Archive for the ‘Law Office Management’ Category
Here’s one of those strange coincidences where realities collide. It leaves you to wonder how to reconcile them. The Pew Research Center has just released a report on Asian Americans:
“Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success, according to a comprehensive new nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center.”
So we would expect these Americans would be in high demand by employers–courted and cajoled into accepting employment offers from multiple companies. Right? Wrong. Here’s where the collision occurs.
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) also recently released a new report on unemployment among Asian Americans “during and after the Great Recession” (2007-2010). Their report is summarized at the Sociological Images Website:
“It is true that Asian Americans have generally had lower unemployment rates than other racial/ethnic groups, due to their overall higher educational levels. However, if we look within educational levels beyond a high school diploma, Asian Americans have higher unemployment rates than comparable Whites, with the gap widest for those with bachelor’s degrees.”
A recent EPI update shows the pattern has not changed–with Asian Americans faring the worst of any group in the United States in terms of long-term unemployment.
“Asian Americans still had the highest share of unemployed workers who were unemployed long term (for more than half a year) when compared with white, black, and Hispanic workers—despite having higher education levels than these other racial/ethnic groups. In addition, highly educated Asian Americans continued to have a higher overall unemployment rate than similarly educated whites.”
As shown in the graph below, 48.7% of unemployed Asian-Americans had been out of a job for 27 weeks or more. Blacks are next (48%), and followed by Whites (42.7%).
It’s an interesting contradiction–likely mirroring covert national bias regarding Asian-Americans. We’ve been writing about this suppressed bias recently as it’s come up in pretrial research with either Asian parties and also in cases where Asian workers were involved peripherally. The level of distrust and animosity is surprising considering the overt stereotype of Asian-Americans as “model minorities”.
An article in the Atlantic offers a comment and three explanations for the long-term unemployment of Asian-Americans:
“What makes the situation even odder is the more educated Asians are, the more they fall behind whites. Asians with just a high school diploma were more likely to be employed than whites; however, Asians with a bachelor’s degree or higher more likely to be unemployed.
The report’s author offers up three explanations for the mystery. First, there’s the California problem: About a third of all Asian Americans live in the Golden State, which has disproportionately high joblessness, both short term and long-term. Second, there’s immigrant bias: Perhaps employers prefer to hire U.S.-born workers. Third, there’s racial bias. If Asians had the same long-term unemployment as their equally-educated white peers, their long-term jobless rate would be 8.1 percentage points lower.”
Like other biases, this one results in unfair treatment in hiring and (as we’ve seen) in mocking wisecracks by mock jurors. When we question the allegedly humorous comments in our pretrial research, the jurors quickly assure that bias is not a factor. Yet here we see it pretty clearly: the most educated, ambitious and up-beat citizens of this country are also among the most long-term unemployed.
Pay attention to your own tendencies, if any, to reject Asian American job candidates. And be attuned to this as a latent issue among jurors. Jurors are prone to making judgments that don’t seem unreasonable to them until the lights come on. It’s your job to be the beacon.
So–is it better to be ‘nice’ or ‘mean’ when it comes to salary? We’ll disclose right up front that this is not a feel good post for some of you. As it happens, if you are someone high in agreeableness, (aka ‘nice’) you are likely paid less than someone less agreeable (aka ‘nasty’).
There are naturally some caveats in this research along with some (likely expected) gender differences. Most of us know that men are still (across the board) paid more than women. That isn’t news. But the rest of these findings might be–although you probably “knew” this on an intuitive level.
The researchers looked at three large datasets (each containing data on between 500 and 2000 adults). The datasets provided salary information as well as information on gender and various personality characteristics [including measures of agreeability]. Here’s what they found in a nutshell:
On average, men earned more a year than did women. [In one dataset, the overage was listed as $5,000 a year.]
Disagreeable people earned more. However, disagreeable men made significantly more [higher by 18%] than nice men while disagreeable women only made a slightly higher salary than nice women [about 5.5%]. The researchers say “the income premium for disagreeableness is more than three times stronger for men than for women”.
Men might benefit more than women from being disagreeable but nice men (i.e., agreeable men) are actually penalized salary-wise when they are highly agreeable.
They also found that the more disagreeable you are, the less you value relationships and the more you value the level of your salary. The flip side is that when you are more agreeable, you are more satisfied with your life, have more friends and community involvement and report lower stress levels. Translated, you might make less and enjoy life more.
