As a sociologist, I am motivated by my desire to understand the social, economic and political influences on relationships in institutions. My research spans the areas of workplace stratification, workplace diversity, occupations, and intersectionality. Specifically, I focus on how race and gender affect advancement in traditionally white institutional spaces, and how systemic gendered racism plays a critical role in the experiences of women of color within predominantly white spaces. I am particularly interested in the intersection of race, gender, and class and how they jointly operate on the experiences of women of color in the workplace.
My book You Don’t Look Like a Lawyer: Black Women and Systemic Gendered Racism was released in April 2019 in Joe R. Feagin’s prominent series Perspectives on a Multiracial America (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.).
About the book: You Don’t Look Like A Lawyer documents how systemic gendered racism and white racial framing deny access and advancement to partnership for black female lawyers. Drawing from narratives of black women, their experiences center around gendered racism and are embedded within institutional practices at the hands of predominantly white men. In particular, the book covers topics such as (1) appearance; (2) white narratives of affirmative action; (3) differences and similarities with white women and black men; (4) exclusion from social and professional networking opportunities (the Boys’ Club); and (5) lack of mentors, sponsors and substantive training. The core of this book highlights the often-hidden mechanisms elite law firms utilize to perpetuate and maintain a dominant white male system. critical race analysis, the reader is exposed to this exclusive elite environment, demonstrating the rawness and reality of black women’s experiences in white spaces. By weaving the narratives with a This framework allows us to hear the voices of black women as they tell their stories and perspectives on working in a highly competitive, racialized and gendered environment, and the impact it has on their advancement and beyond.
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A powerful and much-needed book, with fine insights about black legal professionals that scholars, journalists, and the professionals themselves will find enlightening. Well-written, this highly readable book makes innovative use of systemic racism theory to assess their racialized experiences and creative agency in difficult workplaces dominated by elite white men, legal worlds getting too little attention in current scholarship and mass media. — Joe Feagin, Texas A&M University
Tsedale Melaku's important analysis of the ways systemic processes affect black women lawyers’ occupational mobility is timely, necessary, and so insightful. Given the status lawyers hold in US society as well as their outsize influence in many halls of power, this assessment of how and why black women are underrepresented among this elite group is an urgent wake-up call for anyone interested in understanding racial and gender inequality at work. — Adia Harvey Wingfield, Washington University in St. Louis
Through in-depth interviews with African American women about their lived experience, this book adds to our understanding of the deep connections between race, gender, and inequality in elite law firms. At the same time that Melaku explains the relative scarcity of African American women in elite law firms, her analysis challenges us to look beneath the numbers to recognize the persistence of systemic gendered racism in this elite professional context. — Robert L. Nelson, professor of sociology and law, Northwestern University
Capturing the poise and persistence of her subjects in a manner that quantitative studies cannot, Melaku's in-depth interviews with Black women lawyers in law firms provides an essential critical examination of contemporary narratives of diversity in the profession of law. In this book Melaku explicates the challenges faced by professional Black women negotiating the white space of law firms, developing the unique concept of the invisible labor clause. The invisible labor clause is a tacit but essential contractual obligation required of Black women lawyers resulting in unacknowledged and unrewarded work. This work includes tasks such as the management of physical appearance, for example maintaining white aesthetic standards of hair care and styling, as well as the negotiation of racist and sexist networking practices. These forms of labor are not explicitly stated components of the work contract but are in fact mandatory for Black women who are attempting to succeed in the elite and predominantly white male profession of law. This work exposes the intersecting mechanisms of systemic and institutionalized racism and sexism in the legal profession in a way that no other work has done to date. You Don't Look Like a Lawyer is poised to become required reading in the legal academy and intersectional sociology. — Wendy Leo Moore, Associate Professor of Sociology, Texas A&M University
Tsedale Melaku sheds light on the prevalence of systemic gendered racism that exists in elite corporate work environments. Through the analysis of in-depth interviews of black female lawyers, the book “You don’t look like a lawyer” critically examines the nuanced experiences of these women as they try to navigate a career that is dominated by a white male elite who uphold a system that maintains and reinforces gendered and racial inequities. Melaku’s firsthand account of these women lawyers provides a never before seen inside look into the “inner workings” of elite workspaces; particularly with regards to the emotional, physical and psychological labor that black women have to exert in order to minimize the “daily microagressions” they face. This much-needed book illustrates the incredible journey black women professionals often face in the workplace. — Enobong (Anna) Branch, Professor of Sociology, University of Massachusetts Amherst
In this important book, Tsedale Melaku renders vivid the lives of the black women who are trying to make their way in corporate law firms, as well as the underlying structural and attitudinal constraints that continue to block their progress. It should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand how racial and gender hierarchies continue to structure opportunity in the legal profession, particularly for those who are forced to build their careers at the intersection of these two pernicious forces. — Professor David B. Wilkins, Harvard Law School