The COVID-19 pandemic brought about numerous changes in work dynamics: We traded our suit and tie for pajamas and slippers; We stopped commuting and now log in our working hours; We built global teams out of Zoom meetings and flexible schedules.
But convenience comes at a high cost: The declining presence of Latina talent in the workforce.
Coupled with other challenges such as increased responsibilities at home, isolation, and lack of a work-life balance, the pandemic limited Latinas’ ability to work. However, to say the pandemic is the sole culprit would be to deny the historic disadvantages women of color face rooted in the system. No, the pandemic has merely brought these issues to light.
Latinas exiting the workforce is a revealed problem with a significant impact beyond Hispanic populations. In the following post, we explain the reasons behind the loss of Latina talent in the workforce, particularly in the legal profession, and why you should care to do something about it.
Latinas’ forceful Great Resignation
Let this statistic sink in: Between March 2020 and March 2021, the number of Latina women in the workforce dropped by 2.74%—About 336,000 fewer Latinas. As of August 2022, the percentage of Latinas leaving the workforce as a result of household responsibilities has remained the same.
During the pandemic, another phenomenon called ‘The Great Resignation’ hit the workforce. The elevated rate at which workers voluntarily quit their jobs amid strong labor demand was not a coincidence; it was a whole economic movement.
As a response to burnout and exploitation at the workplace, many individuals prioritized their health and mental well-being over returning to the office. But this resignation trend has not been solely for voluntary reasons.
For Latinas, it was more about deciding between responsibilities at work and their duties at home. A report by the University of California, Los Angeles found that, between 2019 and 2020, the average time Latinas spent caring for children, elders, and other family members each day increased by 30%, while Latino men’s caregiving time fell by 25%.
These numbers reflect that Latinas were forced to take over COVID-19-related caretaking challenges rather than Latino men. As of August 2022, about 32% of non-employed Latinas reported that they had left a job due to child care, compared with 20% of women from other ethnicities.
Responsibilities at work vs. at home
Although this is a common expectation for women in general, due to their more traditional culture, Latina women face the challenge of bearing most of the household and childcare responsibilities.
Remote work didn’t help solve this disparity. Latinas, along with Black women, mothers, and parent caregivers, were mostly in work sectors that were shut down during the pandemic and couldn’t transition to remote work.
A news article by The Harvard Gazzette also stated that women of color were likelier to work in service jobs before the pandemic, and thus, were likelier to be laid off in its early months. Latina participation in the labor force has continued to lag despite the economy opening back up.
Where are the Latina women in law?
Latinas represent one in four women in the U.S. However, they comprise less than 2% of lawyers.
Let’s make this clear: There ARE Latina lawyers. Our marketing agency works with some of the most brilliant and successful Latina lawyers in Texas! But it is impossible to ignore the fact that Latinas suffer the lowest representation in the legal profession of any racial or ethnic group.
In a male-dominated industry, women in the legal field struggle to find opportunities and combat the structural barriers that prevent them from succeeding as lawyers. For Latinas, it is double the struggle.
Cultural and structural barriers
Numbers show that more women attend law school than men. Still, Latinas are underrepresented. While applicant and enrollment numbers have improved for Latinas in the last year, Latinas rated 5.8% of law degrees in 2020 compared to 12.4% of law degrees conferred to Latinos and women.
Coupled with machismo culture, Latinas face the country’s second-highest high school dropout rate, and gender and race bias in the workplace. Women are often mistaken for anything but the attorney when in a courtroom. A report by Forbes also shows that women lawyers of color are eight times more likely to be identified as administrative assistants, court reporters, or janitors.
Against all odds, there are Latina lawyers pushing through these cultural and structural barriers that have traditionally isolated them from the legal profession.
Why we need Latinas in the workforce
It’s a no-brainer that promoting Latina talent in the workforce is beneficial for the economy. Latina representation matters to everyone because diversity is shown to promote creativity, analysis, and critical thinking that leads to solutions.
This is especially true in the legal profession. Diversity within your law firm can help build trust with clients from diverse backgrounds, and it ensures that you are looking at cases with an equity perspective.
As a whole, Latinas should not give up their professional careers to take sole responsibility for household duties if that is not their choice. Instead, there should be structural reforms to our workplace dynamics that make room for Latina women to participate in the labor force without giving up their family’s well-being.
What you can do about it
There are several practical steps that you can take as a law firm that will ensure Latinas are also represented in the legal profession:
1. Set up a scholarship fund for Latina law students
A great form of supporting the future Latina lawyers of this country is by setting up a scholarship fund that helps them enroll in law schools and earn their degrees. If dropout rates are high among Latina students, it often happens due to a lack of resources. However, a scholarship is an incentive that can drastically change a Latina’s future.
2. Increase internship opportunities within your law firm
Along the same lines as the previous tip, if you provide internship opportunities for Latina law students to learn from well-established professionals within your law firm, it will serve as an encouragement to venture into the legal profession and even guarantee them a job opportunity after graduation.
3. Remove gender stereotypes from your marketing
Our marketing and advertising could be contributing to prevalent gender stereotypes within the legal sphere. It is important to reevaluate and strategize your law firm’s marketing messaging if it perpetuates stereotypes that, in the long run, are detrimental to Latina representation in the law.
4. Promote flexible schedules and paid maternity leave
It all starts with structural change. If your workplace does not encourage women to participate in the labor force despite their family caretaking and motherhood duties, then you must assess how your law firm’s policies are pushing women away.
If your law firm is focused on serving the Latino community, then empowering Latina talent in the workforce is a win-win. Not only are you promoting opportunities for Latinas who want to venture into the legal profession, but you are also directly benefiting by hiring people who will bring diverse perspectives and who will personally relate to your clientele.
But efforts don’t stop at simply hiring Latinas. It also means a commitment to implement workplace policies that won’t hinder their much-needed presence at home. It also means understanding that the role of mothers in Latino households is historically more demanding.
It’s time to advance equity for Latinas in the workforce by taking on these initiatives.