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Skill Development Practices and Racial-Ethnic Diversity in Elite Professional Firms

Professional Work: Knowledge, Power and Social Inequalities

ISBN: 978-1-80043-211-6, eISBN: 978-1-80043-210-9

ISSN: 0277-2833

Publication date: 15 October 2020


In elite professional firms, minorities are actively recruited but struggle to move upward. The authors argue that initiatives aimed at general skill development can have unintended consequences for firm diversity. Specifically, the authors contend that approaches that win partner support through motivational significance and interpretive clarity provide a more effective avenue to skill development for minorities, who have less access than White peers to informal developmental opportunities. The authors also argue that a longer “partnership track,” which imposes a time limit on skill development, will benefit minority professionals. Using data on 601 offices of large US law firms in 1996 and 2005, the authors investigate the effects of five developmental initiatives and partnership track length on the representation of African-Americans, Latinxs, and Asian-Americans among partners. Observed effects are consistent with expectations, but patterns vary across racial-ethnic groups.




This research was supported in part by a grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The authors acknowledge that the data analyzed in this study were licenced to them by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). The views and conclusions stated herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NALP or of any individuals associated with NALP. The authors gratefully acknowledge comments provided by Alexandra Kalev, Simone Polillo, Adam Slez, and seminar participants at Vanderbilt University, as well as excellent research assistance provided by Stacey Alarie, Matthew Braswell, Robert Day, Sarah Mosseri, and Di Shao.


Gorman, E.H. and Kay, F.M. (2020), "Skill Development Practices and Racial-Ethnic Diversity in Elite Professional Firms", Gorman, E.H. and Vallas, S.P. (Ed.) Professional Work: Knowledge, Power and Social Inequalities (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 34), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 115-145.



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