Monday, November 25, 2013

Game-Changing Approach to Unconscious Bias

I was really interested in the Washington Past article about unconscious bias that Joan Schmelz blogged about on November 19.  It was an interview with Kent Gardiner, chairman of the law firm Crowell & Moring, who is starting a sponsorship program to promote better diversity in his company.  His program gives a fresh approach that might be a game changer.

The firm is partnering with economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s Center for Talent Innovation for this program.  The objective is to confront unconscious bias head-on.  Senior members of the firm become sponsors of new employees.  It is kind of like mentoring, but stepped up to a higher level.  The senior and new employees form a partnership in the young employees future, with both of them on the line for results and both rewarded if there are successes.

I like this quote from the article:  "Why is it harder to be a woman or a person of color in the junior ranks of a professional services organization? The answer is not because you’re less qualified. The answer is because you have this thicket in front of you. And you’re pretty lonely. And so you try a while. And then you leave.  So the whole concept of sponsorship is to clear the thicket."

From a science point of view the relationship between a professor and a postdoc or student is similar to the senior and new employee case discussed in this study.  Sponsorship should also work well in an academic setting.  I am planning to try this approach in my group at Goddard and will keep you posted on how it works.

The full Washington Post article can be seen at:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/chair-of-major-law-firm-champions-sponsorship-pilot-program/2013/11/13/eea437f4-4be2-11e3-ac54-aa84301ced81_story.html