Why do we Need to Focus on Diversity?

Do you wonder why your employer dedicates so many resources to diversity efforts? If so, you probably don’t want to think about adding inclusiveness initiatives to those efforts. These ideas aren’t important. There’s much more your company could be doing with its money and time.

However, diversity is important and we do have a problem within the legal industry.

As advocates such as the Center for Legal Inclusiveness push for more diversity and inclusiveness among legal organizations, you are not alone in asking why. Maybe you don’t think there is a problem, or you explain away the problem by saying diverse attorneys aren’t dedicated or skilled enough to be competitive.

Statistics State Otherwise

We have a number of statistics that point to a severe underrepresentation of highly qualified diverse attorneys in the legal profession. These groups include:

  • Women, who are especially under-represented at leadership levels
  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered people (LGBT)
  • Lawyers with disabilities 

Women in the Legal Profession

Although women comprise nearly 50 percent of law students, new census figures report women held only 34 percent of legal jobs, including lawyers, judges, magistrates and other judicial workers in 2010. The number is up from 29.2 percent in 2000; however, there are few women equity partners and wage gaps continue for women.

Racially and Ethnically Diverse Attorneys

According to the  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the legal profession has one of the lowest representations of racial and ethnic professionals.  Racial and ethnic minorities comprise approximately 37 percent of the U.S. population, but only 11 - 12 percent of all lawyers. Only 4 percent of partners in private practices are people from traditionally underrepresented groups, while in corporate America only 9.4 percent of general counsel are minorities.

LGBT Attorneys

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender attorneys represent approximately 2.3 percent of attorneys compared to an estimated 3.5 - 5 percent of the general population. However, this data is not conclusive. Very few attorneys of this demographic feel comfortable with identifying their sexual orientation in the workplace.

Lawyers with Disabilities

According to the ABA, only 6.8% of attorneys identify themselves as having a disability.  Many of these attorneys face barriers that affect their employability and compensation.

Diversity Issues Do Exist

The legal profession needs to recognize the lack of diversity among its employees and that the underrepresentation cannot be solely attributed to the diverse attorneys themselves. It is primarily the cultures  and structures of the legal employers that allow these high attrition rates to persist.

By continuing or ramping up diversity efforts and adding inclusiveness initiatives to these efforts, we can change our profession for the better. How will you focus on diversity?