The Lincoln Derr team recently attended a Continuing Legal Education Seminar sponsored by the National Association of Minority and Women-Owned Law Firms “NAMWOLF” Restaurant, Retail, and Hospitality Practice Area Committee and hosted at the Home Depot Headquarters in Atlanta, GA. We commend Home Depot for providing a world-class venue to NAMWOLF and engaging its legal leaders in a conversation about diversity and inclusion. Panelists included in-house counsel from Home Depot, McKesson, Microsoft, and several NAMWOLF member firms.
What we learned:
Implicit bias is a term that many people are familiar with but may not fully understand. Bias is our tendency to favor one thing over another – most of the time, it’s something we are aware of and do knowingly. Implicit bias is a bias that an individual unknowingly displays through actions or in decision-making. Simply put, it’s the conclusion our brain reaches in every day situations without immediately telling us that it’s reaching a conclusion. Implicit bias reveals itself in children as early as the age of six and often impacts where we live, work, and go to school. Negative implicit bias can be a difficult cycle to break in the workplace and other venues.
Blind spot bias is a lesser-known type of bias. Blind spot bias is recognizing bias in others but not acknowledging the bias in yourself or more to the point, believing you’re less biased than your peers. Let’s say a law firm invites a client to a sporting event. The client will not remember the fun evening when offering the law firm their next matter and may, in fact, deny the “gift” of entertainment influenced them. However, when asked if a “gift” from a law firm unconsciously biases legal work engagement in their profession, they will most likely agree it does, while not recognizing the behavior in themselves. Although this example is benign, blind spot bias relating to race, gender, sexual orientation and even political affiliation can negatively impact the culture of our companies internally and externally.
Even diverse companies and law firms can benefit from opening their eyes to iImplicit and blind spot bias. We cannot change what we do not recognize. Although not all bias is negative, a high degree of unrecognized bias in the leadership of an organization can lead to “group think” and hinder healthy economic growth and erode company values.
The NAMWOLF panel encouraged corporate and legal leaders to identify individual bias by taking the Harvard Implicit Association Test or “IAT.” The IAT series of tests evaluates an individual’s bias towards other demographic groups. First launched in 1998 by the non-profit Project Implicit, the website offers a series of tests designed to reveal a participant’s unconscious biases toward a variety of demographic groups. Retrieved from https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/faqs.html#faq2
“The theory behind the project is that in order to break down and through the biases of others, you have to first break through your own biases,” said LD-attendee Kathleen Lucchesi.
Although identifying our bias in some areas may be initially uncomfortable, it is a necessary step to uncover the biases we might have (or not realize.) Perhaps the most important step is the one you take after you identify implicit or blind spot bias. “That’s identifying biased behavior and changing it,” said Lucchesi. At the very least, the IAT test is one tool that can help facilitate an honest conversation about bias that can begin to change company culture, legal strategies, client relations and even jury selection.