June 04, 2013 Articles

Female Attorneys of Color Continue to Struggle in Corporate Law Departments

By Angela A. Turiano

Whether in a law firm or corporate law department setting, female attorneys of color still face racial and gender discrimination that adversely affects their careers with regard to both advancement and compensation.

The American Bar Association Commission on Women (the Commission) recently completed Phase Two of its Women of Color Research Initiative (WCRI) which examined diversity dynamics of female attorneys of color in Fortune 500 corporate legal departments. Phase One of the Initiative, conducted in 2006, involved the same diversity analysis, but in a law firm setting. The focus of both studies was the effect of race/ethnicity and gender on the career mobility of female attorneys of color as they progressed through the four major stages of an attorney’s career: recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement. While there were some distinctions between the experiences of law firm attorneys and in-house counsel, both phases of the study led to the same conclusion regarding career related bias; namely, that female attorneys of color continue to face obstacles as a result of gender and racial bias that prevents them from reaching their full potential in their chosen profession. The goal of the WCRI overall is to study the underlying systemic and cultural factors that continue to serve as obstacles to female attorneys of color in the advancement of their legal careers and to then identify practical solutions employed in all legal settings.

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