In today’s global business, it is increasingly critical to recognize the value of diversity and inclusion. The majority of law firms that I consult with share that they understand the instrumental benefits that a diverse workforce brings to growing their practice, at the same time, there is still a low percentages of diversity within attorneys, especially at the partner levels.
The National Association for Law Placement in 2017 surveyed 112,000 partners and associates in 1,064 offices. Their report shows a very slight increase in diversity for attorneys from 2009 to 2017. The table below summarizes their findings for women, minority, and minority women attorneys. The percentage of women partners increased from 19.21% in 2009 to just 22.70% in 2017. The increase is also as minimal for minorities and minority women attorneys. While the women associate percentage is at a healthy 45.48%, this percentage drops significantly to 19.21% at the partner level. These numbers validate that the law firms that were surveyed have been actively recruiting entry level women attorneys, which is great, but there is definitely a significant gap when it comes to promotions, career path, and retention that need to be addressed.
The two table below show a low percentage of attorneys that belong to the Asian, Black/African American, and Hispanic ethnic groups, and also show that the numbers are even significantly lower for women attorneys. The challenge is that the percentages of associates that represent these groups are low to start with, which does not create a strong pipeline for future diverse talent. The same pattern of minimal percentage increase from 2009 to 2017 applies to this group of attorneys as well, and the percentages significantly drop from the associate levels to partner levels across the board.
Regarding attorneys with disabilities and LGBTQ+ individuals. The percentages below highlight the stagnation of opportunities for those with physical handicaps and different sexual orientations. Diversity trainings tend to focus on topics such as gender and race; however, we should not let these topics overshadow smaller minorities! Diversity illuminates the value of each and every individual, underscoring the need for more inclusion of these smaller groups in the workforce.
These numbers highlight the issue with the initiatives of incorporating diversity in the workplace. Current initiatives often revolve around mandatory training sessions which emphasize quotas, leading to a fear of change and sense of loss in some employee’s minds. These sessions often seem like checking a box for diversity, viewing this topic as something to check off the list for the year. This is counterintuitive to the actual process of increasing diversity in law firms.
Throughout this blog series, we will further explore the true benefits of diversity, learning more about the effects of a varied and accepting workforce on company creativity, innovation, and profits. This will bring us to discussions on tips to create a diverse law firm, highlighting methods to increase acceptance, respect, and value in unique individuals. While these statistics illustrate the subpar reality of diversity in the current climate, we can utilize this information to spur a change in the law industry, making the conscious effort to create a welcoming and inclusive workforce!