October 27, 2020

Report examines roadblocks among women lawyers, offers toolkit for healing dialogue

CHICAGO, Oct. 27, 2020 — A new study and report from the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, “This Talk Isn’t Cheap: Women of Color and White Women Attorneys Find Common Ground,” addresses communication barriers among white women lawyers and women lawyers of color that impede the progress of diversity efforts in the legal profession.

The report explores why women of color have feelings of mistrust toward their white female colleagues, as well as the challenges white women experience in attempting to understand the needs of their minority female colleagues.  

“Women lawyers need to have meaningful conversations and open dialogues about gender, race, and ethnicity in the workplace in order to move forward,” ABA President Patricia Lee Refo said. “This report and toolkit will be a useful guide to start those difficult but necessary conversations.”

The study and report are part of the Guided Conversations Project toolkit consisting of the report, video vignettes, a facilitators’ guide with discussion questions, a run-of-show description for the program and a bibliography of further resources to help groups of women have conversations on racial dynamics in the workplace. The three recorded video vignettes (“Look in the Mirror,” “A Heavy Sense of Resignation,” and “Injury”) feature actress, playwright, teacher and author Anna Deavere Smith. An introductory webinar, “This Talk Isn’t Cheap: Guiding Conversations toward Equity,” is scheduled for noon CST (1 p.m. EST) on Nov. 16.

An outgrowth of the Commission’s Women of Color Research Initiative, the study includes input from a volunteer group of 94 women lawyers – 49 women of color and 45 white women from all backgrounds ­­– who shared their perspectives on gender, race and ethnicity. Among the findings:

  • Women of color expressed the belief that starting dialogues with white women was critical to the advancement of all women in the workplace.
  • White women in the study expressed a strong desire to have deeper dialogues about the intersectionality of gender, race and ethnicity with women of color.
  • Women of color viewed white women as being defensive about racial/ethnic issues.
  • White women expressed a high degree of anxiety about starting these conversations owing to their desire to avoid discomfort, and their fear of making unintentionally offensive comments or creating misunderstandings.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at www.americanbar.org/news and on Twitter @ABANews.