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07 September 2018 at 08:19 BST

Gender and racial bias in legal profession exposed by latest ABA Study

Women doing 'office housework'and women of colour mistaken for janitors are everyday biases in the legal workplace - ABA study says.


According to a new report by the American Bar Association (ABA), 25 percent of women surveyed said they had been sexually harassed at work, while women of colour experienced the highest level of bias.

‘Office housework’

Women respondents reported that they had less access to high-quality assignments and opportunities for promotion than their white male colleagues. The report also shows they are fifty percent more likely to be mistaken for administrative staff, court personnel or janitorial staff than white men. White women and women of color both reported doing more administrative tasks, such as taking notes or scheduling meetings, than white men. Jean Lee, president and CEO of The Minority Corporate Counsel Association, which co-sponsored the research, said ‘women tend to volunteer for office housework,’ rather than asking for volunteers, and suggested rotating ‘so men and women all have to take the role.’ The research was conducted by the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in conjunction with the MCCA and The American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession.

Patterns of bias

The research highlights four common patterns of bias faced by women and attorneys of color: ‘prove-it-again,’ in which women and people of color must work harder to prove themselves; ‘tightrope,’ in which women and people of color must conform to a narrow range of behavior to be deemed appropriate; ‘maternal wall,’ the bias against mothers; and ‘tug of war,’ which describes the conflict between members of disadvantaged groups. The 130-page report also includes detailed suggestions for how law firms and legal departments can interrupt biases in the workplace in order to increase diversity. Stephanie Scharf, chair of the ABA Women’s Commission, said ‘the top line takeaway is you need to analyse with metrics so there can be little question about what is currently happening in a given workplace,’ adding ‘if you don’t see change, use an iterative process until your metrics improve.’


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