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Mentoring- The Key Answer to Women and Minority Retention

While working on my research regarding racial diversity (with a fascinating data set from America’s largest law firms), I came across an interesting article by Monique Payne-Pikus, John Hagan and Robert Nelson about race and retention in law firms. Whereas entry into a law firm is relatively easy, making it to the partner level is not. Particularly for women, and the statistics show this clearly. The numbers at for entry-level law firm employees are basically equal between men and women, but then women constitute only about 17% of a firm’s partners. For ethnic minority members (including African and Hispanic American), the numbers are even lower: about 10% of entering associates are minorities and they make up only 2% of partners. The ratio of minority associates to partner in American law firms is so spectacular that it has been called the “racial paradox” by Sander (2006).

The reason for women lawyers’ limited progress in the legal career track is commonly associated with their divided commitments between work and family. Yet, the explanation for the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities as partner is more puzzling. Only just recently, have their lower levels of advancement to partnership relative to entry associate level received attention from scholars and media. One of the assumptions is that it is due to affirmative action policies: minorities with lower grades might be hired out of law school, which begins a negative self-fueling spiral in their early career because firm partners might be more reluctant to mentor them, in turn contributing to lower performance expectations. This lack of partners’ support – both emotional and knowledge – undermines the subsequent career of these young minority lawyers. Limited partner contact and mentoring is increasingly recognized as the key source of dissatisfaction among minority lawyers as they decide to leave their law firm.

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