December 22, 2014 Practice Points

When Talking about Bias Backfires

By Emily Ruzic

The New York Times recently published the first of a four-part series on “Women at Work” entitled “What Women Need to Know about Negotiating Compensation.” Authors Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg’s piece focuses on gender stereotypes in the workplace, noting that “[o]ur culture’s strong gender stereotypes extend beyond image to performance, leading us to believe that men are more competent than women.”

In particular, the article discussed a concerted effort from multiple disciplines to raise awareness about bias. However, several recent studies determined that creating awareness about bias actually increases bias, perhaps by causing people to think that this behavior is common and socially acceptable.

Grant and Sandberg suggest that communications should “reinforc[e] the idea that people want to conquer their biases and that there are benefits to doing so.” Further, the message should seek to support females to take initiative to obtain leadership roles and that “to motivate women at work, we need to be explicit about our disapproval of the leadership imbalance as well as our support for female leaders.”

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, gender bias, gender stereotypes

Emily Ruzic works at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, LLP in Birmingham, Alabama 

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