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IMPROVING DIVERSITY is a continuing, but elusive, goal of the legal profession. As Above the Law has reported, "[m]any articles have discussed the disappointing statistics of legal industry diversity....[D]espite two decades of extensive efforts, gender and other diversity at the partner and GC level is essentially unchanged." Perhaps instead of a top-down approach, diversification in the legal profession - both in the workplace and the clients served - may be better improved by a grassroots effort, starting with the individual. Toward that end, research points to a promising new way of promoting diversity through mindfulness.
"Cognitive biases may be partly to blame for prejudice, and research suggests that mindfulness can help us correct them," according to Greater Good Magazine. A person has a "tendency to ignore circumstances," which is "called the correspondence bias, and it impacts how we judge people, including people of different social groups." But practicing mindfulness can expand a person's ability to understand another person's actions context.
People also tend to "pay more attention to and react more strongly to negative events than positive events in our lives - a phenomenon called the negativity bias." Mindfulness can help with that too: "mindfulness can help reduce our negativity bias and consequently help us to be less wary of negative social encounters."
According, again, to Greater Good Magazine: "In one study, researchers studied how mindfulness affected participant brain activity. Participants reported on their general mindfulness levels, then briefly viewed photos that induced strong positive emotion (like photos of babies), strong negative emotion (like photos of people in pain), or neither while having their brains scanned. More mindful participants were less reactive to negative photos and showed higher indications of positive feeling when seeing the positive photos. This was assessed via brain patterns associated with reactions to distress. According to the authors, this supports the contention that mindfulness decreases the negativity bias—something other studies support, too."
While the personal benefits of mindfulness are well-studied, perhaps too little attention has been paid to how the practice can improve our social lives. The legal profession can possibly eliminate some of the diversity challenges and biases it faces by incorporating mindfulness practices into the lives of its individual attorneys.