How To Diagnose Workplace Harassment and Bias Before It Happens


Janine Yancey



Relying on employee complaints, the number of policy claims, and conducting investigative procedures are archaic methods to assess workplace harassment and bias. A reactive strategy will not only hurt your organization’s overall success, but will negatively impact your company’s reputation.

Today’s social demographics are continually changing. Social media is making us live in a fishbowl, which can ultimately lead your organization to be blindsided by these issues. Your biggest risk is not a claim; it’s risking public scrutiny on your company culture.

Nearly 40% of in-house counsel believe that employees do not report harassment, according to an In The House survey. Another study showed that 90% of employees would not report bias or harassment. So, how do you identify before these issues arise?

It’s time for organizations to be proactive to prevent cultural and illegal issues in the workplace.

High Performance and Higher Learning Solve Issues

Issues that lead to harassment and issues of bias are really about the productivity of your teams. By changing how we’re trying to solve cultural and ethical issues in the workplace, we’re enabling and supporting high performance and higher learning instead of protecting bad results.

Google analyzed over 250 interviews from 180 high performing teams over two years on what creates a high performing team. As a result, psychological safety was the most critical factor. Psychological safety is the feeling of security and safety when taking risks. For example, the ability to comfortably speak up, raise an objection, and feel respected when objecting to an unpopular opinion and can be authentic. If a team or a team member is not feeling psychologically safe, these are indicators that they’re experiencing harassment or bias. Thus, negatively affecting their performance.

We can solve these day-to-day incidents by focusing on how we operate as a team and as an organization and how to manage it throughout time. As a direct link to your ROI, higher performance rates leads to higher retention and a healthier bottom line.

Reverse Engineering the Dynamics of Your Tricky Culture Issues

As previously said, organizations need to look out for culture issues before waiting for someone to send in a complaint or claim to do something about it.

We’ve mapped out problems to specific cultural issues to help identify harassment, unconscious bias, and ethical conflicts in the workplace. Some of the early indicators, as you can see in the chart below, are just part of human culture such as “Tribalism – us vs. them.”

On the left column, you’ll see how real situational, cultural issues maps out seamlessly to legal issues. Your readings on these four situations are going to tell you how likely or not your risks are to face harassment issues. By proactively addressing these early indicators, you’ll prevent adverse outcomes and bad situations happening in your organization.

For example, some organizations have experienced managers who are unaware about the impacts of their power and how it affects the people reporting to them (insensitivity to power disparities, also known as “Quid Pro Quo”). A simple request from a manager to somebody who is less powerful might seem intimidating.

While bias and harassment are different issues, they’re definitely on a continuum of related behaviors. The chart below will help your thinking around measuring bias—or taking its temperature day-to-day. These are the situational dynamics that will go into creating the possibility of bias.

Let’s take a step back to the fundamentals of solving social issues. For the last 30 years or so, everyone focused on accomplishing one thing— fighting to pass laws to stop bad behavior, then meeting those legal requirements. Over time, employers focused heavily on legal requirements instead of thinking about different ways to change behavior and support the workplace culture. Until now, harassment training programs have been designed to show legal compliance. However, there haven’t been any workplace harassment training or unconscious bias training programs designed to change behavior.

Preventative Methods with Tangible Results

Think about this: what’s your go-to-tool to evaluate the risk of harassment and bias in your workplace?

If you answered, the number of employee complaints, that’s incorrect.

Silicon Valley does not have a preventative cultural product technology team to solve the issues of harassment and bias. At Emtrain, we believe the best way to change behavior is to engage, dialogue, then analyze data. 

    • Engage with relatable stories that spark emotion, or a strong opinion or reaction
    • Unpack the social dynamics with dialogue through a series of questions
    • Distill the data to gain more insight that helps us understand what’s happening in the culture

We’ve created a platform with lessons that go beyond check-the-box compliance training to deliver new levels of engagement and workplace culture insight. Organizations are given a safe, private space to tell the learner that they might be an outlier with Emtrain’s Workplace Color Spectrum. This helps organizations and individuals recognize what their behavior is like and how to maintain good behavior to prevent bad situations happening in the workplace.

In the end, we’re all human, and we make human mistakes. Sometimes we get caught up with work and forget how our day-to-day behavior impacts each other’s performance and feelings. By identifying these cultural and social issues early on and proactively doing something about it, you’re preventing low performance within teams, public scrutiny, and harm to your bottom line.

To learn more about preventing workplace harassment and bias, watch our latest webinar, The Leading Indicators You Need to Diagnose and Eliminate Workplace Harassment.”


harassment prevention

Janine Yancey

Janine is a passionate advocate for healthy workplace culture. As a former employment lawyer, Janine founded Emtrain to bring a blend of educational content, technology, behavioral science, and data analytics to stop harassment, bias and ethics violations and improve workplace behavior. Janine served as an expert witness in 2018 to the California Senate and helped draft California's newest harassment training law (effective January 2019). Janine is frequently interviewed on workplace culture topics and has been quoted in The Washington Post, Fast Company, Fortune's The Broadsheet, USA Today, Bloomberg Business, TechCrunch, and Startup Grind.

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