Incompetent, agenda-driven research leads to warped debates, hyped conclusion and bad policy. It also undermines credibility of those who cite some legitimate problems. The recent report, which proposes strategies for employers to eliminate the alleged barriers to women and minorities in the legal profession, is such research. It was conducted by the Center for WorkLifeLaw at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, for the bar association’s Commission on Women in the Profession and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association.
At least the New York Times headline, for once, was accurate., at least the online version: “Lawyers Say They Face Persistent Racial and Gender Bias at Work.” Yup, that’s what the survey showed. What it didn’t show is that there really is such discrimination, how much there is, or how it manifests itself. Here’s part of the executive summary:
Prove-It-Again. Women of color, white women, and men of color reported that they have to go “above and beyond” to get the same recognition and respect as their colleagues.
- Women of color reported PIA bias at a higher level than any other group, 35 percentage points higher than white men.
- White women and men of color also reported high levels of PIA bias, 25 percentage points higher than white men.
- Women of color reported that they are held to higher standards than their colleagues at a level 32 percentage points higher than white men.
This demonstrates, at least within the reliability of the survey, that minorities and women perceive that they are being discriminated against more than white males. That’s a useless result. We have seen and read, for example, how various African American activists and celebrities like Charles M. Blow and Ta’ nahisi Coates teach their sons that police are racists, and that they must fear them. As a result, they interpret all interactions with police through this prism. One doesn’t have to be a research ethicist to conclude that this warps their perception. Similarly, all women currently in the workplace have been bombarded by the media, activists, peers and the culture for most or all of their working lives about how hostile the workplace is to women.
At least four of the seven most common and insidious biases are at work:
1. Herd mentality: The tendency to adopt the opinions and follow the behaviors of the majority to feel safer and to avoid conflict. Also known as mob psychology, peer pressure, and group-think.
Members of groups seeking political power through maximization of perceived victim status are influenced by the needs, mission and perceptions of that group.
2. Confirmation Bias: the tendency to look for or interpret information in a way that confirms pre-formed beliefs.
If you already believe that you are going to be the target of discrimination, you will interpret events to confirm that belief.
3. Self-Serving Bias: when an individual attributes positive outcomes to internal factors and negative outcomes to external factors.
This is the most tragic phenomenon of both a history of bigotry towards certain groups and the laudable efforts to raise awareness of it to eliminate the conduct. It pushes women and minorities to blame external factors for their failures, and in so doing impedes their chances of success. I have previously written about my personal epiphany in this area, when an African American singer who I rejected for a challenging tenor role accused me outright of not casting him because of his color. He could not hit the notes the role required, and yet he was convinced that bias, and not his own deficiencies as a singer, was what cost him the part.
4. Bias Blindness: the tendency not to acknowledge one’s own thought biases.
I don’t doubt that there is considerable gender and racial bias in law firms. Indeed, I am certain of it. This kind of study, however, is not the way to sound the alarm, and smacks of either incompetence or dishonesty.