So, it would appear that you have a choice. You can choose to fight for a higher salary (in which case you want to be disagreeable, especially if you are male) or you can choose to focus on having life satisfaction, rewarding relationships and a lower level of stress–regardless of your gender. According to this research though–it doesn’t appear you can have it all…still.
Judge, T., Livingston, B., & Hurst, C. (2012). Do nice guys—and gals—really finish last? The joint effects of sex and agreeableness on income. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102 (2), 390-407 DOI: 10.1037/a0026021
Black women are expected to behave like white men when they have reached a higher level of leadership. That is the conclusion of new research looking at black women leaders.
Traditionally, white men are expected to be assertive and even aggressive leaders, but black men and white women are often perceived negatively for those sorts of behaviors in the workplace. Researchers wondered about black women and what they found was that “one size does not fit all women” when it comes to leadership expectations.
This is a surprising and counter-intuitive finding–yet, there are familiar themes along the way. We know from earlier research that African American women are more likely to confront racist statements than are Asian American women. We also know that women leaders in general are penalized more severely if they make mistakes at work. That theme comes up in this research as well. So yes, it’s still hard to be a woman–but, in this research, once you arrive, you may sound more like Aretha Franklin than Tammy Wynette.
In the research, supervisors were presented in two modes: dominant or supportive/caring. The researchers showed both male and female supervisors and both white and black supervisors and asked the participants to rate the supervisory effectiveness.
Here’s what the researchers report:
White women were evaluated more negatively when they expressed dominance rather than caring support. However, black women did not get this same negative reaction.
Black men were penalized for expressing dominance but white men were not.
In short, black women were expected to behave more like white men when in a leadership role and (unlike white women and black men) were not punished for behaving dominantly in a leadership role. The researchers wonder why, then, are there not more black women in positions of leadership? They hypothesize that black women don’t look like the stereotype of ‘leader’ (e.g., for most people a ‘leader’ is a white male) and thus are punished more harshly for making mistakes since they don’t fit the ‘leader’ stereotype. The researchers presume it’s harder for a black female to rise to high levels of leadership due to heavy punishment for mistakes along the way. However, once she has arrived, the black female leader is given permission to act like a white male in leadership: dominant and assertive, even aggressive at times.
This research has relevance for both litigation advocacy and for law practice management as well as for women of color striving for leadership positions.
In witness preparation, a high ranking African American female can show dominance and assertiveness in her testimony without being punished for it by jurors. Remember though that a white female or African American male will be expected to express support and caring for subordinates while still expressing a belief that direct communication as to performance expectations is a must for effective management.
If this research is accurate, a senior African American female attorney can question on cross-exam as aggressively as a white male attorney. There is likely a fine line on this behavior though, as it is often expected that women will behave more sensitively to others.
In your law practice, ensure you are not censuring African American female attorneys more harshly for mistakes than you would censure a white male attorney. Make your performance standards measurable and concrete so they can be applied equally and with a minimum of bias.
Overall, this is intriguing research and the researchers plan to explore the realities for African American women struggling to climb corporate ladders. We’ll be watching for their future work.
Livingston, R., Rosette, A., & Washington, E. (2012). Can an Agentic Black Woman Get Ahead? The Impact of Race and Interpersonal Dominance on Perceptions of Female Leaders Psychological Science, 23 (4), 354-358 DOI: 10.1177/0956797611428079
Monty Python fans recall the optimistic pluckiness of the black knight who threatens King Arthur even after being completely de-limbed. “It’s only a flesh wound!” he chirps and asks Arthur to walk over to where the knight has fallen so he can bite King Arthur’s legs. King Arthur refers to him as a “lunatic” but also kindly agrees to call the one-sided duel “a draw” in recognition of the misguided pluck of the black knight.
Many of us have been in the role of the black knight in an organization. We want to do well. We don’t want to give up. We want to see our organization and our mission positively. But sometimes, we have to take that big tin can off our heads so we can see clearly. And every once in a while, we have to take a stand. It can be a quixotic mission. Or it can be a revolution.
It is axiomatic that leadership has a potential dark side. More contemporary examples of the “dark side” of leadership can be seen in the Enron implosion and even the Wall Street collapse. A leadership blog describes the “dark side” of leadership this way:
“It is sometimes called “the shadow.” This is the part that is negative and can create toxic environments. Characteristics can include greed, jealousy, envy, excessive competition, defensiveness, manipulation, … the list goes on. It is when the ego gets control of us and starts leading our thoughts and behaviors.”
