Make America Equal Again: US legal profession lags on race and gender equality

August 23, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

New studies have revealed that lawyers in the USA suffer more gender and racial inequality than in the UK and Wales.

What does this mean?

For a country built on the notions of fairness, tolerance and opportunity, the USA has lagged behind on matters of equality for years. This has again been highlighted due to a recent 98-page study from the American Bar Association focussing on discrimination in the American legal profession. It concluded that positive evolution towards equality has taken place in almost all measured areas, but the rate of this evolution is extremely slow, and far behind the achievements of other comparable counties.

100 years after the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919, which enabled women to become lawyers, there is still a clear disparity between men and women in the workplace. 

The percentage of female lawyers in America has not changed in three years, remaining at 36%. Female lawyers in London earn 24% less than their male counterparts. In the US this gap is 53%. Globally, male partners are paid 27% more than female partners, and the gender pay gap in the US resulted in females being paid approx. 77% of a male’s salary. A roughly equal number of men and women enter the profession on the lower rungs of the ladder, but the percentage of women on each stage of the career ladder then steadily decreases.

The problem of race and ethnicity-based inequality is equally as stark, if not more so. Collectively, the number of ethnic minority lawyers grew three percentage points since 2009 and is now at 15% of all lawyers. 5% of lawyers are African American (unchanged in 10 years) compared with 13.4% of the population. Also, of the 22% of female judges in the United States State Court, only 8% are women of colour. The racial pay gap is wider than the gender pay gap, and it receives less media attention as well, allowing companies’ discriminatory practices to remain undetected.

What's the big picture effect?

Workplace inequality is a hugely important discussion point in today’s world. Proof that the world’s most powerful country is failing to progress in this area is a shocking truth to many, and a generally ominous sign that rapid improvement is not a priority for either industry or government. As well as the personal impact of undervalued individuals, research has shown that the gender and racial pay gap has negative effects on GDP per capita, as well as the wider economy.

The US has a very long way to go before gender and racial equality can be reached. Indeed, Melinda Gates, a world-expert on the subject, has predicted that at the current rate of progression, equality will not be achieved in America within the next 208 years. President Trump’s well-documented attitudes of sexism and racism can only hinder the nation’s movement towards a fairer society. The effects of his presidency on the above statistics are yet to be seen, but hopefully progress will continue at a faster rate in the future, to allow a fair and supportive working environment for everyone.

Report written by Eleanor Rickards

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