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Implicit Bias Knows No Bounds

Americans have come to expect – if not necessarily accept – a certain level of bias in their everyday lives. While we continue to strive for inclusiveness and equality, we are also aware that we have a long way to go until those goals are fully met. Part of that awareness recognizes that some areas have moved further along than others, whether we’re talking about the economy, society, culture or even geography. Implicit bias even emerges when we think about who has implicit bias! We might think, for instance, that people with a certain socioeconomic background or who work in certain professions are more likely to have bias than others.

That may or may not be true.

Implicit Bias Doesn’t Discriminate

In fact, many people may be surprised to find that implicit bias is relatively common even among well-educated professionals. Several studies have been done documenting implicit bias among healthcare professionals, for example. And another recent study demonstrated some implicit bias among legal professionals as well.

A few years ago, several law firm partners helped draft a legal memo as part of a study to identify unconscious bias in the legal profession. The memo had 22 errors intentionally included, including minor spelling and grammar errors as well as substantive technical writing errors and factual and analytical errors. The memo was then given to sixty partners from 22 law firms who were told they were participating in a writing analysis study. Half of the partners were told the memo was written by an African-American man and half were told the memo was written by a white man, both named Thomas Meyer.

Study Results Provides Lessons For Us All

The results of this study are striking.

“The reviewers gave the memo supposedly written by a white man a rating of 4.1 out of 5, while they gave the memo supposedly written by a black man a rating of 3.2 out of 5,” writes Debra Cassens Weis in an article for the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal. “The white Thomas Meyer was praised for his potential and good analytical skills, while the Black Thomas Meyer was criticized as average at best and needing a lot of work. Reviewers found an average of 2.9 out of seven spelling and grammar errors in the memo by the white Thomas Meyer and 5.8 out of seven errors in the memo by the African-American Thomas Meyer. Fewer technical writing and factual errors were also found in the memo by the supposedly white writer, though the disparity wasn’t as great.”

It’s important to note that this particular study was quite small and shouldn’t be considered as representative of the entire legal profession. However, it does suggest implicit bias at least among those who participated. Implicit bias within the legal profession has implications for the availability of lucrative jobs and promotions within the legal industry. But, as with healthcare, it also has potentially significant implications for the wellbeing of those receiving services from members of the profession. Implicit bias within the legal profession could subject people of color to disparate outcomes in their interactions with the legal process, whether civil or criminal, for instance.

This study is yet another example of the prevalence of implicit bias even among well-educated professionals.

There is implicit bias within your organization right now. That’s a given. What are you planning to do about it? Be inclusive!

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Are you tired of workplace diversity training that does not link to business? Are you tired of tactics that don’t drive business results? InclusionINC has inclusion training solutions and strategic consulting that link inclusion to employee engagement, productivity, innovation and retention, moving inclusion beyond tactics to a critical business strategy.


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