Catalyst Releases Women of Color in U.S. Law Firms Report - Quantifying Gaps in Perception & Experience
By jessie kornberg • July 21, 2009•Other Issues
Catalyst released it's study of Women of Color in Law Firms today. The report represents a major undertaking, and I recommend reading it yourself, but I will attempt to summarize the key points.
First the problem:
...more than 75 percent of women of color associates leave their firms by their fifth year of practice, and nearly 86 percent leave before their seventh year. Those who leave often report experiencing institutional discrimination and unwanted and/or unfair critical attention, which combine to create an exclusionary and challenging workplace.5 Other research confirms that nearly two-thirds (64.4 percent) of women of color associates left their employers within 55 months compared to just over half (54.9 percent) of women overall.
Catalyst's argument is that this attrition is an inefficient waste of resources for firms, who spend significant sums recruiting and training young attorneys. This is not a new argument, but it's an effective one to a point. I believe at some point the cost of achieving true gender and racial equity in firms will exceed the price of disproportionate attrition, though the attrition rates of women of color from large firms is so severe that's not an immediate concern.
After the jump: the results of Catalyst's survey of associates and partner's in the country's 25 most profitable firms. (More on Catalyst's Methodology can be found on page 5 of the report)There are six chapters' worth of results, but some highlights:
• Of all demographic groups, women of color were most likely to report racial/ethnic stereotyping in the workplace.
• Women of color were least likely to perceive their firm's diversity initiatives as being effective. They also perceived a lack of accountability for diversity efforts in their firms and inadequate training of supervising attorneys in dealing with a diverse workforce.
• More than 60 percent of respondents across all demographic groups perceived that senior leaders at their firms were committed to hiring qualified, diverse candidates (women of color, 63.6 percent; white women, 67.7 percent; men of color, 70.5 percent; white men, 75.5 percent).
Catalyst is always great at creating effective visual displays for their research findings. Here we've got venn diagrams in soothing earth tones explaining the intersectionality issues for women of color.
One of the areas of research I found particularly interesting involved mentorship:
•Among those with mentors, men were significantly more likely than women to have men as mentors (women of color, 57.1 percent; white women 60.6 percent; men of color, 86.2 percent; white men, 84.9 percent).
• While more than 70 percent of survey respondents reported having a white mentor, whites were significantly more likely to have white mentors (women of color, 75.9 percent; white women, 94.5 percent; men of color, 72.4 percent; white men, 90.4 percent).
Another area of divergent experiences between white and non-white women was with regard to definitions of personal commitments. Women of color were more likely than their white colleagues to have a more expansive definition of family (i.e. more people to whom they had personal commitments to fulfill) and a stronger commitment to religious and cultural activities. I think this has to in part reflect the subset of firms sampled. The most profitable firms are in larger legal markets, read New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc. After spending a year in the South, I suspect that the same might not be true in smaller markets.
Again, there's a lot to process here and I recommend reading the full report.