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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Unspoken Bias and You: The Power of Micromessages

“Don’t worry, I’m still listening.”

“Here is the next candidate. Her resume is so great. Everyone in the department is excited for her.”

“I didn’t say she stole the client…”

Have you heard any of these quotes around the office? Perhaps you’ve said them recently yourself? Don’t worry, we are all guilty of using micromessages, or unspoken cues. Positive messages, or Microadvantages show a bias for, while negative messages, or Microinequities, show a bias against. In order to create and maintain an inclusive work environment, we should be aware of how these micromessages show our conscious and unconscious biases.

As a resource for attorneys in the Twin Cities, we hear from people about how others’ unconscious bias has been a major barrier to advancement within the profession and comfort at their current place of employment. The unconscious bias for some individuals, can lead to unbalanced access, and can truly impede professional development for others. As such, we thought it would be a great opportunity to bring in Stephen Young, of Insight Education Systems, who has literally written the book on micromessages (“Micromessaging: Why Great Leadership is Beyond Words”), to discuss the importance of, not only the words that you use, but also how you say them.

Below, we have included two examples of micromessages, to help set you on the right track toward being aware of your own biases, and to help identify those of others. If you want to know more, feel free to check out Mr. Young’s book.

“Micromessaging: Why Great Leadership is Beyond Words”

1. Introductions

The way in which you introduce yourself or someone else can have a major impact on the result of a meeting or relationship, because of micromessages that show bias, either real or perceived. Imagine you introduce two new colleagues to another co-worker in the following way:

“Hey, Sandra! Come meet our three newest department protoges! This is Hakeem – Harvard graduate, top of his class. Impressive, right? This is Michelle, she just got back from a year teaching English in Cambodia! And this – I’m sorry – I forgot your name…is it Meghan?”

Clearly, Meghan is going to feel a little down on herself, knowing that you almost forgot her name and didn’t remember anything that you had talked about previously. This may be the beginning of Meghan feeling on the outside looking in, which could cycle into not feeling comfortable sharing ideas or taking on leadership opportunities within the deapartment, which could ultimately lead to Meghan not being successful within your organization.

Instead, make sure to balance your introductions or allow the three new hires to introduce themselves. This will allow each of the three, to feel like they are on equal ground and have the same opportunity to succeed within your group.

2. Any other ideas?

Have you ever been in a brainstorm session, and say something that you think is insightful, only to have the moderator say, “That’s great. Any other ideas?” Mr.Youngdiscussed how we throw around words like great and terrific, to the point that they don’t mean anything, unless you back it up with discussion on the merit of the idea. By quickly moving on, the moderator showed a lack of interest, and by invoking the word other, he or she implied that they were searching for something better or an alternative option.Mr.Young says, that if a manager or discussion moderator takes time to offer a true reaction or assessment of merit of each idea, team members will be more likely to come up with ideas in a greater volume and potentially think with greater innovation in mind.

Still skeptical? Mr. Young led the following exercise, which is also included on page 161 of his book, that showed how much impact microinequities have on a person’s performance.

You will need a partner to do this exercise. One of you will be Person A, and the other Person B. Person A speaks and Person B only listens. Have Person A talk through each of the eight items in the columns below, starting with Segment 1, followed by Segment 2, making sure to audibly note when switching to the second Segment.

Segment 1Name/Tenure, Position, Responsibilities, Work Challenge

Segment 2Previous role, Organization, Responsibilities, Current project

During Segment 1, Person B should actively listen, with all attention to the speaker, including eye contact, smiles, nods, and audible “mhms.” During Segment 2, however, Person B should stop paying attention completely – break eye contact, check their phone, talk to someone else, and so forth. Now switch!

How did you feel while you were speaking in Segment 1? How did this change in Segment 2? Did you notice any differences in your performance in the two segments? Do you find yourself battling micromessages in your job or daily life? Tell us what you think!

