Does Sexual Harassment Training Change Attitudes? A View from the Federal Level


  • *Direct correspondence to Heather Antecol, Claremont McKenna College, Department of Economics, 500 E. Ninth Street, Claremont, CA 91711. The corresponding author will share all data and coding materials with those wishing to replicate the study. None of the views expressed in this article represent the official views of the U.S. government.


Objective. Employment-related sexual harassment imposes large costs on both workers and their employers and many organizations have responded by implementing formal policies, grievance procedures, or training programs. However, limited evaluation of these interventions leaves us knowing very little about their impact. Our goal is to add to this limited empirical literature by analyzing the relationship between sexual harassment training and employees' views about what behaviors in fact constitute sexual harassment.

Method. We use probit analysis and data drawn from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (USMSPB) of the U.S. federal government to determine—separately by gender—the impact of sexual harassment training on the propensity of workers to define specific unwanted sexual behaviors in the workplace as forms of sexual harassment.

Results. We find that sexual harassment training is associated with an increased probability—particularly for men—of considering unwanted sexual gestures, remarks, touching, and pressure for dates to be a form of sexual harassment. We also find that the proportion of agency staff receiving training is positively related to the propensity that an individual employee has a definition of sexual harassment that includes these forms of unwanted sexual behavior.

Conclusions. Our results suggest that sexual harassment training programs may be useful in leading workers to be more sensitive to the issue of sexual harassment. Widespread training within the agency has an effect over and above that attributable to the individual's receipt of training itself and training appears to be particularly successful in clarifying men's views about the “gray” area generated by unwanted sexual behavior originating with co-workers rather than supervisors.