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 American Bar Association offers a Bias Interrupters toolkit
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.
Diversity and inclusion is a priority at the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers
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.”
Growing up in a landscape defined by systemic racism deeply embedded into American culture, I am particularly sensitive to issues of access and inclusion. And yet, I am too aware that we can have the best of intentions and still not be as inclusive as we’d like.
As an organization, IACP is determined to be as inclusive as possible. At the same time, we cannot control who decides to join. There is a deeper issue at play, and one which we may not have nearly as much impact – how many minority audiences choose to become attorneys.
The IACP is an international organization, which expands our view of inclusion and diversity beyond the borders of the United States. And there are so many aspects to diversity. It’s not just about race.
It’s also about gender, sexuality, socioeconomic factors, age and more. We want true inclusion, across defining characteristics to be a truly representative profession and industry.
When the Equity and Inclusion committee formed three years ago, it was an area that I saw having a real need for diversity. We were all white, middle to upper class attorneys sitting around a pretty homogeneous table. How could we combat racism?
Our clientele was pretty white, too. How were we going to educate people? What strategies would we use to reach out to other communities and bring people in?
I joined this crusade because I saw it as an opportunity to get in at the base line level and really have an impact.
These days, a lot of DEI work feels like it’s the “in” thing to do. When people are marching on cities in the name of Black Lives Matter, it would be natural to take a closer look at areas that lack diversity.
But it’s not that for me. It’s not a trend or a bandwagon to jump on. This is part of who I am.
I believe in all people, and I believe all Americans should have access and entry to the industries and communities they desire.
When I was in elementary school in the 1960s and 1970s, my school principal was African American. I didn’t realize how groundbreaking that was at the time, for I was just a small girl, but looking back I am awestruck by the foresight that my school had in hiring a Black man to lead our school.
Both details – that he was African American and that he was male – are significant. So many educators were women and of course most were white.
Seeing a man of color in a powerful position, guiding children from the youngest, most impressionable ages through to adolescence, leaves an indelible mark on what matters and who should lead.
From my young vantage point, I didn’t see any of this, of course. I just saw a kind man who was nice to me and had a smile for every child in the building. I had no idea what a pioneer he was or that it was a landmark role for my community.
I know all the intellectual and emotional reasons sociologists will cite, but deep down in my soul, I cannot understand it.
I sometimes feel like as an individual, I am so unable to make an impact or truly make lasting, tangible change in this area, at a high level. I’ll admit, sometimes I feel kind of helpless.
Of course, I could just resign myself to my little homogeneous bubble and go on with life. But I won’t. I can’t. I must do what I can to make even the slightest difference, in my profession, in my community, in my life.
It’s not who I am to ignore what is happening around me. This country needs righting, and I’ll do my part to make it happen.