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2022 NCWBA Outstanding Members Program Award: Interrupting Bias Program

In a time-starved world where so much feedback about others — whether it is for a judgeship or job — is relayed in the quick, quiet spaces of confidential reviews, the Interrupting Bias program focused on the tools and processes necessary for lawyers to improve how we deliver, receive, and process that feedback. It was with this goal in mind that the Colorado Women’s Bar Association (CWBA) presented Interrupting Bias: Feedback, Due Diligence, and Reference Checks.

The program presented by the CWBA received the National Conference of Women’s Bar Association (NCWBA) Outstanding Member Program Award for 2022.

The award was presented during the NCWBA’s annual summit held in Chicago on August 5 and 6, 2022. Jessie Pellant accepted the award on behalf of the CWBA as she was attending the summit as a newly inducted board member to the NCWBA.

The program was created, moderated, and organized by Hetal Doshi and Leila Hock of the Programs Committee of the CWBA. The program was presented by Siri Chilazi, a research Fellow at the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. There were 660 attendees for this free CLE from our legal community and the program was very well received and appreciated.

Success or failure within the legal industry is almost entirely driven by one thing: feedback. Whether it comes from partners evaluating associates, clients evaluating outside counsel, executives evaluating inside counsel, or even committees evaluating potential judicial nominations and government appointments, feedback plays a crucial role in every lawyer’s career.

Trainings do not change the behavior — process changes are the most effective way based on evidence to minimize unconscious bias. Effective methods to interrupt bias include the following: standardizing questions and order of questions for all candidates is better than training the recruitment team on unconscious bias. Focus on SMART feedback. SMART feedback is feedback is based on Specific behavior and not personality, Measurable for results and achievements, Achievable consistent and fair standards, Realistic — based on examples of impact (i.e., if someone is late, rather than saying they are late, instead give observable measurable behavior as feedback, such as “Lucy is late and it causes disruption during meetings and interrupts the flow and makes others feel disrespected”), lastly, Timely — reasonably recent actions are discussed and not actions from long ago.

Use of “blur” words like “qualified,” “polished enough,” “warm person” are often a mask for bias. Spot the blur words and listen carefully so you can unmask the bias. Ways in which you can identify those words are using the following questions:

  • Can the word be interpreted differently?

  • Is this comment stereotypical? (“polished,” “articulate,” “balanced”)

  • Comment about skills and ability or personality?

  • Is the comment a generalization?

Make sure to use questions to drill down on the actionable results behind blur words.

Other reasons the program was successful was due to the constant interaction and polling throughout the program to keep the audience engaged, as well as group role play, which allowed for real-world examples to be played out and witnessed. There were interrupted pauses throughout the presentation to address questions regarding content that was just discussed as well, rather than waiting till the end for questions. And finally, the tangible tools that were presented can be implemented immediately, allowing this program to have deep impact, rather than simply discussing the need for action, which is a common program theme.

Jessie Pellant (pictured left) is the Treasurer of the NCWBA and member of the CWBA. Chris Chambers Goodman (pictured right) is a professor of law at Pepperdine Caruso School of Law.


Jessie Pellant is a Colorado native and founder and managing partner of StudioIP. StudioIP is both a law firm and creative agency, creating an efficient and effective strategy to the creation, protection, and enforcement of intellectual property. Jessie’s practice focuses on advising clients in high-level business strategy identifying and securing the most valuable asset of the business, the intellectual property. She assists with acquiring and protecting or enforcing trademarks, copyrights, and patents working alongside the creative team at StudioIP. Jessie has been involved with the CWBA for several years and served on the board for six years. Jessie sits on the board of the National Conference for Women’s Bar Associations and is an avid advocate for women in the legal profession. In recognition of Jessie’s ability to serve her clients as a trusted advisor, Colorado Super Lawyers Magazine recognized Jessie as one of its Rising Stars for the past nine years and she was recently recognized as a 5280 Top Lawyer in 2021 and 2022 and was awarded Denver’s 40 Under 40 in 2022. When not working for clients, or on the business, Jessie enjoys time with her husband and three daughters in the great outdoors.

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