The Situationist

Bias in Fortune 500 Legal Departments

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 29, 2012

From ABA:

Initial findings from the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession survey “Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Fortune 500 Legal Departments” found that women of color are underpaid, underestimated and undervalued.

According to an executive summary of the survey, “Sadly, female attorneys of color often are treated as second-class citizens in a profession that ironically is charged with the responsibility of ensuring justice and equality for all.”

Nine years ago, the Commission on Women in the Profession created its Women of Color Research Initiative, which has produced surveys to bring attention to the inequities women of color contend with in the profession.

The first phase of this initiative explored the career experiences of women of color in law firms. The current phase of the initiative focuses on those women in corporate law departments during four aspects of their careers: hiring, recruitment, retention and advancement.

So far, the survey has found that women of color did not experience bias in hiring, but as they progressed in their careers, they experienced it in the retention and advancement phases.

Lorelie S. Masters, the co-chair for the Women of Color Research Initiative Committee, said that other initial findings revealed that 48 percent of white men reported satisfaction with their careers in-house compared with 17 percent of African-American women. Though pleased with the decision to work for in-house Fortune 500 legal departments, African-American women’s overall satisfaction was significantly less.

The survey determined that compensation was a key factor in job satisfaction during each phase of a lawyer’s career. Masters said that one study highlighted that the pay gap in the beginning may start at a $2,000 annual difference between male and female associates earning up to $66,000 a year. She said, “We all understand, and certainly women of color as much as anyone, that compensation is a measure of how an organization values one’s contribution.”

The full report of the nationwide survey of 1,000 in-house lawyers at Fortune 500 companies will be published in the fall.

Related video from “Visible Invisibility: Top women lawyers of color share “best advice” for career advancement.

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