The statistics about pay equity among the sexes remain stark and eye-opening: black women earn 61 cents for every dollar earned by their white male counterparts. Native American women earn 58 cents to every dollar and Latina women earn 53 cents. Meanwhile white women and Asian women earn 77 and 85 cents, respectively. A recent study found 85% of women of color quit big law within seven years citing reasons feeling a sense of not belonging and lack of access to equal opportunity.
Pay equity is one aspect of equal opportunity, which was the topic explored at the 2020 Constance Motley Baker Symposium, on Monday Jan. 28 at the New York State Bar Association Annual Meeting.
Panelists at the event discussed ‘How to Increase Equality at Work for Women of Color.’ Panelists Karen Grey (A+E Networks Group), Betty Ng, (Inspiring Diversity LLC) and Mirna M. Santiago (Girls Rule the Law!), each shared personal experiences of microaggressions and unconscious biases occurring in the workplace, while also discussing how workplaces can continue to improve in the areas of diversity and inclusion.
Despite woefully inadequate pay equity and retention statistics regarding women of color in the law, hope is not lost. As noted by Rawia Ashraf in her opening remarks, “Just the mere existence of a panel like this, talking about this subject is proof that progress is indeed being made.”
Being An Ally
Recent studies have found that in the legal profession 90% of equity partners are white males, so when opportunities present themselves, men should play the role of ally.
“Making a conscious push to elevate women of color, it’s a matter of people saying ‘we’re going to do this,’” said Santiago who also serves as co-chair of the Committee on Diversity & Inclusion.
She then gave State Bar President Hank Greenberg a shout-out for his announcement from this past June that all 59 NYSBA committees, task forces and working groups will be chaired, co-chaired or vice-chaired by women, people of color or other individuals who represent diversity.
Acts like this are the exact types of steps allies should be taking, according to Santiago and borrowing the popular NIKE slogan, she implored attendees to ‘just do it.’
Light Bulb Moments
Creating alliances, giving people opportunities to be a part of meetings and seeking their counsel in areas where they have expertise are all realistic steps that can be taken in workplaces in every business sector to foster a more inclusive environment.
“Create light bulb moments,” said Ng. “Simply by showing how diversity with inclusion impacted your team positively is enough. Share the success stories of diversity within your community, they will help influence positive biases.”
Grey puts it plain terms to potential clients telling them, “It’s just smart business to hire diverse teams, putting it in business language that diversity is important to you, can go a long way.”