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HARASSMENT, EXCLUSION AND NEGLECT KEEP WOMEN OF COLOR FROM REACHING HIGHEST RANKS IN LAW FIRMS, ABA STUDY SHOWS

 
CHICAGO, Aug.8/DiversityBusiness.com/ – Why are women lawyers of color leaving the profession at an alarming rate? The answer to that question comes from a first-of-its-kind study by the American Bar Association.

According to “Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms,” a report by The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, women of color experience unique disadvantages based on race in addition to gender. White women experience such events based on gender alone, men of color experience such events based on race alone, and white men have virtually no first-hand or personal experience with discrimination.

Despite the efforts of law firms to expand diversity efforts, Hispanic, African-American, Native American and Asian-American women lawyers in law firms nationwide report a lack of networking and access to significant billable hours, being skipped over for client development opportunities and desirable assignments, and being subjected to demeaning comments or harassment and unfair performance evaluations.

The statistics are compelling. For example, 44 percent of women lawyers of color working in a large law firm reported that they had been passed over for desirable assignments, compared to 39 percent of white women, 25 percent of men of color and only 2 percent of white men. Similarly, 62 percent of women of color disclosed that they had been excluded from formal and informal networking opportunities, compared to 60 percent of white women, 31 percent of men of color and 4 percent of white men, and 31 percent of women of color reported receiving at least one unfair performance evaluation, compared to 25 percent of white women, 21 percent of men of color and less than 1 percent of white men.

“This study finally sheds light on a troublesome situation that we must now turn into an opportunity – the opportunity to increase the richness of perspectives in law firms,” said ABA President Michael S. Greco, an ardent supporter of the survey, who served on the Women’s Commission for three years and advocated for it before taking the helm of the nation’s largest lawyers’ organization. “The legal profession must better reflect the communities we serve if it is to serve better both today’s clients and those communities. I encourage legal employers to use this valuable report to recalibrate their strategies for diversifying the profession.”

Although previous studies have focused specifically on women lawyers or lawyers of color, the commission’s study is the first comprehensive survey of the unique experiences and concerns of women of color in private law firms.

“Our aim is to shed light on a significant problem—the invisibility of women lawyers of color in our profession, said Commission Chair Pamela J. Roberts. "But this report is not an end unto itself. We hope law firms will use it as a tool to bolster their efforts to develop, promote and retain women lawyers of color.”

The commission’s report makes recommendations to law firms seeking to fully integrate women of color into their diversity efforts. Suggestions include addressing the success of women of color as a law firm goal, not a diversity issue, and to integrate them into the firm’s professional and social fabric.

The University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center conducted both the national survey and focus group data collections and analysis, and melded the two sources of information into a complete portrait of the career dynamics of women lawyers of color.

“Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms” is available online at www.ababooks.org.

The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession was created by the association in 1987 to secure the full and equal participation of women in the ABA, the legal profession and the justice system. The 12-member commission is composed of lawyers and judges from around the country, and includes representatives from private practice, the judiciary, academia and corporations. The commission develops programs, policies and publications to advance and assist women lawyers, and educates the profession about work/family issues that affect all lawyers.

With more than 410,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization 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 in a democratic society.

Media contact: Julie Brown
Phone: 808/792-6622
Email: brownjd@staff.abanet.org
Online: www.abanews.org

 

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