in the workplace.

Preventing harassment and mitigating bias in the workplace is a collective responsibility.

In the workplace, the most effective leaders reject cultures of silence and replace them with cultures of transparency and empowerment. Cultures are created that match up with the company’s mission, values and policies.  In this way, proper behavior can become a fundamental company value practiced by all.

Benefits of Bystander Training

  1. creates awareness
  2. creates a sense of collective responsibility
  3. creates a sense of empowerment
  4. changes behavior over time
  5. builds an inclusive culture
  6. creates a sense of belonging

Diversity Builder incorporates bystander training into our D&I and harassment classes. We also can facilitate sessions as standalones or in a consulting role.

A safe and inclusive environment fosters teamwork among colleagues, greater workplace satisfaction, and higher levels of innovation and creativity on the job.

Inquire about Bystander Training