One Innovative Method for Tackling Gender Biases

By: Natalie Runyon
Director Thomson Reuters Legal

Everyone thinks they are fair and objective, but the reality is that everyone has biases. As humans, we are biased without knowing when we are and in what situations the bias may show up, which is commonly termed as “unconscious” or “implicit” bias. To mitigate the impact of these unconscious biases, it’s important to consciously be aware when you are exhibiting bias and learn at what moments this bias pops up.

In my previous blog post, I discussed different biases that may occur in key moments of talent development. One of the most common biases I examined is the “mini me” syndrome, which is an instinct to prefer someone who is similar to ourselves because it’s assumed they will think and behave like we do. Recruitment and succession planning are two main areas where this particular syndrome shows up; and in male-dominated fields (like the legal profession), it becomes the core of institutional gender bias and helps erect the many existing structural barriers that hinder women’s advancement in these professions.

A Program for Building Awareness

The only way to minimize the effect of this bias — and more broadly, the institutional obstacles facing women in the legal profession — is to increase learning and awareness of unconscious favoritism. One innovative way to do this is to conduct learning sessions with management teams to build awareness of how women’s experiences differ in the workplace from those of their male colleagues. These sessions should be co-facilitated by a senior woman and executive-level white male leader, who is known in the firm as a champion for diversity. An outline for a session could look like:

  1. Highlighting the business case for gender and racial diversity:
  2. Introductory video from a TEDx talk by Gender Strategist, Jeffrey Tobias Halter (the video runs 2:11 minutes).
    • 70% believe that gender diversity is important, according to a Lean-In & McKinsey on Women in the Workplace Report;
    • 47% of the US labor force is female, according to the US Department of Labor;
    • Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians;
    • Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians;
    • AND YET, just 12% of men believe that woman have fewer opportunities than men, according to the same McKinsey study.
  3. Have each participant complete the Harvard Implicit Gender Bias testand discuss the results.
  4. Spotlight women’s experience in the workplace:
    • Demonstrate how the difference in likability plays out across genders using the first 1:21 minutes of this video;
    • Consolidate a collection of experiences from your women talent from a Black, Latina, Asian, Caucasian and LBGT perspective; and
    • Show a collage of your own executive committee.
  5. Gamify the learning through a “Race to the Top” exercise from The Gender Bias Learning Project.
  6. Discuss the key leadership behaviors that can be used to create a high-performing environment where diverse talent can thrive.

Doing a series of sessions like this one is certainly not the end-all, be-all and won’t magically erase how bias plays out in the workplace. However, it is a great first step in the long journey towards equality for all.