Diversity in Leadership Roles
Top leadership diversity positively correlates with higher financial performance and innovation. Beyond simply being a wise business decision, a diverse organizational leadership structure demonstrates an entity’s values to its workforce, clients, stakeholders, and community. Across all employment sectors, attorneys in leadership roles mentor, advise, and provide access to information and opportunity. When these leaders are diverse and demonstrate a commitment to inclusion and diversity, they can drive a workplace culture that supports the recruitment, retention, and advancement of a diverse workforce.
The 2021 attorney census contained several questions regarding workplace roles and responsibilities. The analyses below explore: (1) the demographic composition of executives, (2) issues unique to law firm partners/shareholders, and (3) demographic differences in responsibility for attorney supervision, hiring, and promoting.
Among all attorneys, 42 percent are executives (see table 2). Law firms stand out as the sector that provides the most opportunities for an executive role, with 56 percent of law firm attorneys reporting that their primary position is an executive. In contrast, only one in five attorneys who work in the government sector report serving in an executive role.
Women of color are underrepresented among executives.
Figure 17 compares the demographic composition of executives with the composition of attorneys statewide and at law firms, corporations, and in the government and nonprofit sectors. Racial/ethnic and gender disparities among executives are driven mainly by patterns among white men and women of color. White male attorneys comprise 40 percent of attorneys statewide yet are 48 percent of all executives. In contrast, women of color are 17 percent of total attorneys and 12 percent of executives. These patterns persist across all sectors, including the nonprofit sector, where women of color comprise 31 percent of staff yet only 25 percent of nonprofit executives.
Figure 17. Racial/Ethnic and Gender Composition of Executive Leaders by Sector
A Closer Look: Diversity in Law Firm Leadership
The analyses below explore law firms’ unique leadership roles focused on partners and shareholders. Law firm partners and shareholders have varying titles and degrees of responsibility depending on the structure and organization of the firm. Generally, a partner/shareholder at a law firm will have managerial or supervisory responsibilities, including the authority to hire, fire, promote, and set compensation for employees. Learn how partners/shareholders are defined.
People of color and women are underrepresented among law firm partners and shareholders.
Women comprise 42 percent of all law firm attorneys yet 30 percent of law firm partners and shareholders (see figure 18). Racial disparities among law firm partners/shareholders are driven mainly by differences between white men and women of color. For example, white men comprise 42 percent of all law firm attorneys yet are 55 of law firm partners and shareholders. In contrast, women of color are 16 percent of law firm attorneys yet comprise just 9 percent of partners and shareholders. The difference for white women is not as large (26 percent versus 22 percent), and there is little difference for men of color.
Law firms vary by partnership structure. For example, equity partners/shareholders own portions of the firm, while nonequity partners do not. Attorneys who indicated they were partners/shareholders at their law firms were asked about the specific types of partners/shareholders.
Figure 19 explores racial/ethnic and gender identity variation in the types of partners/shareholders. Nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of all partners/shareholders are equity partners/shareholders. White men and men of color are more likely to be equity partners/shareholders than white women, women of color, and nonbinary attorneys of color.
Attorneys who were not partners/shareholders at their law firms were asked, “Are you on a partner track?” Overall, 44 percent of law firm attorneys who are not partners or shareholders report being on track to becoming partners, with men more likely to do so than women and nonbinary attorneys. The lack of variation between white attorneys and attorneys of color in the aggregate masks the variation observed when exploring the intersection of race/ethnicity and gender. White women, women of color, and nonbinary attorneys of color are less likely to be on a partner track than white men, men of color, and white nonbinary attorneys.
Supervising, Hiring, and Promoting Other Attorneys
Leaders who supervise, hire, and promote other attorneys are gatekeepers to the profession. Supervisors can offer challenging and exciting work assignments and provide the mentorship, guidance, and feedback crucial to advancement.
Figure 21 explores employment sector variation in the responsibility to supervise, hire, and promote other attorneys. Among all attorneys, 42 percent supervise attorneys, and 29 percent hire and promote attorneys. Law firms provide the most opportunities for a supervisory role, with over half of all law firm attorneys reporting that they have this responsibility. In contrast, the government sector stands out again as the sector that provides the least leadership opportunities, with only one in five attorneys reporting they are responsible for hiring and promoting other attorneys.
Women, nonbinary attorneys, and attorneys of color are less likely to supervise, hire, and promote other attorneys than white men.
Figure 22 explores variation in the share of attorneys who supervise, hire, and promote other attorneys by the intersection of race/ethnicity and gender identity. Two patterns stand out for both roles. First, white men are more likely to be in these roles than all attorneys. Second, the difference in the percent of attorneys who have these roles is largest between white men and women of color. For example, nearly half of white male attorneys (49 percent) supervise other attorneys compared with one-third of women of color attorneys (31 percent), an 18-percentage point difference. In addition, over one-third (35 percent) of white men hire and promote other attorneys compared with just one in five women of color (22 percent), a difference of 13 percentage points.
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