Black lawyers are much more likely than Asian colleagues to say that racial injustice has held them back in their careers, a survey has found.
A majority of Black lawyers said that negative attitudes to the Black Lives Matter movement were also acting as a barrier to their ability to make progress.
The survey by Thomson Reuters, the Association of Corporate Counsel and Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals, was based on responses by over 400 lawyers, mainly in the US and UK. More than half of them (54%) were working in-house, and 68% were female.
The Black Solicitors Network, General Counsel for Diversity & Inclusion and Lawyers in Local Government were the UK organisations that were involved by sending the survey to their members.
Responding to a question on which factors over the past 12 months, apart from Covid-19, had reduced their ability to develop and progress their careers, the most common factor for ethnic minority lawyers was racial injustice (34%).
White lawyers were more likely to blame other unspecified reasons (38%), followed by ‘caregiver responsibilities’ (21%).
When the US sample was broken down, 68% of Black lawyers cited racial injustice as the biggest single factor, compared to 44% of Asian lawyers and 11% of White lawyers.
Male lawyers were more likely to complain of racial injustice than female lawyers (36% compared to 30%), while female lawyers were more likely to complain about anti-Asian bias (10% compared to 6%).
Asian lawyers were far more likely than other groups to say that caring responsibilities had held them back.
The second most common career barrier for Black lawyers was negative attitudes to the Black Lives Matter (57%) movement. This also had an impact on Asian lawyers (32%), almost half of whom experienced anti-Asian bias (44%).
When it came to their biggest concern about the impact of Covid-19 on increasing the representation of under-represented groups, the lack of external networking opportunities topped the table. This was cited by 57% of Black lawyers, 54% of Asian lawyers and 51% of White lawyers.
It was followed by inconsistency between what their organisation said and what it did. This was mentioned by 57% of Black lawyers, 46% of Asian lawyers and 36% of White lawyers.
Asian lawyers were most concerned about lack of access to professional development opportunities, a concern shared by their colleagues but not to the same degree.
Looking at the impact of the pandemic on their careers, the most frequently mentioned problem by all lawyers was the lack of in-person contact, followed by heavy workloads creating time pressure and caring responsibilities.
Turning to the solutions, researchers recommended that employers adopt hybrid working models “in perpetuity” and address the gap between communication and action.
Employers were advised to “address the need for business development and relationship building now” and devote more effort to inclusion, including taking a “critical opportunity to educate and inform White lawyers”, particularly at senior levels, about how much external issues impacted ethnic minority lawyers.
“Multiple support options offered by employers − such as coaching, employee assistance programs, and access to external caregiving support − can offer flexibility and the opportunity for all employees to uniquely address their needs at any given time.”