The opinions expressed in entries in the LC Blog are those of the author, not of Lawyers Club of San Diego.
In recent years the concepts of diversity and inclusion have been popping up like mushrooms as new concepts despite being first recorded in the United States in the 13th and 15th century, respectively. These concepts, however, continue to move at a snail’s pace in all aspects of our society. Consequently, people of color are under-represented across many aspects of our society including the legal community. This is troubling.
It is troubling because purposeful efforts to increase diversity and inclusion are worth the return on investment for everyone involved. (See Mason Donovan & Mark Kaplan, The Inclusion Dividend: Why Investing in Diversity Inclusion Pays Off 2nd edition (2019)). Donovan and Kaplan define diversity as “the presence of difference” and inclusion as “the extent to which diverse groups have a seat at the table and are able to bring their best contributions.” Combined, these definitions demonstrate that diversity is about the human differences present in the decision-making hierarchy of any organization because “innovation is directly linked to a diverse, inclusive environment”. (Ibid.)
When we apply these definitions to the legal community the current outlook begs for improvement. The 2020 Chambers Associate Survey of Ethnic Minorities in Associate and Partner Positions found that only four of 107 firms surveyed had between 25% - 29% ethnic minorities in partner positions. Moreover, only one of 107 firms had above 50% of its associates as ethnic minorities. When we apply the women filter the disillusion continues. 11 of 107 firms had between 21% - 27% women partners, and six of 107 firms had between 50% - 52% women associates.
These dismal statistics are compounded by the fact that women of color leave the legal profession at a faster and greater rate than their white counterparts. A June 2020 report from the American Bar Association, Left Out and Left Behind: The Hurdles, Hassles and Heartaches of Achieving Long-Term Legal Careers for Women of Color affirmed that “…many women of color  want to leave the profession because they see the disparity between themselves and their white counterparts…and those who do enjoy the work in their current environment and being a lawyer nevertheless view the playing field as not equal…”
Undoubtedly, the statistics and anecdotal information reveal that law firms have to effectuate change to retain women of color as lawyers and to create a firm culture that promotes genuine diversity and inclusion in all facets. Subsequently, the return on investment for both law firms and women of color will move upwards. On October 15, join us as we learn more about such upward mobility that historically has been connected with women of color as change agents for social justice. I hope to see you then.
-Article first published in LC News, October 2020
Yahairah Aristy is a Deputy Public Defender, and is the 2020-2021 president of Lawyers Club of San Diego.