It calls into focus the fact that white men enjoy both racial and gender privilege in the legal industry. This slows down the ability of organizations to create real change and leaves the burden on women and people of color to figure it out on their own.
Hollywood, by the s
As confirmed by a recent report from the National Association for Law Placement and a recent survey of diversity at law firms by Vault and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, women of color and black women specifically continue to be ificantly underrepresented, making up 8. Law firms are overwhelming white and male despite efforts to recruit people of color from prestigious academic institutions.
These candidates often go on to find their ambitions stunted by the unwelcoming landscape of corporate America. I started with a question that many underrepresented groups in the U. And that calls into focus the fact that white men continue to enjoy both racial and gender privilege in the legal industry.
Here is some of what I learned through a series of in-depth interviews with black female lawyers in elite law firms:. Perhaps one of harshest penalties is that lawyers of color are often prevented from building sponsor relationships with key white male partners. The black women I interviewed showed remarkable bravery, fortitude, and gumption in their efforts to establish a comfortable position in these elite institutions — a challenge that has been described in research. But the task of finding a sponsor was and continues to be challenging.
When asked about mentorship and sponsorship opportunities, Elissa, a fifth-year associate I interviewed said:. A law firm is relationship-driven…. You work with partners who choose whether they see something that you are not. As an associate, if the work you do is of a certain caliber, you will advance. The terms of employment for women and professionals of color often include what I call an invisible labor clause.
Hollywood is as white, straight and male as ever
One of these taxes is what I call an inclusion tax, which is levied in the form of time, money, and mental and emotional energy required to gain entry to and acceptance from traditionally white and male institutional spaces. That can include the hours at the hair salon needed to conform to European standards of beauty and the tailoring of clothing to fit within white norms of professional attire, both of which are costly to women of color.
Adding to this cumbersome load is the emotional and mental burden inflicted upon those who are perpetually the only person of color, or woman, or person of a modest economic background in the room. Next, there is the labor of invisibility. This includes the need to work longer or harder to get noticed and the pressure to be flawless, because the stereotypical assumption of incompetence leaves little to no margin for error.
The research of numerous scholars, including David B. Wilkins and G. Mitu GulatiCatherine H. Tinsley and Robin J. Elyand Heather Sarsonsreveals that women and people of color tend to be ificantly penalized for marginal errors, as compared with white men. Many of the women I spoke with felt that they were unable to recover from marginal errors that were often deemed fatal to their advancement.
This discomfort can take the shape of having to navigate different cultural reference points — they may not have shared interests in the same golf courses, timeshares, strip clubs, steakhouses, vineyards, ski resorts, or television shows. Cultural competency goes both ways.
And organizations often operate under what sociologist Joe R. Feagin calls the white racial frame. This frame consists of various racial stereotypes, narratives, ideologies, emotions, images, and interpretations that justify and perpetuate daily racial oppression.
The legal profession needs to keep asking itself why black partners are so rare and what needs to change, at both the individual and industry levels. Why attrition rates among women and people of color remain highand their advancement rates so low.
Why black female associates are hired in greater s than black male associates but are promoted to partner far, far less often.
This means investing in structural changes, such as making partners able for ensuring that people of color and women receive the essential training opportunities that will facilitate their ability to level the playing field. It also means embracing an image of what success looks like that encompasses the diverse palette of American capacity, experience, and vitality that our rhetoric, our anthems, and our aspirations are so eager to proclaim.
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Interviews with black female lawyers shed new light on the obstacles they face. on Race or related topics DiversityGender and Law. Tsedale M. Melaku www. Partner Center.