Implicit Bias Series — Recognition
In the introduction to this blog series, we met an experienced black lawyer who shared her struggles in the workplace – body language and facial expressions – with me. Black lawyers in her office perceived her everyday relaxed facial expressions to be intimidating and stayed away, while white lawyers did not react the same way. Apparently undaunted, they still knocked on her door for advice.
Perhaps the biased perception of this young black woman is not solely about her facial expression, but about her race.
Race is one of many implicit biases invoked in the American workplace. Implicit biases surround us. Just today, running late for work, I was speeding (not too fast) down Kennedy Boulevard. I noticed what looked like an elderly woman driving in front of me, and to my left what appeared to be a young man (maybe even a student at the University of Tampa down the street). So, instinctively, to make it through the now yellow light ahead, I slowed to get behind the young man, thinking that he would be the faster driver.
Turns out, I was wrong . . . way wrong!
The older woman sped through the light as if she was in the left lane on I-275 while the young man in front of me slowed to a careful stop. I thought to myself, tsking my tongue angrily, “Why didn’t I stay behind the old woman?” But then it dawned on me. I had subliminally decided to change lanes because I’m biased; I assumed that an older gal would be driving slower while a young guy would not.
You may not know it, but when you woke up and began your day, you did so with implicit bias. Don’t be alarmed! In truth, bias is a natural part of being human. You live, breathe, think, and form conscious and unconscious opinions. It’s up to each of us to decide if we will own or be owned by our implicit biases.
Lawyers are groomed to be efficient evaluation machines, taught from our first days in law school to analyze hypotheticals, cases, and fact patterns, and to logically deduce the strengths and weaknesses inherent to every argument made to us. This skill becomes the lens through which we view clients, other parties, other lawyers, and even judges.
However, we seldom evaluate our own biases.
Even the brightest legal mind is not immune from the unconscious biases that form as a natural consequence of our lives, and that sneak into our day-to-day perceptions of the world around us. So how do we uncover our implicit biases?
To do so, we need to look inward and evaluate our daily thoughts, just as I did this morning when I missed getting through the traffic light. Thankfully, many self-evaluation tests are now available. These tools help us evaluate how the people in our lives and the experiences we’ve undergone have shaped us to consciously and subconsciously think, perceive, and react. As we all know, some of the most commonly held implicit biases are based on elements such as sex, age, race, or sexual orientation. But, now, yes, most recently, politics.
We process these fundamentals subconsciously, and sometimes even consciously, when forming our case strategies and deciding how to handle legal matters that our clients bring us.
Recognize Your Implicit Biases
It is crucial that family law professionals engage clients with informed and open minds. Taking an implicit bias evaluation may reveal your own internal biases and allow you to consciously consider how to handle them.
I implore everyone reading this to take an implicit bias evaluation. If you’re in the market for a dissolution of marriage, it will be vital to understand how your biases may impact the restructuring of your family. Do you have a biased view of your husband? Or, is your implicit bias related to how the court system works? Perhaps you assume that men should pay alimony, but women should not?
If you have implicit biases or assumptions regarding the divorce process, call us today! Open Palm Law will gladly assist you in finding the best way to overcome unhelpful biases, to transform unreasonable expectations, and to properly restructure your family!
Learn more about collaborative divorce. Follow Open Palm Law.
Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.