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Overcoming Gender and Racial Bias in the Legal Profession

As millions of people across the world are facing their own internal struggles regarding bias, injustice, and systemic prejudices, it is incredibly important to address bias in the workplace. It is vital to acknowledge that biases exist in every aspect of life—including the legal profession. Some of the most harmful biases in the legal profession affect those individuals in racial and gender minority groups.

Specifically, women and people of color in the legal profession face barriers in hiring, promotions, assignments, as well as compensation. In 2018, the American Bar Association (ABA) and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) partnered to conduct a study designed to reduce the effects of bias in law.[1] For example, the study showed that there was an implicit bias to presume that women of color were not lawyers; women lawyers of color were eight times more likely than white men to report that they had been mistaken for janitorial staff, administrative staff, or court personnel.[2]

The study also indicated that women in the law firm were criticized if they acted too masculine or exhibited too much femininity. These women, of all races, said they felt like they had to walk a “tightrope” concerning their behaviors at work[3]. They reported pressure to behave “in feminine ways,” and they received backlash for attempting to be a team leader or being assertive–behaviors stereotypically linked to males.[4] They were more often saddled with “administrative tasks,” like taking notes, ordering lunch, or comforting a co-worker in distress.[5]

Bias is a complicated issue, as it can either be an unconscious or a learned behavior.[6]  Many times, it is a result of deep-seated systemic issues concerning traditional racial and gender roles in the workplace.[7]  Without conscious self-reflection and a culture that inspires you to examine that bias, many never realize it exists.[8] That is why it is not only important for law firms to acknowledge diversity issues, but firms need to embrace diversity and inclusion into its core system of beliefs and values. Not embracing diversity is a missed opportunity for any law firm.

Diverse lawyers bring diverse opinions; diverse teams make better decisions; and a more diverse and equitable legal industry drives more innovative and creative solutions. Moreover, clients today seek out firms that intentionally promote an inclusive environment. Ultimately, overcoming gender and racial biases by truly embracing diversity and inclusion is the key to creating a positive law firm culture, improving profitability, and promoting the company’s growth.

Tujuana McGee, Director
Office: Atlanta, GA | 678-951-1500