The working groups at WorkLife Law are interdisciplinary teams that put researchers (knowledge producers) and those who benefit from their work (knowledge users) around one table. The product: rigorous new social science that fills holes in existing literature, specifically designed to have an impact on the “real world.”
WLL’s first working group, running from 2001-2003, challenged experimental social psychologists to stop comparing men to women and start comparing mothers to others. The resulting studies identify “maternal wall bias”—gender bias triggered by motherhood—as the strongest form of workplace gender bias. The working group’s research inspired a special issue of the Journal of Social Issues—the same journal that published the studies behind Brown v. Board of Education. Today, maternal wall bias returns over 380,000 hits on Google and has its own Wikipedia entry.
Subsequent working groups have met with their own success. One working group produced research and media buzz around “flexibility stigma,” the bias impacting employees who take family leave or use flexible work arrangements. Another group facilitated WorkLife Law’s current partnership with The Gap Inc., an advisory relationship focused on helping the company implement stable scheduling for its hourly workers.
Two working groups are now underway:
The Pregnancy Accommodation Working Group brings together employment lawyers, ob-gyns, and other medical professionals to tackle issues related to workplace accommodations for pregnant women. The group’s work paved the way for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s June 2015 report, Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Other Issues. Dr. Rebecca Jackson and four other members of the working group recently published an article in The Green Journal, an American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians publication that circulates to over 50,000 readers. The article, which advises doctors on how to write responsible pregnancy accommodation notes, received accompanying New York Times coverage in July 2015.
The Bias Interrupters Working Group connects researchers in behavioral economics, organizational behavior, and experimental social psychology with corporate partners, including BlackRock, eBay, Ernst & Young, and Merck. With extensive documentation of workplace bias on the books, scholars are challenged to focus on solutions for businesses. How can organizations interrupt the transmission of implicit bias through basic modifications to their systems of hiring, project assignment, performance evaluation, etc.? The BIWG has begun to brainstorm innovative, metrics-based bias interrupting systems (for more information on what constitutes a bias interrupter, see this October 2015 HBR article by WorkLife Law director Joan Williams.) Tailor-made for member corporations by their researcher colleagues, these systems will ultimately be implemented and tested in each corporate workplace. Stay tuned for more updates!
If your corporation is interested in learning more about the Bias Interrupters Working Group, please contact Joan Williams, Director of the Center for WorkLife Law, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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WorkLife Law presented its work on using cloud computing to improve work-life fit in the scheduling of hourly workers at an Intuit Solution Jam on August 15, 2013. Intuit engineers brainstormed ways to build the ideas in WorkLife Law’s Improving Work-Life Fit in Hourly Jobs into software.