A Letter From Your Non-Diverse, Implicitly Biased Editor

Originally appeared in the St. Petersburg Bar Association January/February 2021 issue of Paraclete

Welcome to the diversity issue! As we celebrate diversity and acknowledge the importance of promoting diversity in our profession and community, it is prudent to acknowledge our own diversity (or lack thereof as in my case of a Caucasian, non-Hispanic, straight female) and bias. As part of my preparation for writing this letter, I conducted research and took several Implicit Association Tests (IATs) from Harvard’s Project Implicit. You can take your own test(s) at: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html

The online tests for Project Implicit measure “attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you did not know about.”1

I recommend taking the time to take two to three tests. Each test takes approximately 10 minutes or less. It’s an interesting and worthwhile experiment. When I started my first test, I questioned how it could predict any sort of bias, but by the time I completed that first test, I was impressed with how clever it was. The results surprised me. One test I took advised me that I have a strong automatic association for male with science and female with liberal arts. This was initially astonishing to me, as a woman who excelled in math. However, as I thought back to my time participating in math competitions, I recalled that I was typically vying against male opponents. Perhaps that led to an association.

My research also took me to the Kirwan Institute, which promotes “creating a just and inclusive society where all have the opportunity to succeed.” I participated in some of their implicit bias online training modules and was advised that I may have:

  • Class privilege
  • White privilege
  • Male privilege
  • Cis privilege
  • Straight privilege

I found the “male privilege” to be interesting since I am female, have always been female and, also identify as female. Regardless, I am aware that I have been a recipient of privileges that not all receive. I appreciate that, but probably not enough. According to the Kirwan Institute:

  • Implicit biases are pervasive. Everyone possesses them, even people with avowed commitments to impartiality such as judges.
  • Implicit and explicit biases are related but distinct mental constructs. They are not mutually exclusive and may even reinforce each other.
  • The implicit associations we hold do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs or even reflect stances we would explicitly endorse.
  • We generally tend to hold implicit biases that favor our own ingroup, though research has shown that we can still hold implicit biases against our ingroup.
  • Implicit biases are malleable. Our brains are incredibly complex, and the implicit associations that we have formed can be gradually unlearned through a variety of debiasing techniques.2

The Kirwan Institute goes on to say that there has been extensive research which has identified the “effects of implicit racial biases in a variety of realms ranging from classrooms to courtrooms to hospitals.”3 [1] Two specific examples cited by the Kirwan Institute include:

  1. A 2012 study using case vignettes to assess how pediatricians may have implicit race bias and how that implicit bias may affect their treatment of patients. The study found that pediatricians were more likely to prescribe painkillers for white patients than black patients.
  2. Other research exploring the connection between sentencing in criminal cases which found that race unfairly played a role in sentencing. Id. One of the most important reasons to identify implicit bias is that we are often unaware we have it, and therefore unable to correct it. In my personal example of apparently associating males with science and females with liberal arts: I will focus on not applying this association to my son and daughter, either expressly or implicitly. If I was not aware of this implicit bias, I would not be able to prevent it.

So, what do we do with this information as attorneys, judges, or other members of The Florida Bar?

  1. Identify and acknowledge it.
  2. Ensure it is not causing us to unfairly treat:
    1. Parties in litigation
    2. Clients
    3. Employees
    4. Opposing attorneys

Once we identify our implicit biases, we can then assess the appropriate counterbalance. If our implicit bias is counter-intuitive to our intelligent and rational view of the world, perhaps instead of just acknowledging it, we should fight against it and actually attempt to make decisions that promote the opposite of what our implicit bias would have us decide. As an example, tying back into my personal bias: perhaps I should encourage my daughter to explore science and my son to explore liberal arts.

Ultimately, what we do with the information is up to us. However, identifying our own implicit biases can help us right a potential wrong before it occurs. Knowledge is powerful and knowing the little tricks our minds are playing with us allows us to make more informed decisions in all areas of our lives.

Happy New Year! May 2021 bring you joy and the opportunity to grow as attorneys and humans.


Shannon L. Zetrouer is a partner of ZP Legal. After obtaining her law degree and M.B.A. from Stetson University with honors in 2005, Ms. Zetrouer focuses her practice on real estate matters with a focus on timeshare, construction and association law. Her passion for law is only superseded by her love for her children, Ariana Sol and Austen Lee and her husband, Trevor. As a Florida native, she takes full advantage of 360 days of sunshine by biking, boating, enjoying live music and exploring her hometown, St. Petersburg


1. Https://implicit.Harvard.Edu/implicit/education.Html
2. Http://kirwaninstitute.Osu.Edu/research/understandingimplicit-bias/
3. [1] Http://kirwaninstitute.Osu.Edu/research/understandingimplicit-bias/
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