find the latest legal job
Corporate and Commercial Partner
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: Adelaide SA 5000
· Full time · Join a leading Adelaide commercial law firm
View details
In-house Legal Counsel & Commercial Lawyers
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: All Sydney NSW
· Providing lawyers with flexibility and control over when they work, how they work and who they work for.
View details
In-house Legal Counsel & Commercial Lawyers
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: All Melbourne VIC
· Providing lawyers with flexibility and control over when they work, how they work and who they work for.
View details
Legal Inhouse / Lawyer / Company Secretary
Category: Other | Location: Brisbane QLD 4000
· Fantastic Company · Potential to be Part Time / Flexible Work Pattern
View details
Infrastructure Lawyer/SA
Category: Construction Law | Location: Sydney CBD, Inner West & Eastern Suburbs Sydney NSW
· Global elite law firm · Dedicated Infrastructure team
View details
Unmasking unconscious bias

Unmasking unconscious bias

Male partners in law firms must acknowledge they are biased when it comes to hiring women if diversity figures in the profession are to improve, an expert has claimed.

Principal of ADC Associates, Duncan Smith was speaking at the Women Legal 2013 business roundtable yesterday (31 January) in Sydney. He works as a consultant with Diversity Partners to run inclusive leadership programs, mainly at the partner level, for firms including DLA Piper, Maddocks, Allen & Overy, Middletons, Clayton Utz and Herbert Smith Freehills.

"Unconscious bias happens all the time. We don't have the time, as we go through life, to think about and consider the assumptions we make," he told an audience of about 30, mostly women.

During one focus group Smith held with a group of men, one said: “If I'm looking at a women who's in her late 20s, maybe early 30s, you know she's probably going to leave and have kids so I don't think I'll promote her.”

“That was a rare degree of honesty," said Smith.

When the audience yesterday was asked what assumptions they might make, as women, about the senior male partners in their organisations, one responded: "He doesn't understand; his wife doesn't work and he doesn't have to do anything at home." A second said: "Sometimes they think 'oh she won't want to be partner, she's having, or has had, kids'."

According to Dr Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist and winner of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, people who are cognitively busy are also more likely to make selfish choices, use sexist language and make superficial judgements in social situations.

Smith explained how people's, particularly lawyers', cognitive stress level automatically impacts on the types of decisions and judgements they make. Familiarity, he said, after rattling off various experiments on bias and familiarity, makes it easier for their brains and breeds comfort.

"There's a link here between senior partners working in a particular way, not having the family responsibilities, that's familiar to the men and so that's easy," said Smith.

In the US, where Smith is from, men sometimes have a sense that they're ‘the bad guy’; somehow it's their fault and they feel defensive about it, he said.

"[We need to] kind of neutralise that; say 'this is something we all do, in both directions, you're not the problem. In fact we have to make you part of the solution'," he said, adding that the next step is to eliminate bias by setting a very specific goal or intention.

For more detailed coverage of Women Legal 2013, including more on Smith's keynote address, see Lawyers Weekly magazine next Friday. Other speakers at the conference included Dianne Beer, special counsel at Herbert Geer, Kristen Lopes, a partner at Colin Biggers & Paisley and Patricia Monemvasitis, a partner at Carroll & O'Dea Lawyers, who each discussed their personal stories, challenges and tips for successfully progressing their careers while having a family life.

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Unmasking unconscious bias
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Nov 24 2017
Demand lifts in 2017/18 for short-term finance to cover crises
Promoted by NWC Finance. The first five months of the 2017-18 financial year have seen unpreceden...
LCA welcomes religious freedom panel
Nov 24 2017
LCA welcomes religious freedom panel
The Law Council of Australia says the establishment of a panel which will examine the human right to...
Law Society launched a new website, legal politics and lawmaking
Nov 24 2017
Law Society launches project to engage young Aussies
The Law Society of NSW has launched a new website to engage young Australians in legal politics and ...
APPOINTMENTS
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
opinion
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
Help
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...