Tag Archives: self-serving bias

There Is Gender And Racial Bias In The Legal Profession, But This Study Doesn’t Prove It…Because Of Bias

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.

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Business & Commercial, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement, Race, Research and Scholarship, Workplace

It’s You, Keith.

The news that The Angry Man of the Self-Righteous Left, Keith Olbermann, was fired by Al Gore’s Current TV was hardly news at all, since most of us had entered a pool on when Olbermann would get jettisoned from his latest gig. The predictable episode does have an ethics lesson for all of us, however, that involves the virtues of accountability, humility, honesty and contrition.

Olbermann, true to form, attacked his former employers and blamed them for his exit, writing  via Twitter…

“…I’d like to apologize to my viewers and my staff for the failure of Current TV. Editorially, Countdown had never been better. But for more than a year I have been imploring Al Gore and Joel Hyatt to resolve our issues internally, while I’ve been not publicizing my complaints, and keeping the show alive for the sake of its loyal viewers and even more loyal staff. Nevertheless, Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt, instead of abiding by their promises and obligations and investing in a quality news program, finally thought it was more economical to try to get out of my contract. It goes almost without saying that the claims against me in Current’s statement are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently. To understand Mr. Hyatt’s “values of respect, openness, collegiality and loyalty,” I encourage you to read of a previous occasion Mr. Hyatt found himself in court for having unjustly fired an employee. That employee’s name was Clarence B. Cain. In due course, the truth of the ethics of Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt will come out. For now, it is important only to again acknowledge that joining them was a sincere and well-intentioned gesture on my part, but in retrospect a foolish one. That lack of judgment is mine and mine alone, and I apologize again for it.”

This, of course, is not really an apology. It’s not an apology when your message is, “I’m sorry my employers are unethical slobs who didn’t appreciate the excellent job I was doing.

Keith Olbermann has either been fired or quit under acrimonious circumstances in engagements with, count them, five broadcast organizations: ESPN, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and now Current TV. This, despite being obviously talented and often getting excellent ratings. Olbermann is a smart guy, and yet even now, his reaction seems to be, “Why, oh, why, do people keep treating me so badly?”

It’s you, Keith! Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Journalism & Media, Professions

Ethics Dunce: Actor Morgan Freeman

Ah, God...you disappoint me.

As long as shameless, irresponsible race-baiters keep attributing opposition to President Obama’s presidency to bigotry, I’ll keep naming them Ethics Dunces.

The latest in this disgraceful parade is distinguished African-American actor Morgan Freeman, who told CNN’s Piers Morgan in an interview that the Tea Party and the Republican Party antipathy to the President is motivated by racism, saying…

“Their stated policy, publicly stated, is to do whatever it takes to see to it that Obama only serves one term. What’s, what does that, what underlines that? ‘Screw the country. We’re going to whatever we do to get this black man, we can, we’re going to do whatever we can to get this black man outta here’…It is a racist thing…it just shows the weak, dark, underside of America. We’re supposed to be better than that. We really are. That’s, that’s why all those people were in tears when Obama was elected president. “Ah, look at what we are. Look at how, this is America.’ You know? And then it just sort of started turning because these people surfaced like stirring up muddy water.” Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Popular Culture, Professions, Race, U.S. Society

Ethics Phooey: No Self-Serving Bias When I Really Need It

At least I'm finally home.

Last month I posted a list of the Top Ten Thought Fallacies That Undermine Our Ethics. This week, I really, really wanted to use one of them. But integrity beckoned. Damn integrity.

I just returned from a week-long speaking trip that took me to Palm Springs and Maui, and involved a total of about 38 hours travel time for a total of 3 hours of actual lecturing and instruction. It would have been about eight hours less and not have required me to be awake for 50 hours (and counting) straight if I had not managed to miss my flight to L.A. out of the Maui airport. Somehow, I got it in my mind that the flight was at 3:30 PM, when it was really at 12:30 PM. I had managed to check the time on the wrong page of my itinerary, and then never looked at my boarding pass. Only dumb luck got me the last seat on the last flight out of Maui on Sunday night. Continue reading

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Filed under Daily Life, Professions, Research and Scholarship

Ethics Alarms Presents: The Top Ten Thought Fallacies That Undermine Our Ethics

Don't expect this list from Dave. ESPECIALLY not from Dave...

Today I’m teaching two ethics seminars for The Washington Non-Profit Tax Conference in D.C. One is on accounting ethics, the other is for lawyers. One segment in the accountants’ program involves the sub-conscious and genetically programmed human tendencies that can interfere with our better judgment and perceptions, warping our ethics, and causing our ethics alarms to sound faintly, if at all. There are a lot of them:  I have a list of more than thirty, and it’s growing. Here are my current Top Ten to be especially alert to, in your own thinking, and for understanding the behavior of others: Continue reading

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Filed under Research and Scholarship