“I can’t believe I had to learn about these amazing and brilliant women from a movie! Why didn’t we learn about them in school?” lamented an African American friend and colleague. I felt the same way when I saw the movie Hidden Figures, a true story about the African American female mathematicians, scientists, and engineers who worked at NASA in the early days of the space program in the mid-twentieth century. They pushed against humiliations inside and outside their workplace, including racial segregation in their schools, dining rooms, bathrooms, and work spaces. They worked with lesser titles and large pay inequities to perform calculations of orbital trajectories and to solve engineering problems, making space travel possible.
Women have enrolled in law school in equal numbers with men in the United States for the last twenty years, and minority enrollment has also steadily increased during this period. Recent studies, compiled into a series of articles by New York Times reporter Elizabeth Olson show both good news and bad news about the current status of women and minorities in law firms.
Olson reports good news based on a study by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). This study shows that women and minorities made small gains in 2016:
- Women made up 22.13 percent of partners, up from 21.46 percent in 2015.
A new study by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey finds little progress in advancement for women in the largest companies. This study of 132 companies employing 4.6 million people includes a review of the pipeline data of the companies, a survey of HR practices, and surveys of 34,000 employees about attitudes on gender, job satisfaction, ambition, and work-life issues.
Key Findings: The Current State
First, let’s take a look at key findings from the study:
- Women remain underrepresented at every level. For every 100 women promoted to manager, 130 men are promoted. This disparity begins early and grows larger with only 20 percent of SVP roles held by women, which results in very few women in line to become CEO.
Exciting new research reported in the New York Times from Columbia University and the University of Texas provides much needed evidence that racial and ethnic diversity on teams improves performance. While I have always felt the truth of this finding from my own experiences, it is good to see empirical evidence that supports the practice of inclusion. This new research, added to other studies showing that gender diversity also improves performance, should encourage more intentional inclusion of race and gender diversity on teams and in classrooms.