Interview with Nadia Zaman

  • May 11, 2023

(Interview conducted in writing on January 3, 2023)

What does unconscious bias mean to you?

Unconscious bias to me means unknowingly letting stereotypes and prejudices affect your decision making to the detriment of the other individual(s) you are biased against.

Unconscious bias can be even toward individuals who share the same characteristics as you. For example, a brown male can experience unconscious bias toward another brown male.

Unconscious bias is pervasive. But until we acknowledge that it is, and take proactive steps toward raising awareness and shifting our mindset, the situation will not magically improve.

Can you share any specific examples of unconscious bias you have experienced, or heard about, at any stage of the litigation process?

One of the common examples of unconscious bias that I have experienced (and I am sure other coloured female litigators have as well) is the assumption that a woman of colour is not going to be as competent as a white, male lawyer.

I still remember a call I had with a potential new client during my earlier years as an employment lawyer. She called me to discuss her workplace situation and wanted to book a consultation with me. I listened to her, expressed that I was sorry to hear about her situation, and explained our process. She advised me that she was given the names of two individuals, and that she had reached out to the other person first as she thought he would be “tougher” as a white, male lawyer. I could hardly believe what I was hearing since she was openly admitting that she had acted on a stereotype. She further explained that after speaking with me she decided she would rather have me as her lawyer as I listened to her concerns and empathized with her, while the other lawyer was short and curt with her. I think she thought this was supposed to be a compliment for me – it was quite a bold learning lesson.

In a similar vein, I had another potential client ask me during a strategy session whether I would be “as aggressive as a male lawyer” during the litigation process. The potential client was an elderly, brown male himself. He perceived male lawyers to be more aggressive than female lawyers, and had the belief that being aggressive as a litigator was a sign of competence.

Finally, several women of colour in the bar have told me that others have mistaken them as receptionists, interpreters, or assistants, as opposed to counsel on a file.