Everyone needs to read this Fortune article- Why Race and Culture Matter in the C-Suite. The article discusses some experience black executives (men) have had in relation to their race. It’s pretty stark. There are very few who have successfully climbed the corporate ladder and those who did make it don’t feel like they fit in with the culture or other executives. That feeling of isolation is largely due to those with power making them know that they don’t fit in. In summary, it’s lonely at the top and many end up quitting to create their own entrepreneurial path.
This article provides fantastic information for Latinas pursuing careers in the law—especially those interested in private practice at medium-to-large firms. While our experiences are all different because we come from different histories and forms of privilege we can learn from these executives because much of what they experience will be similar to situations we may face. Right now, less than 1% of law firm partners are Latinas. Less than 1%! So the culture and requirements to make partner won’t be easy for a Latina to endure. And I don’t mean the standards are so high we can’t meet them; rather, the culture to accept Latinas as peers and to view us as capable, competent professionals is simply just not there. The example of the CEO for Kaiser highlights this problem. He explains how he was partnered with a white doctor and found every step to be a struggle until the white doctor finally admitted to him that he didn’t know how to treat him as a peer because he had never worked with a black man in that capacity (!). The doctor was being brutally honest, but he espoused a real truth. White men in positions of power rarely have to interact with people of color as peers. That will impact how they view and treat us. Imagine how many law firm partners feel the same way about Latinas? If we’re mostly seen as administrative assistants or paralegals (on a good day), how likely are we going to be viewed as up-and-coming leaders?
It’s no wonder so many Latinas end up forging their own path and opt to become solos…
But I don’t say this to be a negative Nancy. While I am bias towards public interest, I am fully supportive of those wanted to climb the corporate ladder and find success in the private sector (really, that is an uprising on its own!). Obviously, I can’t offer solutions to this problem because I can’t cure racism and sexism (shocker, I know).
Instead, I encourage those interested in private practice to go into it with open eyes. You may be accepted with open arms, but be cautious of the glass ceiling. Those in power make it a point to highlight our flaws and failures so that we think we can’t cut it rather than admit they place barriers–consciously and unconsciously—that make it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for us to overcome them and advance.
Go into your career with eyes open and take a proactive approach to your career. Make short-term and long-term goals so that you are as in charge as possible. And have Plan A and B so that you can craft a happy and successful career.
For those in private practice, what steps are you taking to make sure you advance in your practice?