I'm not sure whether I should feel slightly uplifted or dejected by the new study on diversity by the New York City Bar Association. Based on responses from 74 firms that signed the bar's statement of diversity principles, the study spotlights a few pockets of progress, threaded against a familiar story of stagnation.
First, the one bit of unalloyed good news that popped out of the study: New York's gay lawyers are on a roll. While women and minorities are seeing ups-and-downs in their numbers, it's all upwards for gay lawyers. The report says:
Gay attorneys continued their gradual ongoing trend of increased representation through time. Openly gay attorneys represented 3.6 percent of all attorneys across signatory firms in 2011, rising from 3.1 percent in 2010 and from 1.6 percent in 2004, the first year in which the NYC bar began tracking diversity data. By level, openly gay associates at 4.1 percent outpaced openly gay partners (2.5 percent).
Now 3.6 percent might not seem like a huge number, but it's notable, considering that NALP reports that there are only 1.88 percent openly LGBT lawyers nationally. The takeaway, obviously, is that New York firms rate pretty high on the gay-friendly barometer.
For women and minorities, though, the progress has hardly been linear. In a nutshell, all those lofty goals that the signatory law firms pledged to meet (such as hiring, retaining, and promoting women and minorities to partnership and leadership positions) remain elusive. Here's how things stacked up among the signatory firms:
- Women gain some and lose some. Women made up 18.3 percent of partners in 2011—a historical high. At the associate level, though, the rate of female lawyers dropped (from 45.1 percent in 2010 to 44.5 percent in 2011).
- Women and minorities aren't sticking around for partnership. "Despite efforts to retain the diversity of senior associates among new partner promotes, women attorneys declined from 44.4 percent to 33.0 percent, and minority attorneys from 18.7 percent to 16.8 percent, of senior associates elected to firm partnerships in 2011," says the report.
- Black lawyers are losing ground at all levels—associates, special counsel, and partners. From 2009 to 2011, Black lawyers' representation declined from 3.4 to 3.1 percent. (Hispanics and Asian American lawyers have rebounded since the recession.)
- Women—particularly white women—are primary users of part-time work arrangements. One in 10 women use this option versus one in 100 men. The breakdown is 12 percent of white women, 4.5 percent of women of color, and about 1 percent men use the reduced-hour option. "Despite the need, women of color report great reluctance to work less than full-time."
In certain areas, women are making gains while minorities are falling behind. For instance, the study notes that women are making gains on management committees and as heads of practice groups, while minority lawyers saw declines in those same areas.
This is a complicated report that seems to present nuggets of progress under an overlay of discouraging news. As I said, gay lawyers seem to be the only group in this report that should be cheering. And, of course, that bunch that shall not be named—white males (which could includes gays)—are presumably doing just dandy too.
The Careerist is honored to be named a Top 100 Blog by the ABA. Please vote for it here as your favorite in the category of "Careers and Law Schools."