By Anonymous • February 23, 2018
A few weeks ago, all the first-year law students at Harvard Law attended a lecture about a study called “The Women and Men of Harvard Law School: Preliminary Results from the HLS Career Study.” This lecture included many statistics that surprised and disappointed many of the female students. As it turns out, the patriarchy does not care if you have a shiny and overpriced degree from an elite school. Harvard Law women are not immune to the clout of the wage gap.
But missing from the presentation was an analysis of race. Where do female lawyers of color fit into the picture? My roommate is Mexican, and she once asked me on average how long it takes for one to make partner at a law firm. “Maybe seven years?” she guessed. “Probably longer for us,” I joked. “They don’t let Mexicans and the Chinese in at the top.”
Every study that explores the diversity of partners and senior associates at law firms reach the same conclusions. Women are less likely to make partner than men. Lawyers of color are less likely to make partner. If it is a particularly good study, it will show that female lawyers of color make partner least often. In one America Bar article, Paulette Brown of Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge noted that she was one of only three black female partners in all of New Jersey.
We, as women of color, know these statistics. We know the odds are against us. We know that sometimes we will face doubt and undeserved criticism before we even get a chance to speak. And yet we are working our way up to various powerful positions anyway.
So, when professors at Harvard Law ask, “How will you push for a more diverse future?” I must take a pause and wonder to whom they are speaking! Women of color are pushing for a more diverse future simply by existing and shoveling out the road for our own success. We are chasing after opportunity after opportunity, always striving to prove our worth.
The question that the hypothetical Harvard Law professor should be asking is “What will I do to make a more equitable and diverse future?” Granted, some professors already do try to level out the playing field by deliberately choosing to not call on white male students during class. These rare professors reason that the white men already have plenty of opportunities to speak up.
Other professors, however, can say egregious things without truly considering the sensitivities of the students. And it comes as a surprise to no one that sensitivity training is not a requirement for the Harvard professors. I can only speak about the law professors because I haven’t worked at a law firm. But if the professors’ culture is any indication, female lawyers of color going into the big law firm life will face microaggressions and discrimination, as per usual.
The responsibility of raising women of color lies with the people who have the power. The ABA’s Commission on Women in the Profession revealed that 43.5 percent of women missed out on a desirable assignment because of their race or gender. The partners who gave out these assignments should know better, and the partners’ male and/or white peers should have known better or called them out on it. Furthermore, 42.6 percent of female lawyers of color reported that they felt their face or gender hindered the development of client relationships. So, white and/or male peers can be generous with their invites of their female colleagues of color when meeting a client or taking extra steps to introduce them to clients.
Women of color simply by working to improve their own lives are already at maximum capacity to make the world a more equitable place. The question really is what male and white peers are doing to advance the same goals.
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