Katherin Nukk-Freeman ’93 and Suzanne Cerra ’93: Founders of Nukk-Freeman & Cerra, one of the top employment law firms in the New York area, and SHIFT HR Compliance Training. Differentiator: The firm makes work-life balance a priority, and mostly employs women. Friendship: First They’re not just law partners, they’re best friends.
Have you ever had to sit through one of those cookie-cutter compliance training videos? They’re typically so over-acted and underwhelming that many employees required to complete harassment and discrimination trainings understandably roll their eyes at the canned sexist and obvious racist scenarios depicted. When clients of employment law specialists Katherin Nukk-Freeman ’93 and Suzanne Cerra ’93 asked their firm, Nukk-Freeman & Cerra, to recommend compliance training programs, the pickings were slim. “We looked at forty examples of online harassment and discrimination courses,” recalls Nukk-Freeman, “and we couldn’t find any we would recommend to our clients.”
So, last December, the law partners started a new online business, SHIFT HR Compliance Training. “We saw that learners disconnected when the content was trite, so we created a nuanced training program that doesn’t dumb it down for the learner,” explains Cerra.
The SHIFT program focuses on harassment and discrimination though the lens of unconscious bias. “We really believe that unconscious bias is at the root of most harassment and discrimination so we address the roots,” says Cerra. For example, a woman returns to work after a maternity leave. Her manager makes the assumption—based on unconscious bias—that she will not want to travel because of the baby. The manager’s intention may be pure, but the unintended result is that the worker falls behind her peers because client interactions on the road are an important part of the path to career advancement.
“Everyone has biases based on upbringing and personal experience,” Cerra says. “Our approach is non-confrontational because this is a normal part of being a human being.
Our online trainings give learners the opportunity to explore their own unconscious biases so that they can change behaviors accordingly.”
One aspect of the training involves the learner viewing a quick series of slides that ask questions, based on physical appearance. For example, “Who looks like the IT person?” or “Who looks like the manager?” The learners’ answers are not retained because SHIFT’s goal is to promote awareness and positively influence workplace culture, not penalize.
“We really want to be impactful in the workplace: Shift what you’re doing, shift your perspective, shift to something that works,” says Nukk-Freeman. “We’re the only online provider that builds unconscious bias into prevention of harassment and discrimination training.”
Though SHIFT is a completely separate business from their employment law firm, the two enterprises are located near one another in New Jersey. The business partners make all major decisions together, but have split the daily operations responsibilities, with Nukk-Freeman managing SHIFT while Cerra oversees the law firm.
Self-described as acting like “an old married couple,” the partners each have three children and highly supportive husbands. After law school, they individually practiced for several years in large firms, but they shared a mutual dream of co-founding a firm, and made that happen ten years ago. “We see eye to eye on things to the point where it’s almost scary,” says Cerra.
They trace their success back to the bond they formed as roommates during law school. “We really heard the BC message to do the right thing, to focus on ethics and morals and values. Through our firm and SHIFT, we try to do the right thing for clients, employers, each other, and anyone we come in contact with,” says Nukk-Freeman.
Photo: From left, Katherin Nukk-Freeman and Suzanne Cerra.