I was thrilled to join the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) and even more eager to become part of an executive committee on diversity and inclusion – mostly because representation in family law has a long way to go.
A 2018 study by the American Bar Association revealed that there is still widespread gender and racial bias in hiring, promoting, assigning and compensating attorneys in America. In fact, 58 percent of women attorneys of color and half of white women lawyers said they have been mistaken for administrative staff or janitors. Only seven percent of white male lawyers said the same.
If the legal profession is disproportionately populated by white men, then how can clients in need of legal support who find themselves in other racial or gender camps find adequate representation? How can their cases be adequately understood by those who take them on?
The ABA study – titled You Can’t Change What You Can’t See – is an important step in identifying trends so that we can wake up our colleagues and ourselves and improve this profession for a diverse future. In the study, women of color reported the highest level of bias in almost every workplace process.
Whether it’s facing higher (double) standards than their white, male colleagues, having to work harder and longer for the same compensation and recognition, or being passed over for promotions, this profession is truly lagging behind in recognizing equity issues and acting on them.
In response to the findings, the ABA included a Bias Interrupters Toolkit in the survey report to help firms get up to speed.
While I am a woman and face some of these inequities, I understand that my colleagues of color face even more. All of us would benefit from learning about the experiences of our colleagues and also gaining training to improve workplaces, promote equity and fairness, and gain awareness of implicit biases that could impede fair representation for our clients.
One way to learn more would be to listen to a podcast interview with Kiilu Davis on racism and discrimination in family law. Mr. Davis is an Arizona family law attorney who is a former chair of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers’ Diversity Committee. Listen to the episode here.
Mr. Davis shares this important assertion from the interview:
“There’s a lack of understanding about cultural differences and what makes us different – which is really a pitfall. As a family law judge, you might have a crucifix on your bench. Might that make some people uncomfortable?”
“We have built-in cultural and implicit biases, and it’s hard to set aside biases that you may not even know that you have. We must continue to educate individuals about these biases.”