norwood1After the longest break away from this blog in 8 years (some purposeful, some not — and albeit not very long), it’s time to break from the summer doldrums and start thinking again.

Last week, I had the opportunity to introduce a former law professor of mine — Professor Kimberly Norwood — at my firm’s In Community Event.  Professor Norwood (you never feel comfortable calling a former professor by their first name) spoke eloquently on the way bias — and specifically implicit bias — can play a role in the legal system.

She was outstanding and if you ever get a chance to hear her (and YouTube provides several examples like this one and this one), I would recommend it.

Skillful readers may recall a post a year ago that she wrote here on this blog in the aftermath of the events in Ferguson.   But she is also compelling in her discussions about implicit bias.  In her speech and in an article she wrote last year, she notes that studies show that we ALL have implicit biases.  As she said,

Because there is a clear link between automatic stereotypes and behavior, it is important to untangle automatic associations that can do harm. Part of what social psychologists are doing now is helping us expose our biases
so that we can separate the good from the bad and make more informed and correct decisions.
What does this mean in the workplace? Well, suppose an overweight job candidate comes into your office for a job interview.  Is your implicit bias giving you bad vibes despite the superior credentials and great interview? Studies like this one show a bias in various aspects against overweight.  So, perhaps being aware of this, what then?
Professor Norwood doesn’t suggest any easy answers. And really, how could she? It’s tough to battle against and even when you don’t want those biases to prevail, you may be fighting against the biases of others too.
Now, this is not to suggest that the conclusions regarding implicit biases are settled; there are important legal questions to be decided on this too which I’ll cover in a future post tomorrow.  Whether courts accept this theory and whether it’s scientifically proven remains to be seen.
But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the topic.  Overall, the topic of implicit bias is an important one to keep discussing. These biases don’t make us bad people. But they do require us to continually challenge ourselves too.