2022 National Wellness Study – Part V: Ethnic Minorities
This is the fifth post in our series on The National Study on the Psychological Health Determinants of Legal Professionals in Canada published by the Université de Sherbrooke, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the Canadian Bar Association in December 2022 (the “Report”).
The legal profession offers promising opportunities to Canadians, however, it presents its own set of hurdles for individuals of ethnic backgrounds. The “National Study on the Psychological Health Determinants of Legal Professionals in Canada” (the “Report”) underscores these challenges. Legal professionals of an ethnic minority often grapple with heightened psychological distress, depressive symptoms, and burnout.
The Report discusses findings related to legal professionals who are ethnic minorities. It highlights differences in psychological health indicators between ethnicized (non-white) legal professionals and their non-ethnicized (white) counterparts. In this blog, we will discuss the findings of the Report as they relate to legal professionals of ethnic backgrounds.
As the authors of the Report note, it is challenging to define ethnicity. A lack of consensus on the definition of ethnicity makes it difficult to conceptualize it. The term can be seen as applying to ethnic origin, ethnic identity, or a combination of ethnic and racial origin. For the purposes of the Report, the authors relied on the typology borrowed from the Ontario Human Rights Commission:
The Report indicates that ethnicized legal professionals experience higher levels of psychological distress compared to non-ethnicized legal professionals. This suggests that minority lawyers may be more prone to experiencing emotional and psychological challenges in their professional lives.
The study found that ethnicized legal professionals had a higher proportion of moderate to severe depressive symptoms compared to non-ethnicized legal professionals. This indicates that minority lawyers may be more susceptible to experiencing feelings of depression, which can impact their overall well-being.
The report also suggests that burnout is more prevalent among ethnicized legal professionals than non-ethnicized legal professionals. Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion often caused by prolonged stress, and its higher occurrence among ethnic minorities suggests potential additional stressors in their work environments.
The Report advances two hypotheses to understand the relationship between ethnicity and burnout: on the one hand, ethnicized minority professionals may wait until they reach a high level of burnout before seeking support from colleagues. On the other hand, it is also possible that this support from colleagues occurs only when burnout is perceived. Interestingly, authors of the Report noted that the opposite effect was found in the sample of non-ethnicized legal professionals, who tend to feel less supported by colleagues when experiencing high depressive symptoms.
The report highlights certain organizational factors that are associated with the health of ethnicized legal professionals, such as the use of skills, support from supervisors, and support from colleagues. These factors can either decrease or increase levels of burnout for ethnicized professionals compared to non-ethnicized professionals, indicating potential disparities in support and resources.
While not explicitly detailed in the Report, workplace dynamics and cultural factors may contribute to the challenges faced by ethnic minority lawyers. These include bias, inclusion, and opportunities for advancement.
While statistics provide insights, they do not encapsulate the entirety of the challenges ethnic minority lawyers face. The pursuit of inclusion, fair representation, and equal opportunities remains an ongoing journey. Navigating the complexities of workplace culture, combating stereotypes, and advocating for diverse voices to be heard requires unwavering determination.
The report underscores the need for further investigation into the specific challenges to health and well-being among ethnicized legal professionals. This indicates that there is more to uncover about the underlying dynamics of diversity within Canadian legal environments and the unique challenges faced by minority lawyers.
About the Authors
Karina Alibhai is an associate with Harper Grey LLP and works with their Commercial Litigation and Construction Groups. Karina joined Harper Grey as an articling student in 2020, completed her articles with the firm and was called to the BC bar in 2021. She received her bachelor’s degree, from McGill University in 2017, where she focused her studies on International Development. Karina attended law school at Thompson Rivers University and graduated in 2020.
Grace Smyth-Bolland is an associate with Harper Grey LLP and works with their Business Law Group. Grace joined Harper Grey as an articling student in 2021, completed her articles with the firm and was called to the BC bar in 2022. She completed her law and philosophy degrees at Adelaide University in 2015 and 2016. Grace immigrated to Canada from Australia in 2017 after spending some time in South America, the US, and the Middle East.