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Overcoming Prejudice Through Compliance Training

Employers need to remain proactive to ensure there is no question when it comes to company/employee values, standards and behavior. Regardless of how open-minded we claim to be, the truth is that human nature, society and culture have meshed together to produce stereotyping and prejudices that inform how we behave toward one another. Unconscious bias training helps people recognize and observe their own biases and establish how best to overcome such prejudices and improve diversity in the workplace.

Just recently, the United States watched their iconic Starbucks coffee shop shut down all 8,000 company-owned stores to address the issue of unconscious bias. The training followed an incident that occurred at a store in Philadelphia, where a manager called the police on two African-American men who were waiting for a friend and had them arrested for trespassing. While the police apologized and later acquitted them of the charges, Starbucks quickly came to realize there was a larger problem that needed to be addressed. Increasing focus on the importance of workplace discrimination and diversity in the workplace has shed light on another concept that needs to be addressed: unconscious bias.

According to the UCSF Office of Diversity and Outreach, unconscious bias is defined as “social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness.” The basis of unconscious bias boils down to the stereotypes that human nature, society and culture have produced and the subsequent prejudices that dictate how we behave toward one another – and therein lies the danger.

When decisions such as hiring, firing and promoting are made by people who are unaware of their negatively biased decisions, the company can be in serious legal jeopardy. Unconscious bias itself is not illegal, but employment discrimination is. For example, unconscious bias might be the reason that none of the qualified Hispanic workers were considered for the open positions, but the fact that none were hired or interviewed could be seen as illegal discrimination.

Not surprisingly, employment discrimination is often based on unconscious bias. While usually kept under control for the sake of societal politeness, stress or competition can bring bad behavior to the surface. For organizations trying to prevent discrimination, unconscious bias training is a must. Along with the normal compliance-related trainings, effective courses must provide employees with repeated opportunities for active learning, reflection and practice, in addition to using effective forms of soft skills training, such as scenario-based video courses. Continuous training affords individuals the opportunity to examine how their behavior reflects their biases and offers methods and solutions for people to use to ensure incidents – like what happened in Philadelphia – do not occur again.

Skillsoft invests heavily in brain science research to inform the development of instructional content that can bring about real behavioral change. Based on this research, Skillsoft has found that if content has “relevance,” “meaning” and “emotion,” the optimal learning experience is created. In this day and age, employees feel busier than ever, so content that both captures their attention and is efficient use of their time is crucial to the effectiveness of compliance training. Skillsoft has learned that content that incorporates real-world scenarios ensures the learning experience is “seen” through the learner’s eyes, which makes content stick. And better retention results in the increased likelihood of changed behavior.

Companies that do not adopt a culture of compliance and ethical behavior put themselves at risk and will have a harder time recruiting and retaining the best team members and customers. From a business standpoint, organizations that adopt compliance training – as it relates to unconscious bias training – will also make gains in reputation, brand perception and employee satisfaction, which results in better economic performance in the marketplace.

Moreover, companies that offer compliance as a key component of their company culture and business tend to perform better. On average, their employees typically have a higher level of satisfaction, resulting in improved productivity and employee retention. This shows the desire for compliance training and positive outcomes that such training has on employees.

Organizations that want to mitigate unconscious bias should invest in employee training and develop policies that address diversity and inclusion. The goal of incorporating unconscious bias into compliance training is to raise awareness about how employees treat customers, colleagues and those around them. We must strive for a fixed state on how we treat people that does not change based on individual gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age or sexual preference. With that being said, we acknowledge that it is nearly impossible to change human nature. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for ridding an organization of bias. Based on years of experience offering compliance training, change starts with ongoing and continuous training and executive-led company buy-in.


Norman Ford

Norman Ford is VP Compliance Products at Skillsoft Global Compliance Solutions, where he holds responsibility for the compliance product portfolio. His role prior to joining Skillsoft was Vice President of eLearning Products and Services and co-founder of GoTrain Corp. Prior to GoTrain, Mr. Ford served as Manager of Technical Assistance and Qualification for Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, where he was responsible for the development of Lockheed Martin Energy Systems’ training requirements and procedures and provided corporate subject matter expertise in regulatory and compliance issues.  Mr. Ford has over 30 years of experience in conduct of operations, nuclear operations, training drills, qualification, certification, training procedure and technical training issues while serving organizations including Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Defense (U.S. Navy).

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