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LIV President's Blog 2012

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Unconscious Bias: A bar to diversity in the workplace

 Unconscious Bias: A bar to diversity in the workplace

I had the privilege of attending the LIV Annual Conference of Council 2013, a two day conference which brought together 60 LIV stakeholders to discuss important issues affecting the legal profession in 2013. The participants explored emerging legal issues under the overarching theme “embracing change and diversity in a dynamic and evolving legal profession”.

The first session of the conference focused on the incredibly important issue of diversity in the legal profession covering culture, gender, sexual orientation, disability and the barriers to broader workforce inclusion. There are numerous benefits of a diverse workplace including increased innovation by drawing upon a wider range of experience, culture and ideas.

However, I learnt that there are certain barriers to diversity, one being “unconscious bias” which can be described as the hidden beliefs, attitudes and biases based on one’s perception of themselves and others. Given “unconscious bias” is ingrained in our subconscious it may be difficult to identify it in ourselves.

In other words we may be susceptible to “unconscious bias” without ever knowing.  “Unconscious bias” is a significant barrier to diversity in the workplace as it can lead us to subconsciously attract and repel others based on our ingrained preferences.

I encourage young lawyers to learn more about “unconscious bias” by:

  • undertaking the Harvard Implicit Association Test
  • seeking feedback from friends, colleagues and family about what they perceive our personal preferences to be; and
  • making an effort to learn more about the experiences of those who are outside our friendship and work groups.

Harvard Implicit Association Test

Taking the Harvard Implicit Association Test is highly recommended as it measures attitudes and beliefs that a person may ordinarily be unwilling or unable to disclose in any other setting.

The advantage of completing the test is that it can show an implicit (or unconscious) attitude that you were unaware that you possessed. For example, you may believe that men and women should be equally represented and associated in the law but your automatic associations could show that you associate men with the law more than women (or vice versa). Hence when you participate in the hiring of individuals to your firm or team you may be more susceptible to recommend one candidate over the other based on these beliefs (instead of the individual skills, experience and qualifications).

The LIV Diversity Taskforce

The LIV is aiming to extend its diversity and inclusion initiatives in 2013 through its Diversity Taskforce. The taskforce will convene a round table this month to identify best practice diversity procedures in the workplace. I will be sure to provide an update on the progress made by the taskforce later in the year (through lawbytes or another blog).

Do you think "unconscious bias" is prevalent in the legal profession? What initiatives is your firm undertaking to stamp out unconscious bias?

Cameron Forbes is the 2013 YLS president and a lawyer at King & Wood Mallesons. He can be contacted at younglaw@liv.asn.au

 
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