Restaurant Group Launches Webinars to Prevent Sexual Harassment

The National Restaurant Association's summer webinars are a pilot for further programs addressing bias and other workplace fairness issues.

In the past year, the #MeToo movement has motivated HR departments to revisit their sexual harassment policies. Last month, Starbucks closed for racial bias training and changed its policies in response to an incident where two African-American men were arrested in one of its stores while waiting for a friend. Now the National Restaurant Association, which represents the food-service industry, is providing its own guidance on sensitive workplace issues to members.

We felt that we really needed to help support what was happening.

The group is launching ServSafe Workplace, a suite of training programs designed to address “the cultural and social issues affecting today’s restaurant and hospitality work environments.”

According to Janet Benoit, the association’s vice president of learning and development, CEO Dawn Sweeney prioritized the training initiative in the wake of #MeToo. “As the national conversation really started to take hold, Dawn Sweeney began reaching out to the teams in the association, including advocacy, communications, and then training and certification,” she said. “We were trying to figure out the role that we wanted to take to help support the industry as the conversation built up. We felt that we really needed to help support what was happening.”

This summer, that effort takes the form of a series of free live 60-minute webinars that address workplace sexual harassment. While Benoit said the association had such training programs before, it used the opportunity to refresh its content on the subject. “We began to reach out to subject matter experts from both the restaurant and hospitality industries,” she said. “We looked at training leaders and HR leaders, we spoke to hospitality professors who focused on employment law and then of course legal counsel, because we wanted to ensure that we have the correct information about rights and laws.”

And because the target audiences for the training—restaurant managers and their employees—tend to have complicated schedules and spend a lot of time on feet, the association emphasized digital delivery for the webinars and scheduled more than 40 of them over the summer. “We were looking for a way to reach as many people as we possibly could at one time, and to us the smartest way to do that was to offer something free and digital with as many iterations of it as we could,” she said.

After the summer webinar series, the sexual-harassment training content will be formalized into broader paid online courses this fall on additional topics, such as diversity, workplace safety, and privacy. (The content will also be tailored to different states, where laws on such issues can vary.) Benoit said that in that regard, the free webinars are a way to both contribute to the ongoing conversation about harassment and encourage participation in future programs.

“Some of it is very much about the volume of reach that we can have with the various resources that we’re offering,” she said. “But I think we’re also we’re hoping to serve as a catalyst for a new dialogue on driving harassment-free workplaces. We want to spark a refreshed commitment and energy to produce the positive changes that everyone wants to see in our industry.”

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Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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