 

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DIVERSITY: 5 Tips to Doing Diversity Right

If you’re finding this blog and Twin Cities Diversity in Practice for the first time, you’re probably wondering, “Why do you do what you do?” We at Twin Cities Diversity in Practice know that diversity and inclusion in the legal profession is vital, not only for the health of the industry, but also to best serve clients and the community. There are many facets to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace, but we work primarily on diversity from a race and ethnicity perspective. We have strategically included concepts of inclusion into our work, because a more inclusive workplace helps break down barriers that people of color face in the current legal landscape.

Through our efforts in diversity and inclusion, we have found some key guidelines to work by that all people who are in management, recruiting, and diversity/inclusion work should take into consideration in their practice.

1. Avoid tokenism.

Identity is complicated! Asking an individual to speak for an entire community is not only a lot of pressure, but can be misleading. For instance, the experience of a Latina who grew up in an urban community is different than a Latina from suburban community. Or maybe it isn’t. Every person brings a different vantage point to the table, given their race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion (the list goes on). So perhaps that Latina from the city has more in common with the Latina from the suburbs, than she would with another urban Latina, due to other parts of her identity. But because we have chosen to only look at her gender, ethnicity, and location, and haven’t gotten to know her or her story, it is not possible to make such a conclusion.

2. Move past “Check-the-Box” mentality.

Making and measuring progress is important, but how do we define progress? Reaching a certain number or percentage of people of color in your department is great goal, but that metric is superficial. Work to dig deeper with your metrics to focus on differences in background and thought, or diversity within diversity. Also, are you just hiring your way to your threshold? Making sure the people of color within your department are a comfortable, successful, contributing members of your workplace and corporate culture, are allowed to effectively bring aspects of themselves into client relations and work product, and can see potential for growth within your organization are important for retention, morale, and employee buy-in and success.

3. Intentionally balance access.

Access is the mechanism which allows people to succeed. Repeated opportunity to prove your skills to senior attorneys, have face time with clients, and get regular feedback are all important to being a successful lawyer. Privilege that you are born with oftentimes gives certain individuals a higher chance of gaining access, because if a junior attorney has a similar interest or background as more senior attorneys in your organization, they’re more likely to be able to find their way into an inner circle. They’re more likely to be able to speak the “code” that others at the firm speak. They’ll understand idiomatic, regional, and class-based references that give them extra opportunities to prove their worth, socially. Being aware of these biases, which are likely unconscious, and working to intentionally balance access, is important because it allows all young attorneys the opportunity to succeed within your organization.

4. Focus on innovation.

Nobody is doing everything right. Some firms and organizations may be on the right track, but diversity and inclusion is still a major industry concern. Diversity has been lacking in the legal industry since its formation, so institutional change may be needed. Implement relevant best practices, but since the current structure isn’t working, its up to you to break the mold! Work with your organization to decide what your approach will be. You’ll never know the results until you try it.

5. Be authentic.

Nothing is worse than an organization that doesn’t practice what they preach. You may not know everything there is to know about diversity and inclusion, but if you truly care about creating a workplace that is safe and accepting of everyone, people will take notice and your efforts will shine through. Authenticity goes a long way in complicated tasks like diversity and inclusion efforts, and knowing when you don’t know the answer and asking for help can overshadow your subject knowledge deficit.

Which of these tasks will help bring your organization to the next level? What other tips do you have? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below!

 

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Welcome to our Blog!

Break into Law is something we hope will be a dynamic hub of conversation, with room for more detailed thoughts than a Facebook post or Twitter feed usually allows. It’s our opportunity to expand on topics that we start exploring, some of the subjects you’ll hear about at a Twin Cities Diversity in Practice event, or a relevant topic that’s come up in the news.

Would you like to add to the conversation? We want to see our list of contributors grow; please send a note to Matt Buechner [mbuechner@diversityinpractice.org] with a brief outline of what you wish to post about, and let’s start another conversation. Or even ideas on topics you’d like to read about here in this space that may not be written by you.

Do you have an opinion about something you read? We like to see diversity in all things, including points of view, provided the tone remains civil and respectful.  That’s why all comments will be moderated in the posts to come.

We hope you visit often, and find the thoughts shared here to be useful. And if you enjoy your visits, take a moment to subscribe and tell your friends. The more, the merrier!

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2012 in Welcome

 

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