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Underpaid and Underestimated: How Women Of Color in Law Are Still Fighting For Equality

In most countries, women are afforded equal rights to men. They can work, vote, and own property. These rights have enabled women to showcase their admirable talents on a global stage. However, discrimination can never be fully solved through legislation. Women in a variety of settings still face harassment, sexism, and limited career opportunities. For women of color, these instances only become more frequent, as history shows that white men, followed by white women, are allowed the most privileges in America. That isn’t to say that women of color are unable to achieve their goals in life. Despite racism, sexism, and even harassment from other women, they have succeeded in the face of overwhelming challenges. Jany Martinez-Ward, the co-founder of The Ward Law Group, is one of those individuals.

As an attorney who has won millions in car accident lawsuits for clients, Jany has become a model for other Latina women and Hispanic immigrants. Her tenacity and determination to uplift her community proves unstoppable. One of her main goals, besides assisting Hispanic individuals in legal cases, is to provide more leadership opportunities for Latina women who dream of defending their people just as she did.

The legal sector is one of the oldest, most respected fields in the United States. It’s responsible for handling the most egregious acts of humanity and also shielding the innocent from unjust punishment. Considering the grave importance of legal protection, women of color should have clearer, more supported career trajectories in this field. Allowing women of color to join the field would result in diverse teams that can provide more innovative solutions to the country.

In the legal profession, the underrepresentation of women is at its highest. Male employees outnumber women on boards and in director and managing partner positions. A survey of 300 law firms revealed that women represent a mere 25% of law firm partners, making the male-to-female ratio 3 to 1. The gap only grows when women of color are considered. A report by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) shows that under 4% of law firm partners are women of color. Black and Hispanic women are the most underrepresented within this group. Their combined numbers comprise less than 1% of all law firm partners in the US.

More research suggests that the legal sector hasn’t progressed as much as other industries like medicine. As a result, bias toward all women, especially those of color, has persisted. This toxic culture causes long-term difficulties for women who want to enter the field.

It has already been documented that more than half of all white women-in-law have been mistaken for another position in the courtroom besides an attorney. Women of color experience this more often. Individuals are 8 times more likely to assume that women of color are administrative assistants, court reporters, or janitors.

The American Bar notes that 86% of lawyers were non-Hispanic white individuals in 2020. Despite the US ‘ diverse population, this majority has only decreased by 3% since a decade prior. In 2019, 60% of US residents were non-Hispanic whites, clearly showcasing the bias in the legal profession.

Data shows that in the last 5 years, women have consistently outnumbered male law students. If there is such a strong interest among women to enter law, why are they not receiving paid opportunities? Jany is even more interested in knowing why Latinas are the lowest-represented racial or ethnic group in the industry.

In some cases, cultural values may interfere with a woman of color’s choice to pursue law. However, these hurdles can be overcome through public awareness and exemplifying women of color who are already in these positions.

“As a Latina woman and immigrant in the United States, I faced constant challenges when pursuing my career in law,” says Jany. “I was mistaken for an assistant when I was a lawyer, and I was told by a close mentor that I shouldn’t consider entrepreneurship until I work for a man first. I was astonished at how judgemental and close-minded people could be. Those events took a toll on my confidence, but I was so committed to helping my family, and my community, that I used adversity as motivation. These blows ignited a fire in me that wanted to show my peers and the world that Latina women deserve a place in law, whether they believe it or not.”

Jany Martinez-Ward’s story of injustice is one of many. Billions of women around the world experience the same or worse conditions when working in the law field. Women’s rights have come a long way, but work must still be done. Jany has made it her mission to bring awareness to this problem by speaking out but has also put the practice into action at The Ward Law Group, where most of the leadership positions are held by women of color. Individuals like Jany and non-profit organizations need your support to build pathways for women of color to enter law. Bringing awareness to the barriers women of color face throughout their educational, professional, and personal lives is the most effective strategy for combating discrimination in the legal field.

Woman's World partners with external contributors. All contributor content is reviewed by the Woman's World editorial staff.

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