From Compliance to Compassion:
A Holistic Approach to Harassment Prevention

By Nicole Nevarez & Zachary Schaffer

In December, Ta’amod: Stand Up! launched its inaugural Train the Trainer program. Ta’amod’s mission is to help Jewish communal institutions develop cultures of safety, respect, and equity. This training equipped a cohort of educators to offer Jewish nonprofits legally compliant harassment prevention training as part of a larger discussion around nurturing respectful workplace culture through a Jewish lens. There is now an emerging national network of professionals certified to deliver training in the Jewish community to nonprofits, foundations, synagogues, and schools.

The Ta’amod training is unlike any anti-harassment training we have ever received as Jewish communal professionals. This program seeks to raise the standard in the Jewish workplace from compliance to compassion and it recognizes that harassment is a symptom of a greater problem: a lack of safety and respect in our institutional cultures.

While we did discuss anti-harassment compliance and other legal issues, the bulk of the training was focused on creating healthy workplace cultures through a Jewish lens. This not only creates a positive culture that makes harassment intrinsically less likely, it also makes our communal institutions more effective. Ta’amod emphasizes the need and teaches concrete tools to create feedback-rich environments, to empower bystanders to intervene, and to begin to understand our biases so that we can disrupt them. While we do discuss legal responsibilities, we also wrestle with our ethical responsibilities from a Jewish perspective, affirming that our organizations are rooted in Jewish values and mission which should guide our culture even with diversity among our staff.

A large reason for this focus is that loads of data on anti-harassment trainings offer a sobering assessment for their effectiveness. In fact, most research shows that these programs have a tendency to amplify pre-existing biases and generate a backlash effect, perpetuating the problems they seek to address. Traditional training methods typically concentrate only on legal issues, as if workplace interactions take place in a vacuum. This is why the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in a 2016 report, recommended that organizations nurture “a holistic culture of non-harassment.” While it is important that we know how to respond to abuse, it is just as important that we nurture workplaces less prone to abuse.

This is precisely the approach of Ta’amod. The goal is not only to counter harassment, but to proactively cultivate compassionate workplaces where employees feel safe. While this approach sets a higher standard than that required by law, it is a more effective and arguably more Jewish agenda. And while we are all familiar with the moral imperative to nurture safe workplaces, there is a clear business argument as well.

This principle has been proven repeatedly and recently, Google conducted a two-year study on team performance, exploring 250 distinct attributes of workplace effectiveness. Far and away, they found the most important quality of every high-performing team was psychological safety. More important than intelligence or personality, psychological safety determined the productivity of workplace teams. If people are treated respectfully in their daily interactions at work, the root cause of harassment is mitigated, and employees become more productive. According to another piece of research, “highly-engaged employees are twice as likely as their less-engaged peers to be top performers.”

If we want to prevent harassment in our community, we need to do more than present legally compliant slideshows on what constitutes a breach of the law. Legal compliance is important, but it does not drive culture change or enhance employee engagement and psychological safety.

Of one-dozen participants, Zachary Schaffer (co-author of this article and certified trainer through the program) was the only male-identified person in the program. When he later learned that not a single male applied, we initiated conversations which led to this article. In both of our experiences, we have noticed a gender gap in the participation rates of similar programs. “Where are all of the men?” we wondered.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes, “Culture does not make people. People make culture.” But we cannot nurture a new Jewish communal culture without men – who, according to Leading Edge, make up 30% of the Jewish workforce and 70% of CEOS – leaning into these conversations as well.

Frankly, we would have thought that a training on workplace culture and respect would have attracted more men than one on harassment prevention. Allyship is difficult and complicated, especially in the shadow of the #MeToo movement and in the midst of cancel or call-out culture. Sometimes it can feel easier to step back rather than to step in. Yet, we thought that the language of workplace respect would not activate the same anxiety among some men that can erupt from conversations explicitly about harassment.

Unfortunately, the lack of male participation in #MeToo conversations is all too common in the Jewish community. While there are several significant and vocal male leaders who are modelling allyship in profound ways, more must be done to empower and engage the critical masses of Jewish men. This past December, we were impressed to see a Jewish allyship initiative launched yet we were disappointed that no men had a role in creating it.

We do not have all the answers, but we recognize the barriers we must overcome and the urgent questions we must to discuss. Below, we offer some starting points for conversation and action.

  1. Continue to work to debunk the falsity that harassment and gender equity are “women’s issues,” when in truth they impact each of us as individuals and as organizations.
  2. Hold space for the many “would-be male allies” who are genuinely trying to be sensitive to a lack of women’s voices by staying silent themselves and find new ways to empower them to speak up.
  3. Open conversations about gender conditioning and norms. Even the best-intentioned men are grappling with pervasive patriarchal messages with which they have been socialized since birth.
  4. Create opportunities for men to come together as men and ask hard questions about masculinity, patriarchy, and other sensitive topics. Jewish Women International is prototyping a “Men as Allies” program which we believe has great potential.
  5. Wrestle with the implications of the term “ally.” We wonder if it is possible that the word perpetuates the idea of the “other” which poses an additional barrier to inclusive gender equity work and harassment prevention. Is a man an “ally” when participating in a conversation around compassionate workplaces or harassment or rather a partner?

Creating compassionate workplaces is not gender issue – it is a Jewish issue and a moral imperative which is also central to the success of our communal organizations. Preventing harassment in the Jewish workplace requires us to shift our thinking away from preventing harassment and toward creating safe, respectful, and equitable workplaces. In a feedback-rich and healthy work environment, not only is harassment less likely but our organizations will be more effective. It is time we move away from ensuring employee compliance to creating cultures of compassion.

Nicole Nevarez is the inaugural National Director of Ta’amod: Stand Up!, a multi-pronged initiative dedicated to ending gender abuse and harassment in the Jewish workplace through fostering respectful, safe and equitable culture. Ta’amod brings this work to the community through a Jewish values lens and an acute understanding of the unique dynamics of the Jewish communal landscape. An educator, trainer and facilitator, most recently, she served as New York Director for Moving Traditions. Nicole believes that when we do the work to reflect on ourselves and our organizations, we all have the power to impact deep systemic change. www.taamod.org/training/

Zachary Schaffer is the Executive Director of the Council of Young Jewish Presidents, which is forging inclusive, courageous, and multigenerational leadership in the Jewish non-profit sector. He is also the President of Friends of Roots, a Resetting the Table facilitator, and a certified Ta’amod trainer for safe, respectful, and equitable Jewish workplaces. He has led workshops around the country on topics such as Zionism and Jewish Peoplehood, polarization, civil discourse, storytelling, Christian-Jewish relations, and more.