Ketanji Brown Jackson has achieved something that few Bl’ack women in the legal profession have.
While Black women make up just under 5% of first-year law students, attrition rates among minority attorneys are as much as three times that of their White peers, according to the American Bar Association.
Black women make up just over 3% of associates and less than 1% of partners. Jackson, who President Joe Biden last month nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, is just one of 70 B’lack women to have served as a federal judge, and if confirmed, would be the first to sit on the nation’s highest court.
Professional women of all kinds lose ground as they climb the ranks for a variety of reasons including bias, lack of support for parents and insufficient opportunities for growth.
Black women are even less likely than White ones to be promoted into management, and more likely to report being subjected to disrespectful comments, according to McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org surveys.
n a 2017 speech at the University of Georgia School of Law, Jackson herself discussed the hurdles she faced as a mother and a Black woman in law.
“The hours are long, the workflow is unpredictable, you have little control over your time and your schedule — and you start to feel as though the demands of the billable hour are constantly in conflict with the needs of your children and your family responsibilities,” she said at the time.
Jackson, 51, said that it was the “inflexibility of the work schedules and assignments that became the deal breaker” for her working at a big law firm early in her career, leading her to a series of jobs in government and private practice, and ultimately to the bench.
She was confirmed as a federal district court judge in 2013 and a federal appeals court judge in 2021.
Biases, however, can show up much earlier. In the 1980s, when Jackson told her high school guidance counselor she wanted to attend Harvard University, she was warned not set her “sights so high,” according to the White House.
While she proved her naysayers wrong — later graduating magna cum laude from Harvard and cum laude from Harvard Law School — she was one of the few.