It isn’t that the “dark side” stems from only negative or bad traits–quite the opposite. It can actually stem from good traits that simply become too strong and trip over into what might be called “tragic flaws”. Getting “carried away” with the power of leadership can be a very bad thing. And that, in turn, can be a very bad thing for your organization, your firm, your members, and your employees.
So how do you avoid this leadership trap?
Maintain trusted advisers who are not in your leadership circle. Get real feedback so you don’t live in a bubble of only those who agree with you or see things from your skewed perspective.
Curb your suspiciousness lest you find yourself in the awkward position of calling your followers/members dissenters when your leadership group, in truth, are the ones dissenting while the organization is in agreement.
Honor service and honor your members/employees. Recognize the loyalty of ‘loyal opposition’ and embrace positive diversity of views. You don’t have to agree with everyone. But you can honor their service to your firm or organization. No one likes to see leaders that deride or minimize members/followers. Be respectful. Keep critical and devaluing comments about individuals to yourself.
Give credit where credit is due. Great leaders do not create themselves. Their words and their behaviors spark commitment to “do good” among others. Fan the spark by acknowledging contributions.
And yet, when you are a leader, be unafraid to do the right thing. Just make sure it really is the right thing. If you wonder, act cautiously, and risk erring on the side of graciousness.
It seems only fitting that this post is going up on the week in which we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Here is an example of a man who was not perfect by any means, yet he inspired a huge cultural change. Being a leader isn’t easy. But it shouldn’t hurt those who choose to follow you.
Conger, J. (1990). The dark side of leadership Organizational Dynamics, 19 (2), 44-55 DOI: 10.1016/0090-2616(90)90070-6
You know. Black folks. They are not as intelligent, determined or decisive. They just are not good leaders. When a black leader performs poorly–this stereotype is used to explain the poor performance. But, when a black leader performs well–this stereotype is less useful. Then, we are likely to attribute “compensatory attributes” to the exceptional black leader–”oh, he has ‘survival skills’” or “she is especially warm”–rather than attributing the individual’s success to actual leadership competence. The core competency is still not recognized by the success– it is explained away instead.
These stereotypes are like any other–they allow a simplistic cognitive shortcut that results in a leap to a negative evaluation based on skin color rather than actual behavior. Researchers wanted to test this belief and so looked at press reactions to college football quarterbacks (31 black and 82 white). They asked coders (who knew nothing about the purpose of the study) to rate media reactions to the quarterbacks as positive or negative and to assess the leadership interpretation of the media content (i.e., competence or compensatory adjectives or adverbs).
They found (no surprises here) that the use of the incompetence stereotype or the compensatory talents depended on whether the quarterback won or lost. Further, while different stereotypes were used when black athletes won or lost–the same was not true for white athletes.
When black quarterbacks lost, they were more likely described as an incompetent leader than losing white quarterbacks. When winning, there was no difference between descriptions of the black and white quarterbacks.
When black quarterbacks won, they were often praised for athleticism–much more often than were white quarterbacks.
In other words, black success is perceived as coming from superior athletic skills, while white success comes from smarts and leadership ability. The researchers (publishing in a management journal) say that leadership and organizational success for blacks is less tied to leadership ability than to perceptions that they are lucky or have some compensatory attribute that stands in for actual competence. They recommend black leaders challenge these sorts of stereotypes by showing examples of successful leadership and perhaps even circulating “individuating information” about their personal accomplishments and skill sets in order to provide context.
In the law firm, you need to look at metrics first–when comparing a black partner and a white partner with equivalent metrics–are you rating the black partner lower? This indicates a possible issue with down-grading the black leader because of skin color. If there seems to be a gap in the leadership skills of gifted black attorneys or paralegals, take a second look. Consider whether the problem is also influenced by a culture that expects gifts of one kind, but is resistant to seeing talents of other types. Or coworkers who make minority leadership more difficult. Pay attention to making your firm evaluative scale measures the concrete and behavioral rather than the subjective (and thus prone to biases).
We write a lot about bias here. And whether that bias is about gender, age, race, disability, or something else–what’s important is recognizing it and choosing to act differently. The question is not if we have blind spots. We all do. The question is if we are able to outsmart those blind spots. This research provides some specific recommendations for outsmarting your blind spots when it comes to the performance evaluation of your African American professionals.
Carton, A., & Rosette, A. (2011). Explaining Bias against Black Leaders: Integrating Theory on Information Processing and Goal-Based Stereotyping. The Academy of Management Journal, 54 (6), 1141-1158 DOI: 10.5465/amj.2009.0745