On the 2nd & 3rd November Clocktimizer hosted their first Women in Legal Tech event. It was sponsored by DLA Piper, and held at their offices in Amsterdam. The event itself was designed to offer practical advice for those looking to get into the world of legal tech, or to increase diversity in the workplace.

During the event we discussed implicit bias in the workplace in a session led by Daniella Postma. For those who were unable to attend we have put together a short blog looking into implicit bias. It offers some surprising statistics, as well as ways to combat it.

What is implicit bias?

Implicit bias is also known as implicit social cognition. Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These biases are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.  In addition, they can encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.  Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.

The implicit associations we harbor in our subconscious cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance.  These associations develop over the course of a lifetime beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages.  In addition to early life experiences, the media and news programming are often-cited origins of implicit associations.

A few statistics on implicit bias

  • Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed, when male executives speak up, they receive 10% higher competence ratings; when female executives do the same, their ratings from their peers are 14% lower.
  • Research shows women and men are equally as biased towards women in STEM fields. Tests showed both sexes recommend lower wages/less promotion and less encouragement of women over men in science. This was tested on the same CV with simply a name change.
  • Women still only make up 5% of fortune 500 CEOs – Why? It comes down to a few factors – and Pew Research indicates children isn’t the main one. Respondents stated that women have to do more to prove themselves compared to their male counterparts, leading to them being unable to break the glass ceiling.
  • In a study by New York University psychologist, Madeline Heilman, participants evaluated the performance of male and female employees who did or did not stay late to help their colleagues. After offering identical help, a man’s offer to help was rated 14% more favorable than a woman’s. Conversely, when both men and women declined to help, the woman was rated 12% lower than that of a man’s.
  • Cornell University conducted a study testing gender bias in the hiring process. Researchers submitted 1,276 fake resume for real jobs listing equivalent education credential and work experience with varied details hinting at the candidate’s gender and whether or not they had children. The study found that companies found men with kids were most employable. Next came men and women without kids, and women with kids the least employable.

 A few key characteristics of implicit biases

  • Implicit biases are pervasive.  Everyone possesses them, even people with avowed commitments to impartiality such as judges.
  • Implicit and explicit biases are related but distinct mental constructs.  They are not mutually exclusive and may even reinforce each other.
  • The implicit associations we hold do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs or even reflect stances we would explicitly endorse.
  • We generally tend to hold implicit biases that favor our own ingroup, though research has shown that we can still hold implicit biases against our ingroup.
  • Implicit biases are malleable.  Our brains are incredibly complex, and the implicit associations that we have formed can be gradually unlearned through a variety of de-biasing techniques.

How to combat implicit bias?

  • The first step to combating implicit bias is to identify your bias. Head to the Project Implicit website by Harvard and test your bias.
  • Make implicit bias a topic of conversation at work and raise awareness. Try Clocktimizer’s fun implicit bias test and get people talking about the bias behind each question.
  • Examine your work policies. Flexible working hours are often a remarkably effective way of combating bias towards mothers.
  • Look at your HR processes. Create criteria for promotions which avoid social factors to ensure bias isn’t working its way into your decision making.
  • Consider bringing in someone to help you. There are a number of specialists who can tailor a program towards reducing bias in your workplace.
  • Look internally. Mindfulness can be useful in identifying your own mental state before making a decision.