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How ironic: Despite their low status as minorities among minorities, women of color are resolute in their determination to get ahead. In fact, minority women tend to be much more ambitious than their white sisters and, in some cases, more than white men.

That ambition seems counterintuitive, considering how few minority women make it to equity partnership in Big Law (2.81 percent) or the C-suite of major corporations (3.9 percent). Yet that’s the revelation in the latest McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.Org study on women in the workplace. Consider these findings:

  • Minority women (76 percent or more, depending on ethnicity) are more likely than white women (68 percent) to seek advancement.
  • Some groups of minority women aspire to obtain promotions more than men (83 percent of Asian women and 80 percent of black women vs. just 75 percent of all men).
  • Asian women topped all groups of men and women in negotiating for raises and promotions (34 percent negotiated for raises and 44 percent for promotions vs. 29 percent and 36 percent for men, respectively).
  • More women of color than white women want to be a top executive (38 percent of black women, 44 percent of Latina women and 51 percent of Asian women vs. just 29 percent of white women)
While we might expect a gender divide in workplace attitudes, what’s jolting is the apparent ambition gap between women of color and white women. Though all women face enormous hurdles in reaching the top (remember, women make up only 20 percent of equity partners), white women dominate that select club. (The 2018 Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey found that white women are making gains in law firms.) If any group should feel encouraged about going for the brass ring, it should be white women. Why, then, are more of them hanging back while women of color are fighting the daunting odds?

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Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen is a senior columnist at The American Lawyer and the creator of The Careerist blog.

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