Solving Implicit Bias, the Stikeman Elliott Way
Today, a panel of Meaghan Obee Tower, partner at Stikeman Elliot, and Libby Nixon, a Queen’s grad articling at Stikeman Elliot, came to speak to the Women and Law Club about the difficulties of implicit bias present in the legal profession, and the ways in which firms can take steps to solve it.
The presentation highlighted the continuing biases that occur within legal and other workforces. The Resume Study, for example, found that if a resume had a male name at the top of it, 79% of people would find the male candidate to be competent. On the flip side, if an identical resume had a woman’s name at the top, only 49% would find the female candidate competent for the job. This kind of study reveals how some people can use “merit” to justify discrimination. What does this mean? Merit discrimination means that women have to be more accomplished than their male counterparts in order to be considered at the equal level of competency.
Although the statistics coming out of the Implicit Association Bias tests continue to reflect a lack of progression in the occurrence of bias, Stikeman Elliot is actively doing something to change this situation. While Stikeman Elliot doesn’t do blind resume reviews, they do have detailed, objective hiring criteria, diverse hiring committees, and mandated pause points to eliminate potential bias. Stikeman Elliot also has female advancement as a priority point in their firm, which includes advancement to associate, and to partner. One can only hope other big law firms are implementing similar schemes to prioritize the elimination of gender and discriminatory biases.
A question brought up in the Q&A portion of the meeting regarded quotas – should quotas be governmentally imposed on companies to ensure the representation of woman on Boards of Directors, and other senior level positions? Both women admitted to be against quotas, Ms. Obee Tower for the main reason that it wouldn’t be beneficial to put a person who is not competent at the job into that position, just because it is mandated. This sparked the debate and discussion within the group about how then the requirement arises that women need to be given the opportunities to learn and advance to those positions so they are competent and qualified for them.
Those at the panel were very interested in discussing the topic of attrition from the legal profession, both from among women and from among men. It was suggested that if men had longer paternal leaves, perhaps there wouldn’t be the same kind of attrition of women leaving the legal field, because fathers would equally want to spend more time with their families as the women who are granted maternal leaves, and then women would have more opportunities for advancement. Ms. Obee Tower responded that its very probable that this could be the case, as there is a current trend that more men are wanting to be involved in their family and home life. The system of the law profession is based on the notion that the more you work, the more you earn for the firm; so a person who wants to go home to their family at 5pm is competing with the person in the next office who doesn’t have the same incentive to leave the office, and wants to stay and continue their work for hours.
The note upon which the panel ended was one of encouragement and optimism. When firms implement ways to eliminate implicit bias, the only thing standing in a person’s way is herself. It has been proven that men are better at projecting confidence regardless of whether their work is good, or whether they truly feel confident on the inside. Women, however, are more apologetic and deferential, and less confident even when their work is near perfect. The advice the women from Stikeman Elliot left us with is to project the ability to do good work, and good work will come your way. Take charge on your career by walking into someone’s office and expressing interest in a deal, don’t wait for it to come to you. Breed confidence, and commit to your work, and success and fulfillment is possible.
Liz Guilbault (1L) is a Staff Writer for Juris Diction.