CENTER FOR WORKLIFE LAW: INTERRUPTING BIAS IN BUSINESS SYSTEMS

CENTER FOR WORKLIFE LAW HAS IDENTIFIED PATTERNS OF BIAS AND DEVELOPED TOOLKITS FOR COMPANIES TO ADDRESS THE ISSUES AND MEASURE RESULTS

What Big Bet are they making?

The Center for WorkLife Law is betting on interrupting bias at the workplace through “bias interrupters,” or evidence-based interventions within business systems. Based on years of research, WorkLife Law has developed toolkits for bias interrupters to address the following areas: hiring, performance evaluations, assignments, promotions, and compensation. While WorkLife Law emphasizes that toolkits should be implemented at the organization level, they have also developed tools for individuals to interrupt bias. The toolkits are implemented in a three-step approach: 1) identify focus areas using metrics, 2) implement bias interrupters to tweak the system, 3) repeat as needed in an iterative process and measure results.

What challenge is the Big Bet solving?

A large body of research has shown that bias affects many different groups: women, people of color, individuals with disabilities, class migrants, etc. WorkLife Law has identified and named the following four prominent patterns of bias; 1) “Prove-it-Again”, where groups stereotyped as less competent and must prove themselves more frequently, 2) “Tightrope”, in which a narrower range of workplace behavior is accepted from specific groups, 3) “The Parental Wall”, in which strong negative competence and commitment assumptions are triggered, meaning that e.g. mothers who work long hours may be seen as bad mothers, and 4) “Tug of War”, conflicts that may arise within underrepresented groups as these employees compete for recognition.

How is the Big Bet innovative?

WorkLife Law focuses on practical evidence-based interventions that change systems, not people or
work cultures. The focus on objective metrics allows measurement of success and document progress.
WorkLife Law promotes the business case for their bias interrupters, citing that diverse work groups
perform better, are more committed, innovative, and loyal, and that gender diverse workgroups have
better collective intelligence. Building these bias interrupters into basic business systems ensures that
they survive potential leadership changes and create lasting impact.

What is the current situation?

The Bias Interrupters project is led by founder Joan Williams and Director of Women’s Leadership, Jamie Dolkas. By now, seven Bias Interrupter experiments have been implemented in prominent companies. The working group behind the project has also developed a bias climate survey to help companies identify focus areas that will soon be published and available to the public. They are experimenting with a 90-minute bias training that details how bias plays out in the workplace and that provides participants with tools to actively interrupt this bias.