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Diversity has taken a front-row seat in terms of recruiting and retaining talented women lawyers, including women of color, in private law firm practice. Although diversity is commonly limited to the elements of race and ethnicity, it also embraces the element of gender. In fact, women, as a group, are shut out of opportunities much as are people of color. Today, both clients and employees have demanded that the workplace resemble the diversity of society, and some law firms have declared their commitment to attracting and retaining women and attorneys of color. In an era when talk of diversity and inclusion is common, maintaining diverse attorneys in law firms is the brass ring that has yet to be attained. It is no secret that women lawyers of color, through no fault of their own, have a more difficult time adjusting to law firm culture than any other group. In fact, the difficulties that women lawyers of color face when attempting to fit in are ultimately some of the reasons why they flee law firms. In the late 1990s, NALP, formerly the National Association for Law Placement, found that more than 75% of women associates of color left their jobs in private law firms within five years of being hired. See NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education, Keeping the Keepers-Strategies for Associate Retention in Times of Attrition (1998). This trend is gaining momentum; in 2005, 81% of women lawyers of color reported leaving their law firms within five years of being hired. See NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education, Toward Effective Management of Associate Mobility (2005). This comes at a time when more women of color are being hired. While not at the same alarming rates, all women are leaving their law firms in disparate numbers. It is a tale of two classes of lawyers. To answer the questions surrounding the mass exodus from the profession by women of color lawyers, the American Bar Association Commission on Women launched its Women of Color in the Legal Profession Research Initiative in 2003, employing the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago to conduct the research. The resulting report is a comprehensive study of the unique experiences and concerns of women of color who have worked in private law firms. See American Bar Association Commission on Women, Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms, Aug. 4, 2006, at 26. Invisibility The purpose of the study was to determine which factors had an impact on the career opportunities and trajectories of women attorneys of color, and their decisions to either remain or leave private practice. The report concluded that women lawyers of color routinely reported instances of being “invisible” to white attorneys and not being able to act as themselves, recognizing compensation disparities, being excluded from informal and formal networking opportunities and, lastly, experiencing failed mentorship relationships. There have been numerous studies concerning women attorneys. They reveal that women of color reported instances of being “invisible” to their white counterparts and feeling that they could not “be themselves.” This revelation is not surprising, since law firms are known to foster a particular “good old boy” culture that favors men. To minimize the impact of their physical differences, the women of color described times when they played down their gender and racial/ethnic identities. Some women of color tried to act like the men in their law firms and become “one of the boys” by playing down their femininity. All in all, the effort to assimilate to their respective firms’ values proved to be stressful, an added burden to the long hours and hard work their firms demanded. Many women lawyers of color reported that they were often mistaken for people of lower status: secretaries, court reporters and paralegals. A few women lawyers in upper management, although also underrepresented, conceded this point and suggested that women lawyers of color are most recognized when it is both convenient and favorable for the firm to flaunt its diversity. The stress that stems from this seemingly second-class citizenship in law firms has led many women of color to reconsider their career goals. Likewise, the stress of dealing with blatant salary disparities has also led to growing discontent among women lawyers of color. In the study, many reported that salary was a high priority for them. In fact, more than 70% of the surveyed women of color reported that they were the sole or primary wage earner in their household. In the survey, the women of color reported that in 2003 their gross salary was $157,290. This is a glaring disparity when compared to the average gross salary of $314,416 for white men for the same year. These figures substantiate the reality that attorneys of color are perceived as being less valuable than their white counterparts and are compensated accordingly. Inclusion in formal and informal networking opportunities is necessary for success in law firms. Unfortunately, nearly two-thirds of women attorneys of color, as compared with only 4% of white men, cited exclusion from networking opportunities as being prevalent in the workplace. In fact, in the ABA report 49% of women of color reported that they were denied informal or formal networking opportunities because of their race. Consequently, women lawyers of color reported experiencing bouts of loneliness and being deprived of the opportunity to form relationships with colleagues with whom they could share important career-related information. Additionally, women of color reported having mentors, but also maintained that their mentors did not ensure that they were integrated into the firm’s internal networks. By being excluded from networking opportunities, women of color understood that their career trajectories would continue to be limited in the law firm unless changes were made.
