09:46, September 06 361 0 abajournal.com

2018-09-06 09:46:05
Race and gender bias is rampant in law, says new report that also offers tools to fight it

A new report details the endemic bias women and minority lawyers continue to face compared to their white male counterparts: But it also offers some new tools to disrupt the status quo.

“You Can’t Change What You Can’t See: Interrupting Racial & Gender Bias in the Legal Profession,” based on a 2016 survey of 2,827 in-house and firm attorneys, says current efforts to advance women and minorities have largely failed, and bias and discrimination—explicit and implicit—remain rampant.

The survey was conducted by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association.

“The implication of this report is that women and people of color have been invited into these high-stakes, high-status workplaces, like the law, but often are expected to play a very specific role,” says Joan C. Williams, a professor at Hastings and founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law. “They have to prove themselves more than white men, and are often expected to be worker bees who don’t grab the limelight or the highest compensation. And the same mistake can be more costly for a woman or person of color than the identical mistake for a white man.”

In the survey, women of color reported the highest level of bias, with 63 percent affirming they had to go “above and beyond” others in the workplace to receive the same recognition as colleagues, and 67 percent stating they were held to higher standards than colleagues. Nearly 70 percent said they were paid less than their colleagues with similar experience and seniority, compared to 36 percent of white men. White women also reported high disparities in compensation, with 60 percent responding they were paid less than similarly situated co-workers.

In contrast, 81 percent of white men felt they had equal access to high-quality assignments, and 75 percent believed they have been given fair opportunities for promotion. Study authors also note that men of color were subject to some of the same biases as women. For example, white men felt much more free to express anger at work than any other group, including minority men.

In addition to gender bias, the report also documents sexual harassment at work, a topic that’s gained awareness and national attention but continues to affect women at all levels in every industry. One quarter of female lawyers said they had encountered some form of unwelcome sexual advances or harassment at work, and 70 percent said they’ve dealt with sexist comments, stories and jokes.

“None of this was a surprise to me—all of it, the good the bad and the ugly,” says Jean Lee, president and CEO of the MCCA. “We’ve done a lot of research in different states, and this is probably one of the most groundbreaking research studies we’ve embarked on.”

The report includes a “Bias Interrupters Toolkit” offers incremental steps that “tweak basic business systems to produce measurable change in behaviors and outcomes” through an “evidence-based, metrics-driven” approach to interrupting bias. The research was developed for law firms and in-house departments by the Center for WorkLife Law.

“The solution is to interrupt bias in business systems so you stop constantly transmitting bias in hiring, assignments, performance evaluations,” Williams said.

Lee acknowledges that diversity work is a long process, but says the toolkit “will give you some quick tips to implement in your department or law firm. This will hopefully get the momentum started.”

ABA President Bob Carlson said in a news release that the report paints a stark picture. But “the remedies it suggests—using metrics to encourage fairness—will lead the way to better employment practices and greater diversity, which will benefit the entire legal profession and our clients.”