Examining hurdles, heartaches faced by women lawyers of color

A new report from the American Bar Association, “Left Out and Left Behind: The Hurdles, Hassles, and Heartaches of Achieving Long-Term Legal Careers for Women of Color,” reveals the experiences and challenges faced by women lawyers of color.

Although women of color comprise 14 percent of all associates, the percentage of women of color partners has remained
stuck below three-and-a-half percent.

The report, authored by social scientist Destiny Peery, past ABA president Paulette Brown and Chicago attorney Eileen Letts, shows that women lawyers of color surveyed were far more likely to want to leave the profession than their white colleagues.

In addition, those women were more likely to be subjected to both implicit and explicit bias and were more likely to report factors that blocked their “access to success,” including access to business development opportunities, being perceived as less committed to career and being denied or overlooked for promotion.

“‘Left Out and Left Behind’ is an ABA national study that looks at the ongoing challenges posed by the unique double bind of gender and race for women of color in the law,” ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said. “Everyone in the profession should read this report and implement the solutions offered, so women of color can finally be credited with the value they add to law firms and the practice of law, and law firms will fully recognize the tremendous talent assets they have within their ranks.”

An outgrowth of the ABA Initiative on Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law, the study includes input from 103 women of color who had graduated from law school 15 or more years before and participated in an online survey or one of 11 focus groups held in four cities. The report also includes revealing quotes from focus group participants, such as:

“Having to deal with assumptions of inferiority, intellectual or otherwise, and constantly having to prove myself no matter how
senior or qualified or experienced I am is something my white male peers do not have to do. It is psychologically exhausting.”  — mid-40s black woman

“As I hear others speak about how they realized what we were up against, I wish I’d had this conversation with all of you about 20 years ago because I have been able to place in context my experiences and have been validated by things that you have all said.”  — 60-year-old Asian woman

 “Left Out and Left Behind” outlines a number of concrete recommendations for law firms to keep women of color attorneys, including:

• Adopt best practices for reducing biases in decision-making
• Improve access to effective, engaged mentors and sponsors
• Go beyond recruitment to inclusion
• Incorporate an intersectional approach to addressing diversity and gender
• Create a more inclusive culture in the legal profession


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