The State Bar of California requires members of the California Bar, as part of MCLE requirements, to include at least one hour of MCLE credit on the elimination of bias in the legal profession. The objective of this article is to convey the importance of eliminating cultural bias in the practice of law and to raise overall understanding and awareness of such bias and hence comply with the stated requirement. Due to California being a “Minority Majority” state, this requirement includes, but not limited to, sex, color, race, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical disability, age, or sexual orientation.

Here are some statisticsfor California, which has one of the world’s most diverse cultural/linguistic populations.

  • 39% of state residents are Latino
  • 38% Caucasian
  • 14% Asian American
  • 6% African American
  • 3% Multicultural
  • Less than 1% Pacific Islander/American Indian

Bias: What is it exactly?

You may be wondering, what is bias exactly or, inexactly? Bias is prejudice in favor of or, against one thing, person, or group, idea, theory compared to another, usually in a condescending way. For example, ” bias against or for foreign applicants.” It can be a cause to feel or show inclination or prejudice for or against someone or something. Another example would be the “readers said the paper was biased toward liberals.”

So, what does bias looks like, even feel like? Bias can take the form of a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or irrational, directed to others for any reason, but emanating from cultural differences. It is showing favoritism towards something or someone. If a company favors one cultural group over the other in a job interview, this is an example of bias. Another would be biased against older job applicants; or against those who do not speak English. Note, bias can also be an inclination/propensity toward (or away from) a way of thinking, often based on how one was raised, maybe even our genetic composition.

Three Types of Bias

The three types of bias at the macro level are information bias, selection bias, and confounding bias. Information Bias is typically in medical research, systematic error resulting in an incorrect estimate. The association between exposures is the outcome of data and results. Selection Bias is the selection of individuals, groups, or data for analysis in a way that proper randomization is not achieved. The sample is not then representative of the population. Confounding bias is an error in the study that results in an incorrect estimation of the association between exposure and outcome distorted by an extraneous third variable. For example, one could argue that drinking coffee with cigarettes may cause lung cancer, as opposed to smoking cigarettes alone could cause lung cancer.

Implicit, Cultural, and Personal Bias

If you go one step further from macro-level to micro-level, bias can be divided into Implicit bias and Cultural bias. Implicit bias is unconscious prejudice judgments in favor of or against a person or group compared to another, typically in a condescending fashion. Cultural Bias is interpreting and judging culture and its people by standards of one’s own culture and beliefs. Lastly, Personal bias is an inclination toward (or away from) one way of thinking, often based on how you were raised or your genetics. Depending on which method you use to obtain your results, informational, selection, or confounding, you’ll put more emphasis on the results that are in agreement with your thinking, while omitting or discrediting results not supporting your view. Thus, if your thinking is not based on facts, but personal opinion, then the results are affected by your personal bias. Personal beliefs determine how we determine the facts we use to support our thinking.

Biases are often limiting in nature and therefore, become limiting beliefs. That’s why it’s so essential to uncover your biases and to become aware of them so that you can determine whether they are reflecting something that serves you or reflecting a limiting belief or thought. Again, remember, our belief systems determine the facts as we wish to see them.

Bias: Where and Why Does Bias Manifest Itself?

In the field of law, that is in the practice of law, there are many instances that implicit bias could appear. Here are some ways it can show up in the practice of law, such as Limited Bias, Mini-Me Bias, Ego Bias, and Close-Minded Bias.

Mini-Me Bias is based on the likelihood that another person should think and behave like you do, hence, resulting in valuing those that are like us at a higher standard, while devaluing others that are unlike us. Ego Bias is a way of thinking that our opinion/ideas are superior to the ideas and opinions of others. The Ego Bias can result in overvaluing your expertise over multiple points of view. Close Minded Bias are decisions that are made from the initial data point, image, or graph that we can receive. Once the first reference point is established (whether the reference is factually accurate or not), we can then calibrate the information obtained against it. While most practicing lawyers are taught to be skeptical and even critically question the first piece of information, jurors are not.

Ways Cultural Bias Affects Society

Cultural bias affects many populations and groups in society.

Here are a few ways these groups are affected.

  • Gender: In some instances, women are still considered ‘at-risk hires’ due to the possibility of pregnancy.
  • Religion is affected when a religious group dominates an area; the group of people with different religions face potential bias.
  • Age can affect when the elderly or matured are often passed over for younger candidates. It is assumed that a younger candidate would be a more long-lasting hire.

Company Culture

In addition to Cultural Bias, when it comes to the corporate world, companies face an internal bias, known as Company Culture. Some companies try to combat the Company Culture by implementing diversity groups for inclusivity. Yet, if not properly viewed and understood, this type of grouping has shown to have potentially harmful effects. Consider the way conversations of “Fitting in the company culture” usually play out: For example: “Why did that great candidate get screened out?” or “Wasn’t a good cultural fit”?

The actual term, company culture, as it exists, is quite fluid, and the notion of a “poor cultural fit” is indisputable. Here are a few examples that reveal various ways that company culture biases are brought into play.

  • Names are discriminated against. Asian names receive 20% fewer callbacks, regardless of other qualifications.
  • African American names experience even fewer callbacks.
  • Education status, it’s no secret that candidates with higher GPAs receive more job offers. Yet, the correlation from GPA to performance in the workplace may have no impact at all.
  • When viewing from a college or career pedigree, the same as GPA, it is equally irrelevant to workplace performance.
  • Older candidates who might be seen as technologically inefficient or inflexible.
  • Younger candidates can be placed into a more high-risk category due to what the employer perceives as inexperienced.
  • Hair styles
  • Dress styles

The biases in company culture can even blur into political choices from conservative to democratic and beyond. If your position is not in line with the company’s culture, it could affect being included or excluded in various ways.

Eliminating Bias

Here are some working tools to eliminate biases shared within the company culture.

  • Engaging in meaningful conversations
  • Utilizing bias-free language
  • Consider what The biases in company culture can even blur into political choices from conservative to democratic and beyond.If your position is not in line with the company’s culture, it could affect being included or excluded in various ways. you feel is “normal” could not be another’s “normal.” Be sensitive to people’s gender, race, age, physical condition, and many other categories.
  • Use the third person point of view.
  • Chose words carefully when making comparisons.
  • Be specific when writing about people.
  • Utilize first and or native language.
  • Use gender-neutral phrases.
  • Use inclusive or preferred personal pronouns.
  • Check for gender assumptions.
  • Understanding conscious and unconscious bias helps eliminate macro and micro bias.
  • Being inclusive in job descriptions and evaluate with an open mind. Set your requirements upfront and recruit widely.
  • Try to set expectations, encourage participation.
  • Create awareness, decrease bias through the structure.
  • Measure & experiment with your team to find the right balance.

Be totally aware that with everything you do, or your office does, someone out there is waiting to yell BIAS. It’s the trend today. Be careful of what you say, how you say it, how you address someone and be extremely careful of what your generation may have considered acceptable speech or action, is not so acceptable today.

Thoughts to ponder…

Are there absolute truths in the world of bias? Two centuries ago, there was for sure bias. A century ago, there was bias. It was different then and has changed over the centuries. Why? What is different today, and what will it be 50-100 years from now? Should bias be considered retroactively?

In summary, the strongest working tool to eliminate cultural bias is first becoming aware that it exists. The next step is to understand the comprehensive ways it is expressed and the impact on you, your company, and society as a whole. Lastly, it’s putting an action plan into place to eliminate bias from the inside out.

For more information, please contact the writer, Barry Schreiber, Esq.

Additional References

Source: California Department of Finance 1970–2000; American Community Survey 2015

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