Good Intentions Matter

Volume 96

96 Va. L. Rev. Online 35
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While writing the article to which Professors Mitchell and Bielby have published responses, I was mindful of the many ways in which the article could be misinterpreted. In taking issue with the assumption that legal controls work in a direct, linear manner to deter discrimination, I thought I might be misunderstood to say that people are not responsive to incentives. In worrying about how legal sanctions exert external pressure that may crowd out the inclination of well-intentioned people to self-monitor for bias, I feared that the article would be read mistakenly to oppose strong and appropriate legal rules against discrimination. In arguing that we should take people’s good intentions not to discriminate as a useful starting point for better workplace policies, rather than as the cynical exhibition of people’s self-delusion, I anticipated that the article would be dismissed as a fanciful and naïve denial of the existence of race and gender bias. In arguing that well-intentioned people can overcome their natural tendencies to discriminate, I was concerned about appearing to claim that good intentions are sufficient to end discrimination.

In the case of the responses by Professor Mitchell and Professor Bielby, these fears were unwarranted. The responses engage the article’s actual objectives—to clarify the state of empirical knowledge about unconscious workplace bias and to evaluate proposed approaches to reducing it. Professors Mitchell and Bielby, both leading figures in research about workplace bias, bring their considerable expertise to bear on evaluating and expanding the themes of the article. They each agree that legal scholars have ignored some of the relevant psychological literature and interpreted the research on which they have drawn in a shallow way. They also correctly identify my concerns about the overuse of legal coercion to reduce workplace bias, and concur that more legal controls are not likely be effective in reducing implicit bias.

Beyond these areas of agreement, there are differences in emphasis and enthusiasm. 

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