Have you ever hired someone because they remind you of someone you know? Did you ever consider that your decision may have been based on your unconscious bias(es)?

Unconscious biases are hidden preferences created over time through our socialization, personal experiences and exposure to the views of others. Whether we admit it or not, we all have such biases to one extent or another. These automatic associations influence how we see, hear and interpret everything around us so that we can function in this fast-paced world.

In the realm of the employer-employee relationship, these unconscious biases can inadvertently undermine an organization’s goal of creating a diverse and inclusive work environment, an important characteristic of top-performing organizations. In addition, harassment and discrimination complaints can arise when workplaces have not directly addressed the nuances of unconscious bias. This type of environment can in turn lead to poor employee performance, stifled and stunted team creativity, loss of business, distractions, and lengthy and costly litigation.

The question is not, “Do we have unconscious bias?” but rather, “What can we do about our unconscious bias(es)?”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends that companies implement HR compliance training programs for both supervisors/managers and other employees to address hidden issues and prevent them from becoming more problematic. Specifically, employers should include unconscious bias awareness training in their anti-harassment and discrimination training. Unconscious bias awareness training helps employees uncover personal and cultural beliefs, which are the causes of most harassment and discrimination complaints.

An EEOC Task Force recently outlined the recommended components of all HR compliance training programs. According to the task force report, unconscious bias awareness training should…

  • be conducted by qualified trainers
  • be interactive and designed to include active engagement by employees
  • be tailored to different employee segments (e.g., supervisors vs. non-supervisors)
  • be tailored to specific workplaces/industries (e.g., by using company language and examples that will resonate with your employees)
  • be offered frequently and vary in format, style and content
  • provide examples of acceptable and unacceptable conduct
  • teach managers how to respond to complaints, objections and statements of issues
  • be supported at all levels of the organization (e.g., by providing a memo or introductory video from a senior leader)

In an increasingly global business environment with changing employee and client demographics, a workforce that understands and embraces diverse viewpoints stimulates good business. Diverse and inclusive work environments promote ideas, innovation and better problem-solving, which leads to attracting clients and retaining great talent.

The right HR compliance training program, which meets your organization’s needs, will bring light to nuanced areas that employees often have difficulty navigating in the workplace. By providing tools to help employees manage their unconscious biases, companies can simultaneously avoid harassment and discrimination complaints and create a better work environment for all employees.

Katherin Nukk-Freeman Esq. and Suzanne Cerra Esq. are employment law attorneys and co-founders of SHIFT HR Compliance Training, which helps organizations offer effective and easy-to-use online HR compliance training for their workforce.