WOMEN IN THE PROFESSION

Survey examines challenges faced by female lawyers of color

June 29, 2020

A new report from the American Bar Association, “Left Out and Left Behind: The Hurdles, Hassles, and Heartaches of Achieving Long-Term Legal Careers for Women of Color,” reveals the experiences and challenges faced by female lawyers of color.

"Left Out and Left Behind" aims to address why women of color have a troubling rate of attrition from law practice, says ABA President Martinez

"Left Out and Left Behind" aims to address why women of color have a troubling rate of attrition from law practice, says ABA President Martinez

American Bar Association graphic

Although women of color comprise more than 14% of all associates, the percentage of partners has remained stuck below 3.5%.

And the problem goes deeper. While women earn about 80% of what men make, when broken down by race and gender, the story becomes more complicated:

  • Asian women make 85% of what men make
  • white women 77%
  • Black women 61%
  • Native American women 58%
  • Hispanic/Latina women 53%

The report, authored by social scientist Destiny Peery, past ABA president Paulette Brown and Chicago attorney Eileen Letts, shows that female lawyers of color surveyed report they were far more likely to want to leave the profession than their white colleagues; to be subjected to both implicit and explicit bias; and to report factors that blocked their “access to success,” including access to business development opportunities, being perceived as less committed to career and being denied or overlooked for promotion.

 “‘Left Out and Left Behind’ aims to answer the question of why women of color have a troubling rate of attrition from law practice,” ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said. “This national study looks at the ongoing challenges posed by the unique double bind of gender and race for women of color in the law. Everyone in the profession should read this report, and implement the solutions offered, so women of color can finally be credited with the value they add to law firms and the practice of law.”

The study includes input from 103 women of color who had graduated from law school 15 or more years before and participated in an online survey or in one of 11 focus groups held in four cities.

“Left Out and Left Behind” outlines a number of concrete recommendations for law firms, including:

  • Adopt best practices for reducing biases in decision-making
  • Improve access to effective, engaged mentors and sponsors
  • Go beyond recruitment to inclusion
  • Incorporate solutions that factor in gender and race when addressing diversity
  • Create a more inclusive culture in the legal profession

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