DIVERSITY ‘Invisible’ attorneys seek notice Senior attorneys fall by the wayside True diversity means putting the focus on retention Women hold the keys to their success The carrot didn’t work, so clients apply the stick Trying for an early start on the ‘diversity pipeline’

Lastly, women lawyers of color stressed that the role of women mentors in private law firms is also an area in need of improvement. All of the women of color featured in the ABA study recognized the importance of having a mentor, and the downside of not having a mentor or else having one to whom they could not relate on a personal or professional level. Approximately 67% of women of color reported wanting more and better mentoring by senior attorneys and partners. Informal mentorship Many law firms acknowledge that mentoring is an important aspect of attorney development, and have instituted formal mentoring programs. However, most of the women of color surveyed agreed that truly effective mentoring occurred when mentors and prot�g�s formed relationships more naturally. In fact, according to the study, women of color were the least likely to have been informally mentored by white men. This is probably the case because people tend to gravitate toward people who look and act like them. Currently in the legal profession, not many people in power are women of color; this makes successful mentorship relationships with associate women of color lawyers rare and difficult to sustain. To retain women lawyers of color in the profession, it is important that these initiatives are incorporated into each law firm’s fabric so that the law firm can benefit from the retention of talented and ambitious women lawyers of color. Looking at law a different way As a whole, women lawyers have created a niche for themselves in the legal profession. However, this is not enough when women continue to represent an insignificant presence in the upper reaches of law firms and law departments in corporations. Approximately 50% of lawyers entering the legal work force are women, but women comprise only 15% of the chief legal officers or partners in law firms. There has to be a reason why women are fleeing the profession for perceived “greener pastures.” The primary reasons that women are leaving can be traced to the glaring disparities between men and women relating to fair compensation, workplace environment, career development and mentorship. In order to close the gap on these differences, practicing attorneys as a whole have to begin to look at the law in a different way. Regarding fair compensation, women lawyers should be calling for fair pay. Today, corporations are demanding that their outside counsel provide diversity. Accordingly, they are requiring that law firms look at and provide talent that comes in all shapes, sizes and sexes to work on their matters. With this in mind, law firms ought to re-evaluate and redesign their compensation formulas to accommodate the value, perspective and diversity that women lawyers bring to law firms. Certainly, women lawyers deserve to be cut in on the actual work received by the client that expressed an interest in the firm’s diversity. Beyond that, women lawyers should be recognized for their fair share in the origination cycle of compensation as well. Compensation schemes Unfortunately, the cycle of unfair compensation relating to women lawyers is a vicious one. For example, when a woman has a family-specifically a husband and children-the family unit usually makes a decision as to which parent will stay at home. The easiest way to solve the problem is to decide that the lesser-paid parent will stay at home with the children. Generally, women have made and still make less money than men, and the legal profession is no exception to that fact. So it is no surprise that it is usually the wife who ends up leaving the workplace for family reasons and staying at home for an indefinite amount of time. Cycles like these, which encourage women to leave the profession, should no longer be tolerated. Firms would do well to adopt fair compensation schedules, since that is the single best way to make an employee, specifically a woman lawyer, feel her worth and obtain power at the same time. Since women lawyers are deemed worthy to law firms simply because they help the firm reach their diversity goals, the diversity component of obtaining and retaining business must be considered in firms when they are assessing and setting compensation. If diversity is truly valued, then the people who provide that diversity should be compensated for it. Similarly, the people in charge at law firms should also be rewarded when they promote diversity. And conversely, law firm leaders who do not promote diversity should be punished. Next, there is the issue of maintaining a flexible workplace environment in firms. Law firms need to do a better job at making alternative scheduling arrangements for lawyers, usually women, who are raising children or taking care of families. While technology has made working from home much easier, the key to making alternative work arrangements successful is having the full support of the law firm behind the flexible schedule programs. Law firms should also encourage women lawyers to become strong voices that help other women lawyers develop their own skills. Specifically, when women leave the legal profession, the firm should actively retain and encourage the remaining women lawyers to develop strategies to strengthen the firm’s desirability for women looking to re-enter the legal community and to evaluate the firm’s effectiveness in maintaining diversity. ‘Pay it forward’ Likewise, law firms should foster mentorship among women. Essentially, women lawyers, particularly those in upper management, must make a concerted effort to “pay it forward” and assist younger women lawyers in navigating their own path in the law. The women who have succeeded in the profession must act as mentors and nurture the younger women who are coming up through the ranks. Today, women lawyers of all backgrounds remain in a compromised position. Women are in demand for the benefits that they bring to law firms, but ignored as soon as they are no longer needed to pacify clients and attract other women lawyers, either majority or of color. It is time for law firms to take responsibility for the role they play in the mass exodus of women lawyers, particularly women lawyers of color, from the legal profession. Certain practices must be revamped in order for firms to take into consideration the unique concerns and circumstances that seem to trail all women throughout their entire legal careers. In order to retain women lawyers in the legal profession, it is important that these initiatives are incorporated into each law firm’s fabric, so that the law can benefit from the retention of talented and ambitious women lawyers. Paulette Brown is a partner in the labor and employment practice group at Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge of Boston, based in the firm’s Short Hills, N.J., office. She is a member of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession. She can be reached at [email protected] . Cathy Fleming, based in the firm’s New York and Short Hills offices, is a partner and chairwoman of its corporate integrity and white-collar practice and is the president of the National Association of Women Lawyers. She can be reached at [email protected] .

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